Plays on Mindanao aspirations to take center stage at Tanghal University Theater Festival




By Stephen J. Pedroza

The 10th Tanghal University Theater Festival will put the spotlight on plays about Mindanao conflicts and aspirations on November 25 and 26 to be hosted by Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan.

The festival is composed of three main performances from XU’s The Xavier Stage, Mindanao State University Marawi’s Sining Kambayoka Ensemble, and La Salle University Ozamis’s Teatro Guindegan, and two fringe presentations from Xavier’s Dulaang Atenista and Pasundayag Community Arts of Cagayan de Oro City.

Through the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ National Committee on Dramatic Arts, the tenth installment of Tanghal forms part of the celebration of the Mindanao Week of Peace 2016.

In this year’s Tanghal, Mindanao is given Earth (Yuta) as its theme, to which the host institution Xavier Center for Culture and the Arts (XCCA) appropriates Yuta to signify Mindanao as the “Land of Promise and Peace” and curates plays about our ethnicity, hopes, and origins.

The Moro question

The Xavier Stage (TXS), a resident repertory theater company of Xavier University, will present a twin-bill of Dr. Art Casanova’s “Nang Lumuha ang mga Tala sa Gitna ng Lawa” and Romeo Narvaez’s “Dula Ta.” This amalgamated production is aptly titled “Singanin,” a Meranao term for “aspiration.”

Singanin depicts the struggles of the Moro people who are victims of the Mindanao conflicts in the areas of North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Casanova’s part presents cunningly the intertwines of land grabbing, hunger and poverty, and the infamous clashes between the Ilaga and the Barracudas — who were para-militaries created by scheming politicians a year before the declaration of Martial Law in 1971. Meanwhile, Narvaez poignantly reflects the contemporary Mindanao conflict through the eyes of two children who witnessed the ravages of war at a young age.

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Singanin will be staged under the artistic direction of Hobart Savior, who is also the director of XCCA.

“Mindanao theater is alive!” Savior exclaimed. “Through this theater festival, we hope to highlight the issues at the peripheries and the historical injustices in Mindanao. It has been one of the missions of The Xavier Stage to showcase plays with social relevance and with peace as an aspiration.”

Heaven or hell

Teatro Guindegan of La Salle Ozamis is set to perform “Ang Tawo” for Tanghal. Directed by Felimon Blanco, the play follows the death of “Tawo,” an allegorical figure of humanity. When Tawo has been called upon by Kamatayon (Death) to face his end, he approaches his friends and family, but no one wants to accompany him to the “Other Side.”

With allusions of man’s seven deadly sins, Tawo considers bringing his wealth in the afterlife, but it wouldn’t save him either. His last resort is to approach Paghigugma (Love) whom he has forgotten for a long time. Paghigugma also invites Matandang Propesor and Batang Propesor, metaphorical figures of the Church, to join them in the journey.

But what will it take for Tawo to be cleansed from his sins so he may enter the Paradise is what the audience has to find out.

Under the rain of bullets

Completing the three major offerings of the 10th Tanghal Festival is Sining Kambayoka Ensemble’s critically-acclaimed “Sa Ilalum sa mga Nag-ulang Tingga” (Under the Rain of Bullets) directed by Pepito Sumayan of Mindanao Statue University Marawi.

Sumayan, a Meranaw native, is an actor, writer and cultural worker based in Lanao del Sur. He is a homegrown talent of Sining Kambayoka and he first appeared in “Mga Kuwentong Maranaw” in 1993.

“Under the Rain of Bullets” was written by seasoned playwrights Marili Fernandez-Ilagan and Sunnie Noel.

Documentary-demonstration on Alibata

Tanghal Theater Festival will also offer fringe performances.

The Pasundayag Community Arts and Production (formerly known as Pasundayag Theater and Arts Collective) will present a documentary-demonstration performance.

Pasundayag project director Denise Mordeno Aguilar will share her experiences as a scholar of the program, Professional Diploma in Intercultural Theater (Major in Acting), at the Intercultural Theatre Institute, Singapore. Her scholarship was made possible by the generosity of the NCCA and the Kuo Pao Kun Foundation.

Part of Mordeno’s discussion is a documentary film on our Sinaunang Baybayin, the outcome of a series of activities from a workshop facilitated by Emil Yap, an expert on the ancient Filipino writing system, famously coined as “Alibata.”

“Baibayin” or “baybayin” is a system of writing of our Filipino ancestors, which started from the root word “baybay” or “baibai,” meaning “spelling or tracing.” The Sinaunang Baybayin is not based on the Doctrina Christiana developed and widely disseminated by the colonizers; in fact, this is the “Alpabeto ni Bonifacio,” which the Katipuneros used in their secret covenant.

Pasundayag is a community arts group in Mindanao whose theater apprentices are now the young blood not only in Mindanao theater, but also in the national stage, such as Mark Bautista and Johnny Macanas. Since its first production in 1998, Pasundayag has become a platform for multidisciplinary initiatives in culture and the arts in the region.

The group also intends to open its own studio based in Cagayan de Oro City to conduct classes for those who are interested to learn about contemporary theater work.

‘No Prob, It’s Improv’

The 28-year-old Dulaang Atenista, the resident theater company of Ateneo de Cagayan, is set to perform its crowd favorite “No Prob, It’s Improv,” a live improvisational performance wherein actors create the plot, characters, dialogues, and scenes on the spot. Their show will run under the artistic direction of Ray Anthony Lao.

No Prob, It’s Improv,” was formed after a few DA members were exposed to “Whose Line is it Anyway?” re-runs and shows of the Bacolod Improv Group back in 2010. Later on, they were able to use Peque Gallaga’s modified Viola Spolin workshops which were beneficial to the group and to their live skits.

Dulaang Atenista has cemented itself as a major force in Cagayan de Oro City’s improvisation theater scene.

All shows of the 10th Tanghal University Theater Festival are open to the public for free. Performances will be held at the XU Little Theater.

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