Red Turnip: New species of theater

Rome Jorge
This is the kind of theater that is best suited for such a compact upstart

MATURE, THOUGHT-PROVOKING. Red Turnip Theater founders Jenny Jamora, Topper Fabregas, Ana Abad Santos, Cris Villonco and Rem Zamora with Bart Guingona and Marc Abaya. All photos courtesy of Red Turnip

MANILA, Philippines – Truth be told, a theater company’s business model determines in large part its content. This, despite many artists’ professed aversion to commercialization and their loud protests for artistic freedom. Just raising this topic ruffles feathers, as if rudely awakening a dreamer. 

Theater groups have tried (and are still trying) a range of business models to stay in the scene, while a few have had to fold up because their formula didn’t work.

Red Turnip, Manila’s newest theater company, is no such dodo bird; neither is it one trapped in a gilded cage.

Newly-founded by acclaimed thespians Jenny Jamora, Ana Abad Santos, Topper Fabregas, Cris Villonco and Rem Zamora, Red Turnip announced its first season at a press event last July 17.

When asked what their business model, market niche and target audience were, Zamora answered, “Throughout the years, a lot of theater companies have adopted different business models. I think I can safely say that not just one business model works. The audience keeps changing.

“In our case, we need to adopt several business models. We do recognize our niche. We will be trying several tactics. You cannot think of a theater company as a corporation.”

Jamora added, “A lot of people gave us their viewpoint on how theater works. We listened to everybody, but at some point we said this is what we’re going for.”

Quoting Neil Gaiman, she declared, “If you don’t know what’s impossible, it’s easier to do it.”

Come hell or high water 

PASSION FOR THEATER. Jenny Jamora and Topper Fabregas

The name of their theater company pays homage to their common mentor.

Zamora revealed, “The idea actually came from Ana. The late Zenaida Amador — who at one point in all our lives became our friend, director and mentor — way back in the day when we were still with Repertory Philippines, was quoted to have said to a particular actor: ‘You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip, but you can damn well paint it red.’

“We realize it is a quote about bad acting, but that is not the only context of that quote. It’s also about passion, which is something we all share.”

Santos added, “It also reflects humor and we totally need that. Even tita Bibot (Zenaida Amador) who was very passionate and short-tempered would inject humor.” 

Coming together

Fabregas recalled, “Two and a half years ago, Jenny, Cris and I wanted to re-stage a reading of a play we really liked. We got Ana to direct the play. When we got in touch with her, she had also wanted to get in touch with us. She wanted to do readings of text based on material out there. It all synched.

“She said, ‘Let’s all work together. Let’s come up with something.’ And we came up with ‘Unlimited Text’ two and a half years ago. Our goal was to get all these people from these different theater companies to read stage material.”

Staged in 2011 for the benefit of the Philippine Theater Actors Guild, “Unlimited Text” saw 19 of today’s talented actors read lines from different plays.

Fabregas went on to recount, “While we were in the process of doing that, we thought, ‘Hey, since we’ve always thought of putting up our own theater company, why don’t we just finally do it?’ We decided for the 5th member — it was pretty unanimous — we wanted Rem Zamora.

“He said yes in a heartbeat. Everything fell into place.”

Coming soon

“Our first play will be in October. It will be ‘Closer’ and I will be directing it. It will be shown at White Space,” Santos revealed. 

Closer” — a straight play about love, commitment and infidelity by Patrick Marber that premiered 1997 — is best known for its 2004 cinematic adaptation by Mike Nichols starring Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

Bart Guingona, Angel Aquino and Marc Abaya will star alongside Villonco for Red Turnip’s upcoming staging of “Closer,” set to run from October 4 to 27.

Lighting design will be done by John Batalla, set design by Gino Gonzales, music by William Manzano, costume design by Raven O and sound design by Jethro Joaquin. 

FIRST PLAY COMING UP! Cris Villonco (middle), pictured with Ana Abad Santos and Rem Zamora, will star in Red Turnip's 'Closer'

“Our second play will be ‘Cock’ by Mike Bartlett,” Santos said.

Premiering in 2009, “Cock” explores the dilemma of a man torn between his mature gay lover and the affections of a young woman. Red Turnip plans to stage “Cock” in February 2014. 

“These are two British plays. The challenge is to bring [them] close to our experience here [in the Philippines],” Santos noted.

Villonco added, “One thing these two have in common is that they both require very intimate spaces.” 

Zamora revealed that they have yet to decide on the venue for “Cock” or on what other plays they will stage for their first ever season. Nonetheless, “Closer” and “Cock” signal the kind of theater Red Turnip plans to stage: mature, thought-provoking, straight plays.

This is the kind of theater that is best suited for such a compact upstart: small and manageable in terms of cast and cost. This genre is the niche other theater companies are failing to fill today: the demand of an audience that has matured in taste for more adult themes and issues. 

They know their target audience. They know their market niche. They know their stuff. The seasoned players of Red Turnip are sure to find their place in the sun. –


For more information on Red Turnip Theater, visit their Facebook page.

Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of Asian Traveler magazine.

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