MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Storytelling has always been magical. Be it through oral or visual means, telling stories is simply human nature. Since the dawn of time, humans have created connections through their stories.
For Filipino puppet designer-maker and director Kayla Teodoro, stories are made all the more magical with puppetry. The creator of the life-sized Yubaba from the stage adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away, she now brings to life, through puppets, the story of Life of Pi in the stage adaptation by the National Theatre of London.
“I was fortunate enough to work on the show last year while it was on the West End. I took care of the puppets. I took care of the tiger and all of the other big puppets. I also worked very closely with the puppeteers because I also helped run the show,” said Kayla who is the artistic director of the Puppet Theater Manila.
Life of Pi, the award-winning stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, centers on a 16-year-old boy named Pi stranded on a lifeboat after a cargo ship sinks in the vast Pacific Ocean. Alongside Pi are four other survivors – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger.
As a puppet assistant stage manager, the bulk of her work entails making sure that all big puppets are in tip-top shape for every show: “I helped make sure that puppets were in the right place at the right time. I made sure that when puppeteers needed help, I was there to help them. All of the puppets really have to be up to par every night before the show.”
Grateful for the added richness in her overall experience, Kayla was elated to work with fellow Asians for Life of Pi. As an Indian story, South Asians were prominent members of the company. “I think the UK is still trying to get its footing when it comes to Asian representation behind the scenes. But it was definitely nice to work with South Asian people in the cast.”
Kayla emphasizes that the puppet community is generally small – all the more so in the Philippines, the lone Southeast Asian country without an ancient form of puppetry.
“It’s really baby steps but it’s exciting because it’s so small. Because of that, I formed Puppet Theater Manila, and Puppet Theater Manila is trying to bring puppetry around the Philippines,” said Kayla who finished her master’s degree in puppetry in the United Kingdom.
Determined to propel Filipino storytelling through puppetry, she shares how the art form is a rich outlet for Filipino stories rooted in folklore, especially for the benefit of children. “Since before the Spanish arrived, we were a very pagan culture, and because of that, there is so much rich folklore and rich origin stories,” she said.
“Thanks to puppetry, you now have an option on how to tell these stories – you could show children what an aswang or even what a Butanding looks like. And because the Philippines is so rich in indigenous materials and craftsmen, you can get everyone involved when it comes to telling stories through puppetry.”
Between running Puppet Theater Manila and working as a freelancer, Kayla makes time to teach puppetry to kids of all ages. She also directs puppetry for the new Repertory Philippines musical. With humble beginnings as a set and costume designer, her journey in puppetry has since blossomed into major projects like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Spitting Image, Lion King, and Life of Pi.
Life of Pi was the first production lined up under the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ newly-minted program CCP National Theatre Live, which aims to provide the best of London National Theatre to the Philippine big screen and make international theater accessible to local theater enthusiasts, playwrights, artists, and the broader public.
“That’s the most important to us – to make sure that Filipino audiences are seeing the capabilities of puppetry, and not only that, you also have artists, theater professionals and film professionals who are now starting to embrace that,” said Kayla.
Through the CCP National Theatre Live program, CCP aims to provide yet another exceptional “live” performance experience to expand the cultural palettes of its audiences, while making international theater accessible to theater enthusiasts, playwrights, artists, and the broader public.
The CCP, in partnership with the National Theatre of London and the Ayala Malls Cinema, brings the best of British theater to the big screen, featuring nine world-class stage plays, filmed live from the United Kingdom’s most exciting stages, from September 26, 2023 to May 28, 2024, exclusively at Greenbelt cinemas.
For the first season, the lineup features Life of Pi, Frankenstein, The Seagull, Much Ado About Nothing, The Crucible, Fleabag, Othello, King Lear, and Hamlet, all digitally filmed in high-definition quality. NTL films their plays in front of live theater audiences but optimized for the big screen and made accessible to theater fans across the globe.
For more updates, follow the official CCP social media accounts in Facebook, X, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Visit the CCP website (www.culturalcenter.gov.ph)