In a virtual conference, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo did not gloss over the fact that the entertainment industry is reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
“We are considered and categorized as high risk because our work involves mass gathering and interaction with an audience,” she said.
Fortunately, the worst of times has brought out the best in many people. Resorts World Manila (RSW), in partnership with Full House Theater Company, featuring artists from the hit musical "Ang Huling El Bimbo," regular performers from The Grand Bar and Lounge and El Calle Food & Music Hall, and the special participation of Philippine Ballet Theatre, have come up with the “L.O.V.E Project."
L.O.V.E stands for Live On-request Virtual Entertainment, that aims to help regular RWM performers and other partner artists to continue their livelihood despite the current COVID-19 situation in the country. It is part of their commitment to champion the best of Filipino artists, with the online platform allowing patrons to book and pay for online live performances via livestream, whether it’s a mini-concert, dance performance, date night serenade, and more.
For 600 pesos, patrons can enjoy a 15-minute exclusive live performance at the comforts of their home. The artists will be directly corresponding to those who will book, and upon paying, they will send the show guidelines and livestream link of preference—Zoom or Google Meet.
Current roster of artists include Singing Sensation’s Cris Pastor, Charlotte Fergusson, and Jasmine Fitzgerald, El Calle regulars Jay Kent, Hans Dimayuga, Rox Puno, Grand Bar and Lounge performers Jon Joven and James Uy, ballet dancer Kim Abgrogena, vlogger and singer Julia Serad, pop-rock artist RJ Jimenez, theater actors Lance Reblando, Jom Logdat, Kiara Dario, and more.
At first, at last
The 57-year-old Full House Theater Company (FHTC) co-artistic director recalled that the first time the community quarantine was imposed, she was rehearsing for a musical.
"I really didn't know what to expect (after that),” Menchu said. “I didn't realize the gravity of the situation right there and then. We were hearing rumors, but it's like out of a movie. It's a reality that I could not connect to. I didn't think it was going to be what it became because we went through SARS, we went through all these others and it never affected us to the extent of how the COVID-19 affected us.”
Menchu said they were not allowed to open and just went as far as their press preview which was on March 12.
The seasoned thespian didn’t think the crisis would last this long.
"I thought maybe a month it would be solved. I really had no idea. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what to expect. And then as the day's progressed, and as things got really, really bad, and I started watching the news -- because you know you were literally stuck at home -- I realized that this was going to affect our next project, which was 'Bongga Ka 'Day,' which is slated to open in June 26. We've already announced it last June 26. And then we started to say 'Okay, can we do this, will we be allowed to do this?'"
When that project was also put on hold, that’s when it hit Menchu “like a ton of bricks.”
“I realized this is not good at all,” she said.
Asked what she thinks of some people saying celebrities are “privileged” and aren’t as affected as the rest by the pandemic, Menchu finds the notion “very unfair.”
"If you go to office, if you have a nine to five job, you get a monthly income. Artists, on the other hand, we get work as we are booked---there may be months that there is no booking,” she pointed out.
“There may be months that you have several bookings and you're lucky so it goes by quarter. So certain quarters of the year you get a lot of bookings, certain quarters, you have nothing."
She said theirs is a "very unstable" industry especially now.
"We live based on how many bookings we can get, how popular we can get, how hard working we get, and basically what we have to offer. So pinipili rin 'yan ng mga clients, you know, they want a particular kind of performer so it doesn't mean that you are performing every single month," she added. "You're lucky if you have gigs every month but there are months that are completely dead.”
Menchu said it’s wrong to think all celebrities or artists “marami kaming pera.”
“What's happening is a lot of us, we're living on our savings. And when nothing comes in, those savings will slowly get depleted until you have nothing left. So everything is just going out and with the lockdown, bills have piled up."
But like everyone else, live performers just have to keep getting back on their feet as many times as they are knocked down.
"Some are still lucky enough to be able to work from home; companies have held on to them. As for us, we completely lost our jobs---the moment the pandemic hit, we were at a loss.
“And we're only starting to revive our careers by being able to perform online like in the L.O.V.E Project, but it's still very slow."