Tanghalang Pilipino presents Room-To-Read children’s books on virtual stage

Pipoy, Kwagie and Pipay are the narrators of TP’s multimedia children’s show “Tara, Peeps”. Screenshot of “Tara, Peeps”. Handout

Since the beginning of December 2021, members of the Tanghalang Pilipino acting company have been busy performing in a weekly virtual children’s theater called “Tara, Peeps”.

They directed eight episodes adapted from children’s books by authors including award-winning short-story writer Dr. Luis Gatmaitan and TP’s original play “Lukot-Lukot, Bilog Bilog” by Eljay Castro Deldoc.

Using animation and shadowplay, among other devices, “Tara, Peeps” aptly captures each story in a 20-25 minute educational multimedia spectacle.

They covered timely and very useful topics for young viewers such as the importance of vaccinations, getting out of your comfort zone to help others, respecting elders and being financially savvy.

Each show airs every Sunday afternoon with a repeat broadcast at night. The previous eight episodes can still be viewed on the “Tara, Peeps” Facebook account and on the You Tube channel.

For its ninth episode which will debut this Sunday, February 27, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines begins adapting children’s stories published by Room-To-Read, the two-decade-old global education organization focused on the increase in children’s literacy.

“We are fortunate to have partnered with Room-To-Read through a former theater and advocacy work colleague, Al Santos, as we are seeking materials for our digital platform,” Carmela Millado -Manuel, company manager of TP.

Al Santos is Room To Read’s South East Asia Publishing Manager. In the 1970s to early 1980s, Santos had been a member of the Philippine Educational Theater Association.

He wrote about 10 plays, one of which was the controversial musical “Nukleyar” with Joey Ayala. Before leaving the country, he was a playwright-teacher and director of PETA and focused on international advocacy work.

For a brief history, Room-To-Read was founded in 2000 on the belief that “global change begins with educated children”.

It helps children in low-income communities develop literacy skills, a habit of reading, and helping girls learn skills to succeed in school and negotiate key life decisions.

Working with governments and other partner organizations, Room to Read has benefited over 23 million children in 20 countries and over 48,000 communities and aims to reach 40 million children by 2025.

His partnership with TP began in September 2020, when Santos hosted writing workshops for members of the TP Actors Company. Actors like JV Ibesate, Lhorvie Nuevo, Jonathan Tadioan, Antonette Go and almost everyone learned how to write scripts for radio and television.

The result was “Mga Kwentong Musmos,” a series of audio dramas available for free through the Literacycloud.org website, which is also found under Room To Read.

These audio dramas were adapted from 20 children’s books published by Room To Read before the pandemic.

Free audio drama, children’s books

“We commissioned authors and illustrators. There were two lots. The first group were all based in Manila while those in the second group were from the Visayas and Mindanao.

We went to Bohol and all the way to Baguio and provided board and lodging for the authors and illustrators in addition to paying for their services,” Santos told ABS-CBN News.

Because it’s 20 books, Santos said they had to hire the services of four local publishing houses to meet the deadline; Anvil, Aklat Adarna, Lampara and OMF.

“In total, we published 20 books in 2019 and launched in February 2020, before the shutdowns,” Santos added.

“In the latter part of 2020, despite the restrictions, we were able to ship and distribute 20,000 copies to the provinces of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao,” he added.

Most of the students at BARMM do not have internet access, so the Room-To-Read books have been a big help.

“Room To Read funded the creation of the books, so we are co-owners of the copyrights, pwede namin syang watching the audio drama and now, the (virtual) plays,” Santos said.

When they were adapted into an audio drama, Santos teamed up with TP and called the new series “Mga Kwentong Musmos”. Members of the TP Actors Company participated as writers, directors and voice actors.

Millado-Manuel recalled, “Maganda y’ong proseso with Al because from the beginning of the partnership, we were guided from conceptualization to script writing to actual implementation.

She added that since TP became a co-owner of the copyrights, they didn’t have to worry about adapting audio dramas for virtual theater.

The partnership continued. Good timing, TP was doing “Tara, Peeps”.

Therefore, for its ninth episode titled “Ang Nanay Kong Driver,” the audio drama and text versions can be accessed through the Room-To-Read website. The voice actors, writers and directors of the audio drama versions were all from TP.

“Tara, Peeps” has three main characters; bubbly storytellers Pipay and Pipoy, and Kwagie the owl caged in a TV screen.

They act like the Greek chorus in a play, introducing characters for each episode, providing a background story, presenting the problem to be solved or the conflict to be resolved.

As an appetizer, “Ang Nanay Kong Driver” tells the story of Billy and his mother Jennifer. At home, the roles of his parents seemed to have been reversed.

The mother, as the title suggests, works as a jeepney driver while the father is left at home to do the cooking, laundry, cleaning, and other tasks usually done by the wife.

One day Billy accompanies his mother to help her and in their usual route he is introduced to Lucy the construction worker, the saleswoman in a wet market, a guy who does his makeup in a beauty salon, a brusque passenger who carries her baby boy dressed in pink clothes and so on.

“Sari sari tayo ng abilidad and ambag. It’s a bit Hindi, but it’s Kasarian,” says Jennifer.

What audiences can expect is how TP does its magic in recreating history for its virtual stage.

After “Ang Driver Kong Nanay,” the other 19 tracks will air every Sunday from 3:30-4 p.m. until June this year and can be accessed through Tara’s social media accounts, Peeps.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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