Bobby Garcia founded Atlantis Productions (now Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group) back in 1998 so he could mount the first Philippine production of Jonathan Larson's Rent. Its critical and commercial success in Manila inspired Garcia to soldier on, and he has since staged more than 40 productions, including God of Carnage, Jesus Christ Superstar, Next to Normal, In The Heights and Avenue Q. There were a few misses along with the hits, but Garcia, who holds an undergraduate degree from Fordham University and a Masters degree in Directing for Theatre from the University of British Columbia, has no regrets. “I don’t like looking back,” the veteran stage director says. “I think every production is a testament of a moment in time. Everything was the best it could have been in that moment.” As Atlantis marks two decades in the industry this year, Garcia is bringing Tony Kushner’s dramatic two-part masterpiece, Angels In America, back to the Philippine stage next month after directing its Asian premiere for New Voice Company 24 years ago.
What made you want to sit in the director’s chair, instead of being up on stage?
I’ve never been drawn to anything else. I am not a fan of the physical preparation an actor needs to make. The makeup, the hair, the wardrobe. I don’t have the patience for any of that. Plus, I have always enjoyed the process of seeing the big picture and then breaking it down into details.
What’s been your favorite Atlantis production so far?
That’s like Sophie’s Choice – how terrible! I am always in the zone when I work, so it’s always the show I am working on at that very moment that I’m most captivated by. Having said all that, the musical Fun Home has a very special place in my heart because I feel like it was a production wherein every element fell into perfect place. It was extremely challenging to work on because of its subject matter and finding that fine line between drama and melodrama.
You are restaging Angels In America in March. Why do you think it still resonates with audiences today?
I guess it’s because the world is in such an imbalanced state right now. We are all struggling to understand what community means these days. Its themes are even more relevant today, 28 years since it premiered in San Francisco. I think that’s the true testament of a classic.
You’re also bringing in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in June and the macabre classic Sweeney Todd later this year. How do you transition from one genre to the next?
It’s never easy. It takes a lot of work and preparation and I normally prepare a year ahead. When I went from Jersey Boys into Fun Home without a break a few years ago, I was mentally and physically exhausted. But these are stories I believe in. So to be able to tell the stories of Angels, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Sweeney Todd is really something to be grateful for.
How do you deal with bad reviews?
Constructive criticism is always welcome but malicious remarks aren’t. There’s always room for discourse and I welcome it when it’s discussed constructively. But if you start discussing an actor’s age, size, physical appearance or give general snarky remarks that really only serve your own interests, then that is crossing the line for me.
Some theater companies stage plays that reflect the zeitgeist. For others, the medium is purely a vehicle for entertainment. Where does Atlantis lean in this dichotomy?
Theater needs to be entertaining. Shakespeare, in his time, was popular entertainment. I think you have to find a balance. To find relevance in the entertainment. Unlike a painting or a book that can find an audience 100 years from now, theater needs to find its audience at the very moment it is on stage. So, the question is, what's going to make an audience member buy a ticket to come see a show? Because if the audience isn’t there, the theatrical experience isn’t complete.
How is Atlantis lending its voice to highlighting pressing social issues of our time?
Theater, when used properly, is such a powerful tool. Unfortunately, because of its reach, it isn’t mass-based like the internet, television or movies. You only get to speak to a few hundred people every night. But to those few hundred who have joined you in the communal experience, you have given them something that can’t be replaced. And it doesn’t have to be a social issue. Sometimes, experiencing happiness, joy and euphoria can be the most pressing social issues in a person’s life. You never know what someone is going through.
What advice would you give someone who’d like to follow in your footsteps?
First, read. Second, experience and observe life. Third, always be curious. •
-Ben F. Torres
This story originally appears in the February 2019 issue of Mabuhay Magazine, which can also be accessed here: http://mabuhay.ink-live.com/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&edid=dc0ac3fa-83bf-49c7-9c6a-5b804cd98bc8