Instead of just wasting time waiting for their parents watching an adults-only production at Repertory Philippines’ William J. Shaw Theater, Joy Virata thought of establishing Rep’s Theater for Young Audiences (RTYA) to mount productions specifically meant for children.
“We had just moved into the William J. Shaw Theater and for the first time we would have exclusive use of a theater. We could do shows in the daytime. I went to Zeneida Amador [co-founder of Repertory Philippines] with a plan and she gave me permission to start it,” said the RTYA founder and executive director.
Their very first production was “Sleeping Beauty.”
“I liked the description [in the Music Theater International catalogue while in New York]and the fact that the playwrights, Jim Eiler and Jean Bargy, also thought that children deserved the same quality of theater as adults. Since then RTYA has done all of their plays,” she furthered.
RTYA has followed the same general principles for choosing material. The production must not be more than 75 minutes long, the music must be good with more songs than dialogue, the dialogue must be simple, the songs must be lively and call for lively choreography, and there must be humor. Most often, but not always, these are fairly tales because of their timeless appeal and relevance for children.
Recently RTYA produced its first original adaptation—“Hansel and Gretel” based on the opera by Englebert Humperdinck. It featured “witches” on “rollies” and a real Maypole dance.
A favorite production was “Seussical” based on the books by Dr. Seuss. This was the most modern production ever done which featured famous Dr. Seuss characters and a set based on the art of Vincent Van Gogh.
The dwarfs of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” were a hit with the children who interacted with them beautifully. “Pinocchio” was another favorite and introduced young actors who have since then made names for themselves in other productions. This production featured a surprising opening with the characters coming “alive” from a painted scrim. “The Wizard Of Oz” featured acrobatic monkeys and a shimmering “Emerald City.”
“I try to do something different with every production. My goal is to make children enjoy their theater experience. I try to make that happen with the best designers, choreographers and professional actors I can get. I want the productions to be magical,” she said.
“Children make the best critics,” she continued, “and when I see 800 children listening and watching a show intently and responding to what is going on stage [and sometimes leaving the theater humming a song or saying a memorable line]that is the best accolade I can get.”
The next 25 years will see the RTYA hopefully continuing to give children the opportunity to experience good
theater and possibly to do more original adaptations.
This year it will stay committed to this goal by staging “Beauty and the Beast”—a retelling of the classic fairy tale with book written by Peter de Valle and John Ahearn, music by MichaelValenti and music by Elsa Real.
Based on a French story published in 1740, it is the enthralling tale of a cursed Prince, turned into a beast under a spell that can only be broken by true love.
RTYA’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” is staged starting August 12 until December 14 at Onstage, Greenbelt 1.