We last spoke with Nikki Francisco four years ago about what inspired her to establish one of the Philippines’ top resources for theatre news. We caught up with her again to see what challenges her team has faced when reporting about theatre during this pandemic. Plus, we learn what stories are truly worth writing about.
Many theatre productions and seasons were cut or cancelled during this pandemic. How has your reporting changed – any unique stories you enjoyed covering?
Interestingly, the pandemic was when we doubled down on our content production. Where before, our content calendar was dictated by the theatre season in the Philippines, we shifted our focus to make sure we scour our sources both in the Philippines and abroad for every bit of news the theatre fan will enjoy and appreciate hearing about, even during times of shuttered theatres. As a result, TheaterFansManila.com (TFM) saw exponential growth, and our viewership grew to an all-time high.
As for unique stories, I would say reporting about theatre at a time of no theatre certainly was an experience. Being witness to how theatre as a medium dramatically changed in the last two years was also incredible. Before the pandemic, there was maybe only a handful of theatre companies in the world that offered their stage shows up for streaming. Nowadays, producers are mounting their shows and recording them with streaming in mind.
There’s growing optimism in the theatre scene now that more restrictions are being relaxed. What have you observed the public can look forward to in the next few months?
Live theatre has been up-and-running in major theatre cities like New York and London, and I'm thrilled that Manila is soon to follow suit. Our news desk is busy reporting on show announcements– for shows that are streaming as well as shows that are ready for live audiences.
In Manila, they can look forward to major Philippine musicals like Mula sa Buwan and Joseph the Dreamer going back on stage, as well as popular playwrights’ festival, The Virgin Labfest.
What's exciting to me is that some theatre companies are considering "hybrid" runs where they will open to live audiences for a time and then offer the shows up for streaming. In an archipelago like the Philippines, and with a significant percentage of Filipinos working and living abroad, they can now potentially watch Philippine theatre productions wherever they are in the world. Isn't that incredible?
You mentioned before that you “try not to bite off more than you can chew” when it comes to dealing with burnout. Has the pandemic taught you new skills as a writer? What advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Over the pandemic, when reporting for certain beats took a significant step back, I focused more on honing my editing and managerial skills, as well as delegation, which I also consider a skill. It's tempting for writers to just grab every possible scoop because it's admittedly thrilling to be the one to write something that ends up being talked about or going viral.
In terms of advice, I guess, if you have the privilege or opportunity to do so, pick the stories that matter the most to you and focus on telling them instead of writing about anything and everything. I've written for many publications and companies. I've written about so many things, but I never really felt like a writer or a journalist until I started writing about theatre.
What are TFM's future plans? Are you exploring emerging methods at storytelling (e.g. podcasts, TikTok) or launching new content tagged under your Theater 101 series?
Funny you should mention podcasts, because we have one that we launched last year that lasted for about a season called Intermission. I was host along with TFM's Managing Director, Elfrida Tan. We'd love to do more of it, but no concrete plans yet.
TFM is wearing many hats these days. We rebranded early this year to reflect how we're expanding from our origins as a publication into ticketing. We're also dipping our toes in producing. Last year, we were producers on the Viu original musical narrative series, Still.
If there's anything the pandemic taught our theatre publication, it's definitely, "adapt or die," so we're always, always exploring new things that will keep us going.
What kinds of press materials would be most helpful to you and your team at TFM?
Just complete press kits with high-quality media and accurate show information. When we have complete data, we almost always know exactly how to report on them in ways that our audience of theatre fans will engage with.
Are there any groups or organisations that the media community can support – to help the theatre industry recover?
The best support people can do these days is to buy tickets and watch shows — show the theatre industry that there's demand for theatre and that audiences are still there and are even ready to come back and watch some shows IRL.
What productions would you like to see staged in the Philippines?
Right now, I just want the industry to bounce back to staging 50 to 100 or so shows a year. It's true what they say, you never know what you have until it's gone.
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