FINALLY, the Queen City of the South has a real theater for the arts—Siddhartha Theatre—thanks to the benevolence of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan (Buddha Light Mountain) Chu Un Temple on V. Rama St., Cebu City. Venerable Master Hsing Yun, in a visit here about a decade ago after seeing “Siddhartha the Musical” in a movie theater, publicly pledged $20 million Taiwanese dollars for the building of a theater for the arts in Cebu. He said that the money would come from the sale of his calligraphy works.
Siddhartha Theatre is the venue for the performances of the Guang Ming Institute of Performing Arts (GMIPA). Opened last year, the school established a one-year curriculum for the arts, according to its executive director, Junrey Alayacyac. It gives lessons for the performing arts from teachers in Manila and Cebu.
“For performances of the students, we provide everything—costumes, production budget—aside from the training. We also expose them to different performances in our country and abroad,” said Alayacyac. He added that the institute brought some 50 students to Kaohsiung, Taiwan early this year for a month-long series of performances of Philippine songs and dances in celebration of the Chinese New Year.
The theater can seat about 200 people and features state-of-the-art equipment including lighting, audio equipment and projectors. It can also be used for film fests, plays, seminars, conventions and musical presentations. The arm rests of the seats can be converted into writing pads. The theater is open to all artists either for use or rent. In the theater building are offices, a dance studio—with flooring designed to cushion the impact of active feet—a choir room, a class room, storage rooms for costumes and props, and a dormitory capable of housing 80 persons, designed for performers from out of town. The top deck is both a view deck and a laundry room.
The vision of the school, explained Alayacyac, is “to make it a prime and sustainable performing arts and educational center in the Philippines that nurtures talents and communities through humanistic cultivation.”
“Here, Philippine culture and aesthetics are always emphasized, as well as the practical teachings of Buddhism which are applicable to all whether Buddhist, Muslim, Christian,” he said.
In this light, the school is a center of sorts for the Three Acts of Goodness (Do good deeds; Speak good words; Think good thoughts), of which Alayacyac is the international ambassador, and the four values or givings: Give others hope; Give others convenience; Give others joy; and Give others confidence. To be enrolled in the school, Alayacyac said, one does not have to be a Buddhist. But within the school premises, one has to be vegetarian, in respect to the Buddhist temple in which the school is located.
Within the school are four cultural groups: the San Hao theater, which is the official theater group of the school; GMI chorale; GMI dance company; and the “Siddhartha the Musical” group.
“Siddartha the Musical” really started this all. Over a decade ago, the Fo Guang Shan (FGS) Foundation, decided to make a musical based on the life of Buddha, as Cebuanos almost always won the musical competition of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, translating into music the poetry he wrote about the life of Buddha. Since then, the musical has ran a total of 108 times in locations like Cebu, Manila, Bacolod, Sagay, and abroad in Taiwan, the United States West Coast, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia and China. Next month, it is going to be performed in Indonesia; Early next year, in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina; In 2021, in South Africa. The play can, of course, be translated into other languages and performed by another cast, but Venerable Master Hsing Yun prefers the play to be done by Cebuanos, in the original language it was created (English), despite the cost of transporting the Cebu cast and crew, props and costumes to other countries.
This makes the Siddhartha Theatre and the Guang Ming Institute for the Performing Arts, truly, a tribute to Cebuano talent.