#THEATERPH - Manila Notes Features the Best PH Theater Actors

Tanghalang Pilipino’s play Manila Notes by Japanese writer/director Oriza Hirata is a rare feat that local theater fans shouldn’t miss. A collaboration project of the Japan Foundation, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and its resident theater company, Tanghalang Pilipino, Manila Notes is the localized version of Hirata’s world renowned Tokyo Notes. Directed by Hirata himself, the play’s pre-production process attracted many local talents.


More than a hundred actors went through the unusual three-day audition. Meann Espinosa, one of the actors shared, “It was tedious. Even if we don’t get in, it was really something. There was dignity. An audition usually strips you off your dignity. But auditioning for Manila Notes made me felt dignified just by auditioning for it.” 

The cast of Manila Notes at the curtain call

Acclaimed theater actor and director, Dennis Marasigan, does not usually go to auditions but went to the Manila Notes auditions like the rest of the cast. “I joined because I was told that there were auditions for older actors. There were eliminations every day. For me, learning never stops. It’s a rare chance for someone like Mr. Mirata to come here and do a play. The process was very tedious. At the end of our first run through, it sort of became magical that we spontaneously broke into an applause at the end of the last line.”

During the press interview, Hirata was proud to say that they “were able to get the best actors in the Philippines and we were able to give them the best roles for them.” True enough, the cast was headlined by select PH theater actors across different theater companies. Joining Espinosa and Marasigan are Mayen Estañero, Jonathan Tadioan, Marco Viaña, Gie Onida, Ian Segarra, J-Mee Katanyag, Neomi Gonzales, Wenah Nagales, Kathlyn Castillo, Randy Villarama, Elle Velasco, Lhorvie Nuevo, Antonette Go, Joshua Tayco, Manol Nellas, Micah Musa, Manuel Tinio, and Manjean Faldas.


Directly translated from Japanese to Filipino by another translator, Rody Vera only had the English translation on hand when doing the adaptation. He shares, “The script had to grow on me. It was quiet and slow. At first reading, you won’t get it at once since there are so many things happening at the same time.” 

Hirata’s writing style was different. The script had multiple columns that represent different conversations and were delivered at the same time. 

Japanese writer/director Oriza Hirata during the press interview

Aside from the different writing structure, Hirata also had a different directing technique which was also prevalent in the tone of writing. Vera continues, “Most of the characters don’t say directly what they wanted to say.” Contrary to the Filipino style of being loud, almost exaggerated in portraying emotions and movements, Hirata as a director was very precise in giving his “conservative” stage directions. Seasoned Actor, Mayen Estanero, had a difficulty with it. “You had to mask a lot of emotions. It was like doing an indie film, doing no-acting acting.”

Still, Neomi Gonzales finds beauty in it. “It’s amazing how he orchestrated everything. Finding truth in the directions.” Assitant Director Hazel Gutierrez supports Gonzales by saying “You don’t see actors acting on stage. You see real people.” Hirata was very detailed with breaths, pauses, and pacing. “He gives the audience a chance to find meaning on the scenes.”

As a theater junkie, I really find Manila Notes different. Hirata had a league of his own when it comes to theater writing and directing. It was at some point confusing since you have to listen and eavesdrop on multiple conversations at the same time. But it was a very interesting theatrical experience. Definitely out of the box!

Catch #ManilaNotes by #TanghalangPilipino for two more weeks until December 16. They have shows from Friday to Sunday. Get your tickets at ticketworld.com or at the CCP Box Office.

This article was written by our correspondent Geno Maglinao.

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