THE GREATEST MAGICIANS have something to learn from Mr. Mistoffelees’ Conjuring Turn – PRESTO! The art of theater is simply electrifying, from its dance numbers down to the sudden choruses in between. Yet, I cannot fathom why it is continually declining, coming from a country whose culture ironically intertwines with that of music.  

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken; there’s a pain goes on and on,” upon knowing the reality of musical theaters being merely a tale as old as time. “Empty chairs at empty tables,” for only the sound of a deafening silence reverberated across theater halls present in the country.  

“For only the sound of a deafening silence reverberated across theater halls present in the country.”

Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, Sound of Music, and Six are among the most highly acclaimed musicals that have etched its name down in Broadway—forever changing the course of how audiences perceive musicals. Do these musical titles, adored by the theater community, ring a bell? I bet they do, well maybe for some of you.  

Philippine theater has also made a name for itself contemporarily following the dawn of the Eraserheads-based musical, Ang Huling El Bimbo (AHEB) The Musical, Mula sa Buwan, and coming soon this 2024 is another masterpiece in-the-making with songs inspired from the hit OPM band, Parokya ni Edgar! 

I took pride in how musical theaters, may it be local or foreign, are now slowly surfacing and captivating the public eye, while further expanding how a Filipino defines and appreciates the wide spectrum of art. Yet amid its glory, musical theaters in the country lack ‘the same fervor’ given in sports, academics, and teleseryes to name a few.  

To set out, government funding in theater is not that substantial in comparison to other institutions. This just goes to show that even most leaders, themselves, did not see the significance of theater or art in general. Without support, what would then become of this fine art?  

Taking context into consideration, the Philippines is under this misplaced perspective of putting high premium on financial stability at the expense of one’s craft and passion. This is especially prevalent in the educational sector where sciences and the liberal arts are more supported and glorified than the fine arts.  

Not that I am against these disciplines, but without a suitable environment to discuss the beauty of musical theater, how can we safely presume that the country could then forge a new generation who would perpetuate a sense of humanity amidst a world engrossed by practicality?  

Truly as John Keating noted, “Medicine, law, business, engineering are noble pursuits necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”  

Moreover, adding to the topic on financial stability, musical theater tickets are priced considerably high; further justifying this division amongst social classes whereby those above the social ladder revel at the privileges of being able to witness and learn the ideals and skills surrounding the performing arts.  

One critic suggested, however, that the lack of support for theater is attributed toward its shift, from an art to a business aimed for economic gain. Sure, theater companies are continually innovating works that would go beyond what is presumed by the public, yet the drive behind it all boils down to gaining funds; having viewed audiences not as participants in the discursive practice of watching theater, but simply as spectators who would contribute toward their economic goal.  

Some have pointed out the disparaging life of the arts or entertainment world, characterized as being a closed network. Philippine talents are there, yet the problem lies in our cultural system where the operative functions of the arts are dependent to those who owns and controls said systems.  

Given the myriad of factors that challenged the performing arts discipline, it’s unsurprising how many critics have suggested that Philippine theater had reached its final resonance with the COVID-19 pandemic rampaging and changing realities. Thankfully enough, theater in the Philippines is still here, though ‘hardly’ if I may say so myself.  

Maybe it’s a bit naive to assume that theater would remain to be independently an art alone. Theater is still there, though the magic is consumed over the ambition to pursue profit. And with the already insufficient support given to the performing arts – can we even still say, for certain, that musical theaters might one day bask under the same glory as sports and academics? To finally reach a tomorrow where songs and dances would illuminate the packed theater halls, no empty chairs and empty tables on sight?  

Oh! Well, I never! Was there ever a cat so clever as magical Mr. Mistoffelees?

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