This year, two figures devoted to Filipino Performing Arts passed away. Sarah K. Joaquin, who was among the early pioneers of professional theatre productions in Manila, and Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, author of PALABAS: Essays on Philippine Theatre History and theatre critic, will be greatly missed.
Our Own Voice, in its seventh issue, features the Filipino Performing Arts in the homeland and in the diaspora. One of the richest art forms, it is the least documented. The writings in this issue hopefully will inspire you, dear reader, to share your insights and observations, your critiques and your experiences on "theatre." One could say that Filipinos are natural performers; it is our spontaneous form of self-expression. We revel in music, dance and theatre.
Rondalla music can bridge the economic and generation issues among doctors and domestics, students and professionals, children and old timers. The strain of Filipino music is a thread that weaves our many regional differences into one colorful tapestry. The rippling sounds of the kulintang and the energizing gangsa rhythm stir our collective memory like the bellow of a conch in the distance, announcing a village event.
When The Bayanihan Dance Company was first conceived by Helena Z Benitez and founded in the late 50s, it offered "Glimpses of Philippine Culture" in its repertoire. The programs created by national artists, Lucrecia Kasilag (music), Lucrecia Urtula (dance) and their associates literally carried the house of our cultural icons on the shoulders of the dancers. Bayanihan stylized the rituals and folk dances into the present theatrical choreography. Filipino cultural communities in the diaspora have, through the years, uniformly held Filipino cultural events in the "Bayanihan" style.
And theatre! Traces of pre-Hispanic theatre in indigenous groups still abound. As scholars and artists come upon these communities, they have recorded these cultures for posterity that would otherwise have been lost in time; and the discovery has enriched their creative works. Today's theatrical productions are revivals, adaptations, and innovations on century-old theatre forms such as rituals, the moro-moro, corrido, zarzuela, and bodabil. The art of balagtasan predates today's trend in Spoken Word and Performance Poetry.
When in 1989, the prestigious Olivier Award in London for Best Actress in a Musical was bestowed on an unknown Asian performer, the award did not surprise British musical theatre audiences. Diminutive Lea Salonga displayed a tenacity and mettle in Acting and Voice. Two years later, in 1991, she reprised her role on Broadway and won the Tony Award for the same categorybesting the cream of Broadway's musical actors that year. Salonga and the Filipinos in the original cast of Miss Saigon flung the doors open for Filipino performing artists in musicals before multicultural stage productions became the sound byte.
Every Filipino actor, male and female, who has participated in the grueling daily performances of Miss Saigon worldwide in the last two decades, deserves acclaim. As performing artists, they stamped the image of the Filipino professional actor in the international theatre circuitnot merely as a generic Asian artist, but as a Filipino one.
In the picturesque community of Juneau, Alaska, Perseverance Theatre, a regional theatre company, is initiating a production called The Cannery Project. Slated for 2004, its aim is to stage a play based on Carlos Bulosan's stories of the Filipino migrant workers who toiled in the salmon canning factories during the early 1920s in Alaska and in the Pacific Northwest. Preparation and research for the project is underway and any contributing data by way of stories and interviews are welcome. Contact Anita Maynard-Losh, project director at www.perseverancetheatre.org. The 2004 production is aiming for an all-Filipino cast.
Year 2004 will also mark the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the First World's Fair held in St. Louis, Missouri where the Bontoc people were displayed as an exotic tribe of savages. This affront to Filipino dignity may have initially gone unnoticed but it reflected America's condescending attitude towards the Filipinos. In 2004, Filipino American theatre groups will bring the Filipino story to the world in various commemorative presentations.
Our Own Voice will continue to be here for you, dear reader, to cull your literary works that tell the whole world what Being Filipino is all about.
July 19, 2002