Editor’s note: There is no better source on the live happenings in Philippine Theatre than these acceptance speeches—our lucky 2nd submission from the author – which we publish and bring to readers. [Congratulations, Nonon!]
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|We gained some notoriety with that production because it did not fit the usual notion of standard drama with a clear narrative, but was presented experimentally, with a rather baroque text...
I was formally informed of this award last week when I attended a casting meeting for Haring Lear, which has been invited to a theater festival in Taipei this October, but which alas might not happen because of the current political tensions between The Philippines and Taiwan.
In the large admin room of Peta, across the room, Maribel Legarda happily told me in a loud voice, “Hey, Philstage is giving you an award. Come ha!”
That’s how the formal announcement was made.
Apparently, this is a lifetime achievement award—of sorts, one never knows, since I was not informed even by email of the scope, the length and breadth of the work I am being feted and honored for tonight.
And whatever you have measured me with and have found my work in the theater worth recognizing, I humbly accept.
I guess it will be proper to review some salient points of my career in the theater.
One big moment was in 4th year high school at the Ateneo in 1968 when Onofre Pagsanhan launched the Dulaang Sibol Contest. I directed Hoy, Boyet, written by my classmate, Tony Perez. We gained some notoriety with that production because it did not fit the usual notion of standard drama with a clear narrative, but was presented experimentally, with a rather baroque text, free verse that internally rhymed, complemented with a visual language of dance movement and colorful, fairly abstract costumes.
It was a play about a teenager contemplating Death, the different forms of love as experienced by a young man, and a dream about his fears and anxieties of facing Time Future and the new world of adulthood.
I say notoriety, because we lost the contest, we placed third.
But we were written about in all the daily newspapers by the likes of J.D. Constantino, Alfredo Roces, and Bien Lumbera, and hailed as the most exciting production in Manila. Tony Perez was heralded as a new Balagtas, giving new life to our national language.
Throughout our career, we have had an unwavering passion for the theater. We, includes Tony Perez, Paul Dumol, and myself. Paul won first place with his play Puting Timamanukin.
We proceeded to join Peta. At that time, Peta was newly established in 1968 by Cecile Guidote.
Truth to tell, this unwavering passion has brought more downs than ups in our careers as theater artists.
Technically we never clashed with Cecile Guidote because she literally disappeared from the scene, and established herself in exile when she married Heherson Alvarez, and lived in New York for almost 16 or so years.
When Peta was reorganized in 1972, Lily Gamboa became chairman, and Lino Brocka became Executive Director. I was elected as Artistic Director of the Kalinangan Ensemble.
From the beginning, our passion was to establish a repertory company of actors, much like the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the British National Theater, or the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It didn’t take long for Lino and myself to clash over choice of plays. I wanted to concentrate on the classics. He wanted popular plays. Those were the Marxist years when every choice had to have relevance to political life. And nationalism was defined by the sickle and the hammer.
|The future, as defined by Nic Tiongson and Mrs. Teresa Roxas was to eventually transform and organize the CCP into a Ministry of Culture. It was never to happen.
I withdrew from theater, and for quite a number of years taught visual arts and humanities in U.P. I also worked for the Bureau of Tourism Promotions of the Department of Tourism under Rudy Dula. In fact, I developed an alternative career as a visual artist/printmaker, and ended up working as a curator at the CCP, when I inherited the position of Ray Albano, who in August 1985, succumbed to a collapsed lung, and died.
Edsa happened and the CCP was reorganized.
Those heady, topsy-turvy days brought about radical changes in the CCP.
Nic Tiongson invited me to organize a new company, which eventually was called Tanghalang Pilipino, to replace the company of Rolando Tinio, who refused to cooperate with the new dispensation. The future, as defined by Nic Tiongson and Mrs. Teresa Roxas was to eventually transform and organize the CCP into a Ministry of Culture. It was never to happen.
Paul Dumol, Tony Perez, and Boy Noriega quickly agreed to supply new scripts for the new Company.
From the start, the end goal was to form a repertory company of actors who could continually train and perform plays in repertory.
That is how I started the Actors’ Company, keeping a small group of actors and trainees to study scripts, take voice lessons, movement classes, etc., all these with a very limited budget, all those involved sacrificing time and sweat for the good of the company, all in the service of serious art, with the fervent desire to nurture Philippine Culture.
For 16 years, we managed to present an average of 6 to eight plays per season, (one season we managed to do 12). Budgets were always tight. Even if we wanted to expand training program, hire more teachers and directors, we had to double up functions to make ends meet.
From 1987 to 2002, we saw 4 presidents take over the new Republic. And with every changing of the guard, the CCP transformed as well—not for the better, but for the horror of us seeing an art institution eventually turn into a shell, into a “democratic,” in quotes, venue run efficiently not by artists but by politicians and bureaucrats. I need not review the horror of those years, but suffice it to say, much energy and saliva have been expelled toward organizing the CCP Art Institution into a well-oiled machine, subject to the whims and caprices of political appointees, who should have done better had they learned to bake pastries or pasta putanesca, than dabble in gossip in the board rooms, thereby neglecting to generate much needed funds for the institution.
In fact, I think, that is what is essentially wrong with the Board of CCP today. They do not channel and replenish funds. However much we all hate Imelda Marcos, she single-handedly generated funds for the CCP. According to the late Geronimo Velasco, he said he was part of the CCP board during those years, and they never met as a board. But Imelda always did her homework, and when money was short, she would call businessmen to Malacanang, feed them lunch or merienda, and point blank ask each invitee to donate a sum. She always knew how much to ask, Mr. Velasco added.
But that is now moot and academic.
CCP is supposed to be bankrupt or reduced to penury, forced to open its doors to commercial productions.
When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo salvaged the Republic from the gourmand-inebriate, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, she brought in Behn Cervantes into the CCP Board. And the first project that Mr. Cervantes wangled through the president was a gay adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s Portrait. Nes Jardin readily cooperated and gave the production a whopping P1,3000,000.00. When Badong Bernal informed me of it, (he had been asked to design it), I violently reacted. Tanghalang Pilipino received a subsidy of one million for eight productions per season for the Batute and the Little Theater.
|What the public did not know was that it stunned the National Artist playwright, Nick Joaquin into silence... Nick sat through the performance in dead silence.
I was scandalized.
No matter. The gay Portrait had a 2-week run and was the talk of the town, with the irrepressible Behn Cervantes playing the role of Candida, now called Candido, of course.
What the public did not know was that it stunned the National Artist playwright, Nick Joaquin into silence. According to Lourdes and Greg Brillantes, and also Elena Roco, Nick sat through the performance in dead silence. Instead of his rambunctious self, noisily commenting on the action of the play, Nick was exceptionally quiet. After the performance, he stood up and left the theater. When they proceeded to dinner after the performance, Lourdes Brillantes noted that Nick Joaquin was quiet throughout the rest of the evening.
Now, who in his right mind would not be scandalized?
Well, the irony of it all was—no one was scandalized!
Nes Jardin, hiding behind the board, defended the project as CCP’s prerogative.
It was time to say good-bye. I resigned. An injustice was done…best to sweep it under the rug, Nes Jardin, thank you very much.
At first, I wanted to close the company. I felt that it was best to close shop, relinquish the assets of the company, and leave Nes Jardin the freedom to organize a new theater company to his liking and taste.
But no one, no one backed me up.
I was accused of raising a tempest in a teapot, that such political maneuvers were part and parcel of life at the CCP, and that one just had to weather these political discomforts.
So I left.
In hindsight, there was no need to close shop. The company, Tanghalang Pilipino is not the same group that was formed in 1987. That died a natural death---from demoralization. And the dream of a repertory company is nowhere to be had. Even today.
And so you ask, why this morbid obsession with forming a repertory theater company. It is simply not realistic in our cultural environment where the norm is to flit from one company to the next, gathering different disciplines from different directors, gaining practical experience. I simply call these individuals, theater sluts.
To be serious about theater, one can only look to the rest of the world, to Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Berlin, London. All these centers have centuries of theater tradition and the best of them were founded not by bureaucrats and politicians but by theater artists—writers, actors, managing their craft, developing actors not as quickie endos, but as members of a company. Shakespeare, Moliere, and even the Russian consumptive, Anton Chekhov had such a company to rely on and work for.
If we are serious about nurturing our culture, should we not focus on the ills retarding growth? One alarming symptom is the intellectual poverty that pervades the writing of plays, dramas, and comedies. The culture of ABS-CBN and GMA Seven seems to be winning out. Any intellectual endeavor, any artistic approach that prompts an audience to think is politely trashed.
So welcome American plays and musicals. An audience will readily pay P7,000 to P10,000 a ticket but if it is a local musical, P1000.00 is too expensive. “Wala bang complimentary ticket?”
In July, I am directing a Ryan Cayabyab musical of San Lorenzo Ruiz, written by Paul Dumol and Christian Vallez. We are presenting it at the new theater in St Benilde the first two weekend of August, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
I hope you take time to watch this rock opera, which I assure all you will enjoy. The music is wonderfully inspired and the approach to the life of this mestizo chino, Lorenzo Ruiz, will make you think about the plight of our fellow Pinoy overseas worker.
Do help us. Don’t ask for comps. Tickets will be affordable.
And so now, as I end this acceptance speech, I am like the teenage character in Tony Perez’s Hoy Boyet, facing Time Future, not as a bagito but as a senior citizen, contemplating, always contemplating not on endings, but on new beginnings.
So now, I’m out of here. I’ve been promised unlimited access to rides outside for free! If you want to talk shop, talk art, or theater, see you at the Ferris Wheel or the Tchubibo!
Thank you again!
I love you all!