ART moves people. Whether this requires a shift in heartbeat or a direct pull over the edge of their seats, it helps change perspective and learn about what’s at stake. Whatever form it takes, whether it is being read over words on a page or manifested through a performance onstage, art mirrors life’s realities, circumstances, longings and possibilities.
When I first acted onstage with Dulaang Atenista in a twin-bill production dubbed as “#RelationshipGoals” last week (from January 30 to February 2), I have come to grasp the inclusivity that theater as an art form encompasses. It is a collaborative medium like filmmaking which requires diverse talents working together to produce a work that can be seen, heard, and felt [internally and emotionally].
Performing two plays written by local writers, Dulaang Atenista (Xavier University’s first and longest-running theater organization) attempted to achieve goals of familial and romantic relationships. In my experience with five shows at the XU Little Theater (with a matinee and gala schedule on our last day), I can attest that the production made a remarkable prelude to the Xavier Center for Culture and the Arts’ annual celebration of the National Arts Month and a stunning tribute to DA’s 30th year.
This was because of the two plays that have emerged fresh off their scripts and premiered in the twin-bill production with the approval and blessing of their talented playwrights.
The sumptuous pochero
Xavier University alumnus and law student Dennis Flores dealt with the themes of family, belongingness, sexuality, and self-actualization in, “Mama’s Pork Pochero.” This was the first play performed during the twin-bill production and was also Flores’ first staged play.
It told the story of Bryce Fuentes (played by the author of this article) who attempted to cook his and his siblings’ favorite dish on the eve of their mother’s funeral when he returned home after years of disappearance and indifference. His sister, Nadine Fuentes (played by Development Communication student Madonna Actub) found him in their kitchen where they kindled a fiery conversation about their past and how Bryce had struggled to discover himself after years of being left out by his siblings.
As the middle child, he had taken responsibility of taking care of their sick father while his siblings had struggled with their education in Manila. After their father had passed on, he began to realize something else. Knowing that he had wasted two years of his life, he set out to find himself but couldn’t accept the prospect that his family would not accept him again after what he did and who he was.
Resolution brewed after a heated exchange, and when Nadine explained that their parents loved them all the same. Like a sumptuous steaming pochero (pork stew spiced with vegetables and condiments) served in a bowl, Flores’ play was a treat that depicted the value of family constantly ingrained in Filipino culture and that which resonates with universal reality.
I first auditioned in August last year after a friend (a former DA member who now works as an educator at said university) recommended and encouraged me. Performance art is a medium that I rarely do as I feel more comfortable sitting down and weaving narratives on pages. But my experience with DA after countless script-readings, rehearsals, workshops, and coaching had helped me venture into another realm that isn’t too foreign from literature and journalism. There is truth in theater because all art forms are reflections of life. But truth onstage is only presented in a different way compared to how they are read on pages or viewed onscreen.
The twin-bill’s second part depicted a budding romance between two childhood friends who grew up to be adults that succeeded in their careers but were faced with the crisis of love.
After a couple of beers during a late-night conversation at a sidewalk, Ram (played alternately by Business Administration student Rufin Vamenta and Development Communication alumnus Jethro Javier) confessed his desire and attraction to Dee (played alternately by Pscyhology students Isabella Alvarez and Claire Niez). However, Dee received the confession with hesitation due to the former’s courtship with another. Determined to take their relationship to a new and more intimate level, the potential lovers struck a deal to complete their hearts’ puzzle when their relationships with someone else would not work.
Entitled, “Sakay,” and written by former Xavier University student Mai Santillan and founder of the local literary organization, Nagkahiusang Manunulat sa Cagayan de Oro (Nagmac), the play explored twists and turns in every relationship and the possibility that friendships can evolve into something more profound, even to the point of giving one’s entire hopes for the world to the one who holds a special place in one’s heart. Subtle but also striking, the play captured emotions and revealed truth the way that beer or any alcoholic drink does – in-depth and unexpected.
For first-time performers like Vamenta and Niez, the curtain will open opportunities for more theatrical performances. This comes with DA’s anticipated resurgence wherein the theater organization seeks to collaborate with more local artists and handle workshops for students in the future to bring original plays to life.
Resurgence of local plays
After a successful run, with a viewer commenting its excellence during the twin-bill’s third night, the production did not only mark the beginning of XCCA’s Panaghugpong 11 (National Arts Month celebration), but has also set the scene for plays written by local writers to be staged. The twin-bill production was co-directed by prominent CDO-based thespian and City Museum Officer JC Salon and filmmaker Angelo Dabbay.
DA may have existed for 30 years now, but its seasons keep changing and its devotion for theatrical productions continues. With the most recent depiction of family values and discovering genuine love based on plays by local writers, the theater organization has proven once again that it can tackle any subject matter that is relatable, essential, and constructive to viewers.
As the National Arts Month occurs every February, spotlights may shine over DA for the rest of the year. With Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao’s flourishing artistic community, I believe DA has cemented its legacy in the region’s theater scene and will continue to do so in the next 30 years and more.