|My career had a jump start in Dulaang Sibol with a play that had a very long title, but affectionately called “Hoy, Boyet!”
The last time I received an award from the Ateneo was 44 years ago. I was the recipient of the gold medal for Dramatic Arts during my High School graduation.
That was in 1968.
That was long ago, a lifetime really.
I have been working in the theater for four decades now, having joined PETA immediately after High School—along with Tony Perez, and Paul Dumol, who are two of my closest collaborators in the theater.
Thank you, Ateneo, for this!
I am tempted to have a Proustian experience and recall my entire past, but I am given only five minutes. If I do just that, like Alice, I might stumble into a tunnel of blinding white light, and find myself unable to come back. I won’t be able to thank the many people who need to be thanked and acknowledged.
Before anything else, let me apologize profusely to my friends, relatives, classmates, and teachers. I invited you here, to this traffic-ridden Katipunan, to witness this ceremony, not realizing that this is a cheapskate award. There will be no refreshments after the awarding. I’ve been told this tradition was initiated by Dr. Leo Garcia, when he was still dean. When I was supplied the information, I understood why the awards are Spartan in budget. Dr. Garcia is Ilocano. He does not believe in frivolous expenditure.
My career had a jump start in Dulaang Sibol with a play that had a very long title, but affectionately called “Hoy, Boyet!” During our senior year in High School, Onofre Pagsanhan, or Pagsi, got inspired to start a drama competition. Tony Perez whipped up a script, and I directed the piece. 4F classmates participated as actors and stagehands. Boy Lirag, our class president, provided yards and yards of cloth, which he stole from their textile factory, Litex.
It was a surreal, lyrical piece about a teenager experiencing three visions—of death, filial love, and the fear of separation as he steps into manhood and the unpredictable future. It was densely poetic, visually arresting, with fabulous light effects, using primitive dimmers made by a mad-scientist classmate, Jose Dominador (Nonoy) Valena. Using coke bottles filled with salt solution, he dipped exposed copper electric wires to create gradations of light. Had the water in those bottles spilled, we would all have been electrocuted.
The look of the play was, I’m still proud to say, ultra modern.
Everyone was certain we were the winners.
The judges thought differently. We placed third, the judges proclaiming, our piece didn’t have drama. Paul Dumol won 1st place with Puting Timamanukin. Bruxie Abrera and Dindo Angeles won 2nd with Kandilang Naaagnas.
We were, to say the least, catatonic. Tony Perez was in shock, and has remained in shock to this very day. I swear Tony started chasing ghosts and spirits ever since we lost that night.
The phenomenal thing about “Hoy, Boyet!” was that it made us Warholianly famous. Our production was written about in the press. In my long career, we’ve never gotten as much press coverage as “Hoy, Boyet!” did. J.D. Constantino devoted a whole article on it. Bien Lumbera wrote about it. Alfredo Roces waxed lyrical in two succeeding articles in his Manila Times column, proclaiming the richness of the poetry and the dawn of a new period in our national language. Rolando Tinio directed a version a year after. Virgil Reyes published the play in pocketbook form.
In 1968, we were legend.
We couldn’t ask for more!
|...I got my lessons from Mr. Mabalot. He was our Socrates. He asked the questions. He guided us to penetrate language for meanings, and deeper meanings.
Now in the letter I received, it said that I am being given this award in recognition of my insightful and outstanding contribution in theater.
Sa totoo lang, nakatataba ng puso. After 44 years, na-getch niyo na meron pala akong insights.
I wish to acknowledge the many who have worked with me in many productions. Theater is always a collaborative effort, and I am not alone whenever we work on plays. It’s always a whole team—of playwrights, actors, designers, stage managers, and stage hands. That team has grown through the years, many are abroad. Some of them are in the audience with throats parched for gin and vodka, or sky flakes man lang.
Now, I know it will take too long to mention everyone that contributed to my growth as an artist and theater director. I will probably email a lot of them instead. But please indulge me to isolate and elevate one teacher among the many I’ve had here at the Ateneo. He was our sophomore literature teacher, Mr. Antonio Mabalot, who unfortunately met a terrible accident, and died shortly after he retired from teaching. The jeepney that he had stepped into, was crushed by an over speeding truck, recklessly rushing down Katipunan.
Tony Mabalot was a wonderful teacher. He was soft spoken. He had a wry sense of humor. He always generated class discussions, asking questions to make his students articulate and clarify ideas.
He stimulated our creative juices by reading aloud our compositions, and allowing the class to react to the essays. He’d choose the most curious, and discuss the merits of the piece, subtly showing you how to write more effectively, pointing you to pursue a style or a more appropriate tone.
So, Irma, George—those of you who praise me for teaching you how to act and analyze your characters, I got my lessons from Mr. Mabalot. He was our Socrates. He asked the questions. He guided us to penetrate language for meanings, and deeper meanings. If I don’t shout, or throw chairs or objects at actors in the grand UP tradition, it is because of this teacher who led me to a full understanding of context and subtext: that what you need to do is get the attention of your student, and trust his intelligence to explore the depths and breadth of whatever is being discussed and analyzed. As he would admit surprise at our insights, he would give us his corresponding rewards. He was generous with his grades.
The creative process stems from that initial stimulation of the mind. It’s all you really need to nourish you for a lifetime of work in the theater, however fraught with frustrations and disappointments.
Paul, Tony, and I, after Ateneo, we all pursued a dream—to contribute to a National Theater. All we needed was a group of actors, a handful of writers, and we could supply the energy with our talent. In a roundabout way, we have done that, I’d like to think. I have directed most of Paul’s plays and done a large number of Tony’s dramas. Paul has written an impressive body of plays waiting to be published. And Tony is doing just that this very moment—publishing his entire oeuvre in cooperation with the UST Press.
In 44 years, we have met a lot of obstacles along the way. And I must admit, it’s very painful to look back at the many individuals, some clueless, others malicious, others vicious, who were negative and plainly uncooperative, or worse, just plain pretentious.
|If government, or elements in government have become adversaries of Culture, let me add that, to me, the equal enemies of Culture are the publishers and editors of newspapers.
A case in point is my experience, rather our experience (Badong Bernal’s and mine) at our pursuit for a National Theater in the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines). In retrospect, Badong was correct in his analysis that the CCP should be managed by a creative artist. Once you relinquish that or give it away to put in a business manager, or a socialite, to be the boss or top honcho, the whole institution transforms itself from a center for culture to a center for ‘the otherwise’—business, perhaps, political accommodation, social networking, or creating personal fiefdoms. The abstract argument, when we were still working there, was that artists are difficult to manage and/or control. That should put a Cheshire cat smile on anyone who has agonized over a poem, a short story, a novel, a painting, a play, a ballet, or a dance piece. For the nature of the artist is exactly that—he can’t be controlled, because he needs to be in control. It is the nature of creativity—the artist needs to control what he’s doing—or it becomes an ABS-CBN or GMA-Seven pudding—concocted by boardroom executives. What you get is not art, but a lasciviously attractive product ready to be devoured by the uncritical.
Let me lament. Art is not a priority in institutions like the CCP. Too many political issues oppress the normal functions of the organization. Too many vested interests cancel each other out that creative programs cannot prosper and thrive; they cannot develop in creative serenity.
If government, or elements in government have become adversaries of Culture, let me add that, to me, the equal enemies of Culture are the publishers and editors of newspapers. They are neither hostile nor closed to art and culture. After all these years, I have found them on the whole to be indifferent to art, or at most, minimally concerned. Only in Manila will you find the absence of basic information on what is happening culturally in town in any given day. In any metropolis in Europe or America, you can easily find listings of cultural activities in theater, music, art, food. Here in Manila, reviews of ballet and plays are published long after the run. The plethora of press releases rather than critical assessment is symptomatic of intellectual indifference. The tolerance for ‘envelopmental’ practice is part and parcel of that indifference.
But we need not despair. We still have a National Theater. It may be moribund in institutions like the CCP, but the moro-moro or the comedia is vibrant and alive today in the halls of Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and in Malacanang.
I call it prestige theater.
I think I have said enough.
I want to thank you all again for this honor bestowed on me today.
I invited our Fourth Year homeroom teacher, Fr. Pat Giordano today but he begged off saying he has to conduct a three-day retreat for seniors, starting today, about lunch time. Obviously none of you awardees are part of that group. I told him that I know he shall be with me in spirit, and that before he releases the would-be graduates to the urban wilderness, I kidded him that he should show them the fires of hell, like a good Jesuit.
I have just shared with you my side of paradise.
I thank you once more.
© Nonon Padilla