Looking into the history of theater in the Philippines, we come across the various types of performances our country has adapted; the sarswela, bodabil, komedya and sinakulo to name a few. Through the years, each form has developed various social purposes, and has helped shape many organizations’ visions and missions. Combined with all the emerging theater groups, we are continuing to witness this burgeoning theater scene in our archipelago.
That being said, one of our community’s persisting challenges lies in fortifying links within said community, while continuing to highlight active groups, and their evolving practices, that make up theater here in the Philippines.
National Theater Conference 2017
The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) hosted another National Theater Conference titled ANINAG: Mga Nagbabagong Eksena sa Gilid at Sulok ng Dulang Pilipino last May 30-31, 2017. The two-day conference was a continued effort from the 2016 theatre conference, ANINAG: Mga Bago at Nagbabagong Dulaan sa Sulok at Gilid ng Tanghalan.
Upon registration, we were asked to choose one (1) out of the five (5) different sessions that happened simultaneously.
The clusters were as follows:
- Folk/Religious Community Theater Practices
- New Theater Media and Spaces
- Small Independent Theater Groups
- Theater Competitions and Festivals
- Theater Linkages and Advocacies
Each parallel session was designed to have four (4) to five (5) speakers, a rapporteur and a facilitator.
To see the project brief, click here.
The first day commenced with CCP Artistic Director Chris Millado’s opening remarks and Conference Director Glecy Atienza’s orientation of the program. Consuelo Zapata introduced the delegates and participants followed by a keynote presentation by Dr. Nicanor Tiongson on Ang Pambansang Dulaan at si Aurelio Tolentino. After a short break, Glecy Atienza resumed with the ANINAG Regional Consultation findings that summarized the rationale of the aforementioned clusters.
Sessions were created to discuss issues that rose from groups based in schools, communities, religious sectors, and independent companies. While the growing population of theater groups is apparent nowadays, the lifespan of each group depends on the involvement of its artists. Our passion to create will always be there; however, time, and resources (or lack thereof) serve as limitations to what is possible.
On Folk/Religious Community Theater Practices
The session began with Nick Deocampo’s analysis on a fishing tradition among the Ivatans called “Vanua”; an initiation ritual where animal sacrifices are offered to what is believed to be a portal at sea. He observed what occurred as community's process of performing the ritual, and associated it to the concept of theater's customary routines.
The discussion moved forward with Ariel Diccion’s “Ang Liminalidad, Bisa at Aliw sa Pagtatanghal ng Salubong ng Aglipayanong Kongregasyon sa Paliparan, Lunsod ng Marikina” and the concept of liminality as a space where tradition and practice meet, which may help determine a community's identity. More often than not, innovation revives embedded issues especially in the area of conservatism. Likewise, on the subject of “Moryon,” a sacred panata that has been around for decades, is arguably considered as entertainment nowadays.
Although conservatism and innovation might be seen as two opposing arguments, scholars have become more open to alternative perspectives. The observation of the existing, and the rediscovery of the traditional–-theatrical concepts and elements, should perhaps be highlighted instead towards the enrichment of Philippine Theater practice and studies.
Overall, the issues on rituals and traditions where conservatism and modernism, the polyphony of beliefs and practices, the intersection of rituals and customs, its modern contexts, and "portal, sa halip na pader" view on Philippine Theater studies.
On New Theater Media And Spaces
With today’s advancements, theater and its reach in the Philippines has developed immensely. Designated spaces, both offline and online, have contributed to this phenomenon. Offline spaces in the form of venues such as PARC Foundation, Pineapple lab, et. al. grants theater productions greater feasibility and accessibility. While these small spaces can seem limiting, Jesse Lucas from Artist Playground affirms that ‘small’ can be beneficial in many ways, especially with costs and venue management.
On the other hand, evolving social media platforms also provide us the space to express political satire remotely. Artists like Juana Change (Mae Paner) continually find motivation and self-reinvention through a developing platform such as her YouTube channel. Other trends, like "flip top" or rap battles as shared by BLKD, become a form to introduce new themes. Happy R. Feraren of Third World Improv, discussed their experience with the audience as space and how it develops respect and communal expression. The Performing Body by Russ Ligtas tells us that not only are we tools used for theater, but materials as well. He also discussed the power of performance and its ability to heal both mind and body. Lastly, in Felimon Blanco’s discussion on Kutay Asyano, we are reminded of how Asian forms are all interconnected.
With this richer understanding of space as both intangible and tangible, we are driven to alternatives that connect space, media, form, and content.
On Small Independent Theater Groups
In the world of arts, performing groups have “passion” as their common denominator. Every time a new group emerges, they construct their identity through narratives and representations. Bearing in mind that form and function vary according to a company's vision, Steve Patrick Fernandez suggested in his talk that the medium in each performance is the meaning of the form; the meanings of which are produced through inter-textual relationships and trans-media storytelling.
In conclusion, there are two structures of theater. ‘Theater as Product’ where the active interaction of audience and performance is easily understood through articulated texts. ‘Theater as Process’ reinforces the experience of formation and the power to operate in the creation of performance.
On Theater Competitions And Festivals
Theater competitions and festivals have been an ongoing tradition in the Philippines. Although both platforms are perceived differently from one company to another, we know that it aims to showcase talent whether it be school or community-based.
However, these platforms have managed to instill a culture of cut-throat competitiveness where the end result may matter more than the process. While competitiveness is rarely a negative, the culture being instilled in theater practitioners, especially student-based organizations, may possibly cultivate unhealthy habits among said practitioners. It may also create greater divides among the various theater organizations.
To counter this, Anthony Cruz from Malabon National High School co-founded a local initiative called Performing Art Groups of Malabon and Navotas (PAGMANA) to nurture the relationship of Malabon and Navotas’ student performers. In support of this, Celestino Dalumpines from the Department of Education (Antique) reaffirmed that theater courses will hopefully be integrated in the K-12 curriculum.
Meanwhile, with the festivals presented, Tanghal’s Festival Director Eric Divinagracia shared their management schemes and artistic developments throughout their eight year run. Regarding their direction in the theater industry, Tanghal’s vision highlights their sense of community.
To summarize, these platforms empower us to redefine our artistic orientation of the theater conventions that we practice and know of.
On Theater Linkages And Advocacies
We close this blog with the discussion on theater linkages and advocacies. While social and environmental shifts cause fear and shock, companies such as Cultural Heritage & Rehabilitation through the Arts remind us how theater can impact the lives of suffering Filipinos through therapy. Whereas companies like Teatro Obrero, and Community-Based Theater Group – Sorsogon have made it their objective to bring consciousness to the younger generation. For example, in the city of Negros, reenactments of socio-political events help in making the youth develop awareness and understanding of the city’s history.
In conclusion, these talks served as illuminating insights into how theater in the Philippines is constantly evolving. Numerous opposing viewpoints, and objectives, have led to a somewhat fractured theater ecosystem, but it is a fracture that can be rectified. Theater practitioners must continue to find new ways to engage not only their audiences, but the theater community as a whole.
By studying these five prisms, we are given a roadmap towards improving that ecosystem. By integrating aspects from all the talks given, we will be able to press forward with a greater understanding of the challenges that lie ahead in turning Philippine theater into a greater socio-political force and into mainstream consciousness.
What can be classified as Philippine theater is still up for debate. What cannot be debated is the “passion” that emanates from every theater practitioner, whether it be related to personal goals, or the improvement of the Philippine theater ecosystem as a whole.
Prepared by the Philippine Performance Archive Theater Team