Vicente Salumbides; Madeleine Nicolas (Photo Credit: Madlen MV Nicolas’ Facebook); “Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio” poster (Photo Credit: Lyrenze Marc Quezada’s Facebook); Bibeth Orteza (Photo Credit: Bibeth Orteza’s Facebook)

Rediscovering local arts and culture (film, theater, lit etc.) in the grassroots

Lecturing on Theater Arts at the Leon Guinto Memorial College in Atimonan, Quezon these past few months was a refresher course indeed.

It was also time to give back to the community as far as Atimonan and Lopez and other Fourth District towns in the province for the kindness they had extended to me in my youth. 

It was rediscovering, too, the many cultural traditions in these idyllic places.

You see, my undergrad course in college was Literature. I had ample time learning a lot about Philippine lit in Filipino and in English and in the same vein, world literature. My Master of Arts (MA) was in Theater Arts and I had a lot of seminars and workshops relative to theater as lit and as a performing art.

When LGMC asked me to lecture on Theater for the Art Apprenticeship 1 course to more than thirty two students of Bachelor of Culture and Arts in Education (BCAED) I didn’t mince words.

It was a return to my epistemological background in arts, in general, and lit, in particular.

When Christian Furio, the Coordinator for the curriculum requested a syllabus about the subject, I easily sent him a mix of theories on theater as lit and theater as a practical course through exercises I learned from the past workshops we had with DUMALO (Dulaang Don Mateo Lopez), a community-based theater organization I founded in Lopez in 1991. I had facilitators then who graduated from the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), namely Sidney Dalanon, the Artistic Director of the group and Cymbie Osias. They brought with him Marze Sibayan, a nursing grad but who loved theater as well. 

PETA orientation and thrust mostly influenced our local drama guild composed of kids, elementary schoolers, high school and college students from both the public and private institutions, out-of-school youth and professionals in the municipality who assimilated the pro-people vision of PETA which was our source of pride.

A progressive drama group, Kairus, also rubbed in its theater principles of self-reliance, service-oriented, freedom of expression, mass-based membership etc. to DUMALO.

It was a successful three-month learning for me and my students because I was able to go back to the basics of theater as lit in re-educating myself on Nick Joaquin’s works like “Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” Tony Perez’s “Bombita,” Rene Villanueva’s “May Isang Sundalo,” Edward Albee’s “The Sandbox,” Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” among others.

I was passionate to teach theater because I owe a lot to my roots, one of them Lopez town, that gave me many opportunities to widen my horizon in many facets of life no matter the oppressive patriarchal system pervaded and still prevailing like homophobia because of my gayness.

Atimonan, Calauag, Gumaca, Siain (Plaridel), Guinayangan, Tagkawayan or as far as Pagbilao might not be my origins but they too are rich sources of camaraderie and experiences from all walks of life.

Meanwhile, what ignited my thoughts and feelings of closeness to natural history and heritage is what Chris Millado—a popular and well-meaning art historian, teacher, arts manager and literary figure as well—told me when I got him on my cellphone camera about his piece of advice to my Theater students: “Huwag na muna kayong lumayo sa mga paksa na tatalakayin ninyo sa teatro at sa sining. Ang mga lokal na tradisyon at kultural na bayani ng inyong bayan ang inyo munang pag-aralan para mas malapit sa inyong puso at isipan (Don’t go farther yet in your topics about theater and the arts. Your local traditions and cultural heroes are the primary and most significant sources of the studies),” said Chris who has just retired from government service as former vice-president and artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

I easily thought of Vicente Salumbides, one of the Philippine film pioneers, a business partner of the so-called Father of Philippine Movies Jose Nepomuceno.

Salumbides was born in Lopez and he deserves to be studied by students not only of political history because he was one of the delegates to the 1935 Constitutional Convention who fought for Filipino as a National Language, among other causes but of cultural history as well.

Vicente has many films, many of them initially silent but his directorial assignments “Ibong Adarna” and “Florante at Laura,” both from LVN Pictures, are considered to be classics.

Salumbides can be a candidate for the National Artist honor for his contributions to the arts, specifically in cinema.

In one of my video call guest lectures, I invited television, movie and stage actress Madeleine Nicolas, a native of Calauag, who was generous in sharing her wisdom and experiences in theater to class which every member took to their hearts and minds. 

Madeleine also emphasized the importance of local history and tradition in the growth and development of society.

“Gusto ko ngang makatulong at maging involved sa mga cultural activities sa Quezon dahil sa mga karanasan ko (I really want to support and get involved in the cultural activities in Quezon because of my experiences),” exclaimed Nicolas who has so many award-winning performances in films, TV shows and stage plays.

My students were indeed thankful to Madeleine and the other resource speakers like Dr. Arthur Casanova, Chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), Dennis Marasigan, Vice-President and Artistic Director of CCP, progressive writer, director, actress and feminist Bibeth Orteza and a recorded interview with Ricky as well. They also encouraged the students to tackle local arts and culture in their theater.

They might not be professional enough in presenting Paul Dumol’s “Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio” during the recital last week but the participants did their best, like Rowell Alegre who essayed Mang Serapio that made the play more accessible to the Quezonians, young and old alike despite its being an old piece.

It meant that they were able to grasp the theories and practice of theater in whatever degrees to share with their homegrown fellow residents and guests from neighboring communities.  

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