A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: A Black Box Theatre Opens In Davao City

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) – Finally, a watershed event to challenge the reality of Davao City being a cultural desert – especially when it comes to theatrical productions – has just sprouted from the ground! And the location is along Doña Vicenta St. just off the Bajada road around the vicinity of the Victoria Plaza Mall and Chow King.

Unlike smaller cities in the country, Davao City has had no regular space for theatre productions which can also serve as performance venue. There are, of course, the gyms and auditoriums of many of the colleges and universities in the city but these only provide temporary space for student groups interested in mounting a play. And the city has never invested in any such kind of space; the city’s past and present administrations have not been known to take culture and the arts as something worthwhile promoting.

Now comes an initiative from The BauHaus owned by the businessman-artist Jon Traya who singlehandedly is trying to fill in this artistic gap. (As already explained in an earlier article I wrote for MindaNews, a bauhaus is a place where various cultural pursuits are explored from visual arts to theatre to song and music to cuisine; name it and it will provide space to those who seek to be engaged in various artistic forms. The BauHaus, which opened two years ago, has a restaurant that serves Moro and Lumad cuisine.

Its space known before as Calle 5 – a watering hole cum performance space for bands – has now given way to the establishment of a theatre, in the tradition of a black box theatre, referred to by most sources as a simple performance space. It usually is just a square room with either walls painted in black or covered with black curtains. Usually there are no bleachers; it is just a flat floor making the space very simple and flexible for immersive kind of performances, facilitating interaction between performers and audience. The theatre is meant for intimate audiences, usually around a hundred persons.

Originating from Europe’s avant-garde theatre movement in the early 20th century, it has become quite popular throughout the world today. Adolphe Appia, a Swiss designer, is credited as having evolved the concept of a building designed for flexible staging that gave rise to a black box theatre space circa 1921. Demanding only simple and not so expensive production costs, it is affordable for Third World theatre groups.

And yet, it offers possibilities for more creative types of production that can be explored as the human elements are more emphasized rather than the technical/technological ones. “Black box theatres are a semi-recent trend in the performance industry. The genesis of these, which can also be known as an experimental theatres or flexible theatres, stemmed from the need for different, smaller productions when the main performance space is not appropriate for the performance.” (From: What is a Black Box Theatre? August 23, 2019. See: https://performance.stageright.com/blog/what-is-a-black-box-theatre/).

And what would be considered as the true benefits of having a black box theatre?

“Not every production makes sense for the main area in a facility and a black box theatre makes it possible to have smaller productions that aren’t right for that space. One example of this could be the local theatre troupe. If a show isn’t going to fill the main theatre area, it’s probably a better fit to host in the black box space. In addition to allowing for community and experimental theater events that aren’t practical for the main stage space, the black box theatre will be able to host a great number of events during the year which leads us into our next point. At the end of the day, facilities need to pay their bills to stay in business and there usually aren’t enough large-scale productions to fill the main space every day of the week. Opening your facility to these smaller performances will allow you to open your doors more often which equates to an increase in revenue. ..Having the ability to host smaller events means that you’ll inevitably be hosting more local events. This is great because having more community support and word of mouth means that more people will be aware of your larger events that aren’t necessarily being put on by community members.” (From: The Benefits of Having a Black Box Theatre, October 30, 2019. See: https://performance.stageright.com/blog/black-box-theatre-advantages/).

In the country today, only Manila – the imperial city that sucks in most of the national budget for cultural productions under the CCP and NCCA leaving a pittance for those outside this national capital – has  black box theatres. Outside Manila, perhaps only Davao now has its own black box theatre, and this without the support of government, elite cultural groups, big business firms and academic institutions.

Mr. Traya is initiating the effort and he hopes that theatre practitioners and  cultural workers in the city (and even across Mindanao) can be mobilized to provide a wide community support. With the assistance of a group of talented and strongly-motivated artists, he hopes that this theatre initiative can be sustained in the long run, with regular theatre seasons mobilizing the talents of Davao City’s pool of playwrights, directors, technical experts and actors.

Today, 18 March 2021 is the inauguration of this black box theatre and has been named the Karl Gaspar Hall. Following the opening of the theatre is the mounting of Karlo David’s Palanca-winning one-act play – “Killing Tissue.” Subsequent performances will be announced later.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]