Bringing Theater to the Home

Click here to jump to the following sections: The First Medium; The Transition to Film; Brocka’s Children; Enter Broadcast & Film Inc.; Specialized Training, Awards and Demise; Note.

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) was a momentarily anachronistic entity when it first arrived. Productions by so-called legitimate Philippine theater companies had never been performed in any local language before. After the Spanish era, “serious” Philippine theater had always been done in the English language, with the occasional original productions in Spanish.

11011The advantage was that the English-language productions introduced dramatic realism, in contrast with the Spanish-language forms of the sinakulo, komedya, and sarswela. The only scripts that would ever include Filipino words would be those for the social-realist dramas of Alberto Florentino, where impoverished characters would speak fluent English and an occasional Tagalog or mispronounced English word.

11011Not surprisingly, when PETA announced a search for Philippine literary classics to be adapted into teleplays for its groundbreaking weekly anthology titled Balintataw, Florentino was among the earliest responders. Nick Joaquin, whose Portrait of the Artist as Filipino was filmed in the original English by Lamberto V. Avellana for Diadem Pictures, agreed to have his globally acclaimed short fiction to be adapted. In fact, it was via Balintataw that the public realized that the local language could be an entirely sufficient vehicle for delivering serious dramatic discourse.

11011Movies, of course, had already resolved the national language issue by the time PETA was founded, with Tagalog winning over English and Spanish, and Cebuano lording it over in the southern regions. Meanwhile, English-language Philippine theater had its last valiant gasp the same year, 1967, that PETA was formed. PETA’s same-age sibling, Repertory Philippines, had its own walk in the sun during the late 1980s when several of its performers, led by Lea Salonga, were cast for the original West End and subsequent Broadway runs of Miss Saigon.

11011Hence from the beginning, PETA had set for itself an ambition that would have sounded quixotic if it had been formulated in a different place and time. In her master’s thesis titled “A Prospectus for the National Theater of the Philippines” (published as Theatre for the Nation in 2003), PETA founder Cecile Guidote Alvarez described how “theater does not solely refer to the legitimate stage, which has been a powerful influence on human civilization for 2,500 years, but also includes its amazing twentieth-century offspring – film, radio, and television.”

11011If PETA was the first Philippine theater group to feature plays in local languages, Repertory Philippines turned out to be the last English-language local theater guild. Teatro Pilipino, for example, endeavored to present plays in both English and contemporary Filipino (translated by its founder, Rolando Tinio) – something that was regarded as “best practice” among local theater groups, notably those in the University of the Philippines, where bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater are being offered.

11011The only logical explanation for the persistence of what we may call the PETA spirit is that its founders were attuned to then-emergent social ferment: various interest groups, not all of them selflessly motivated, were invoking love of country as a means to lay claim to public patronage. What is remarkable about PETA, additionally, is that its early movers and shakers did not let patriotic fervor overcome their realistic assessment of what type of media could best provide the association with a foothold in the public consciousness.

11011Although pioneering among local media in its use of Filipino languages, film had just freed itself from the genteel and monopolistic strictures of the 1950s studio system – romanticized, problematically, as the First Golden Age – and was deliriously (and profitably) looking for barriers to demolish, hitting triple-digit annual output for the first time and building up to the taboo-busting bomba era by the turn of the 1970s. Radio acted as the support medium for film and print, providing news as well as entertainment series that would occasionally be adapted for the big screen.

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The First Medium

Like PETA, television was the Johnny-come-lately in Philippine mass media. Most observers attributed the success of Balintataw, PETA’s first mass-media effort, to serendipity. But it was more clearly a result of a well-considered survey of the field and an extremely sensible judgment of the local audience’s emerging preferences. Since film was in the throes of what film critic Bienvenido Lumbera described in his essay Problems in Philippine Film History as “rampant commercialism and artistic decline,” any well-intentioned newcomer would have easily been figuratively swallowed whole by the system.

11011On the other hand, the audience had been sufficiently modernized and would likely refuse to return to the wholesome patriarchal values at work during the First Golden Age. As written in A Continuing Narrative on Philippine Theater: The Story of PETA (edited by Laura Samson, Brenda Fajardo, Cecile Garrucho, Lutgardo Labad, and Malou G. Santos-Cabangon), Balintataw provided the middle ground from 1967 to 1971, with its adaptations of contemporary literary classics, handled with expert emphasis on performances, with a willingness and ability to innovate within budgetary constraints:

One unique aspect of this drama anthology was the use of a full teleplay script (15-20 mimeographed pages) to replace the former practice of working from a synopsis or sequential notes. Another was the scheduling of a separate day for rehearsals before the actual taping day. Of the many TV drama anthologies of the time, Balintataw was the only one that consistently followed the above practice. (Samson et al., 2008)

11011Resounding acclaim and a string of Citizens Awards for Television (then, ultimately, a CAT Hall of Fame recognition) affirmed the soundness of the PETA strategy and imprinted on the minds of attentive viewers the names to watch out for: Lino Brocka, Lupita Kashiwahara (then Lupita Aquino), Joey Gosiengfiao, Elwood Perez, Mario O’Hara, Nick Lizaso, Tony Perez, Frank Rivera, Lutgardo Labad, Orlando Nadres, Laurice Guillen, and several others. The newbies were not lacking in film-trained mentors, most prominent among them Pierre Salas, a veteran scriptwriter who was starting to venture into directing, and who was also known for his association with master filmmaker Gerardo de Leon.

11011Balintataw brought to the TV screen stories written by the outstanding authors of the time, starting with Nick Joaquin, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Jose Garcia Villa, Edith Tiempo, Narciso Reyes Jr., Sinai Hamada, Alberto Florentino, and so on. It also adapted material from authors who were barely known in classrooms for being too recent (Ernest Hemingway), non-Euro-American (Anton Chekhov), or sexually frank (D.H. Lawrence).

11011Although overwhelmed by the subsequent triumph of PETA talents in film, the story of Balintataw provides interesting angles that challenge existing assumptions. Nora Aunor, for instance, is celebrated for her seamless transition from film to theater via early 1990s PETA productions, specifically Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo and DH (Domestic Helper). Her friendly rival, Vilma Santos, is regarded as a runner-up in this regard – yet it was Santos who preceded Aunor at PETA, via Balintataw.[1] The spectacle of other highly regarded film performers like Vic Silayan, Robert Arevalo, Charito Solis, Rosa Rosal, and Barbara Perez lending their hard-earned prestige to the show, together with younger talents like Santos and Hilda Koronel – all this made it easier for even the most successful film performers (like Aunor, Lolita Rodriguez, and Chanda Romero) to consider invitations to appear in PETA stage productions.

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The Transition to Film

Brocka may have been the first PETA talent to land a movie credit, with his adaptation of Mars Ravelo’s Wanted: Perfect Mother in 1970. He started as a stagehand at the UP Dramatic Club and embarked on a stint as a Mormon missionary and California migrant before returning to the Philippines in time for the founding of PETA. With his emergence in Philippine cinema, he immediately set the template for the serious talents who would follow in his footsteps, including his close friend (who was also regarded as his rival), the stage- and film-trained Ishmael Bernal. The two would compete in completing city movies (Brocka with Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in 1975, and Bernal with Manila by Night in 1980) and would stake their advocacies in different areas (Brocka in politics, Bernal in film form). Each one would, however, exhibit the influences of the other in their later output. Brocka and Bernal also periodically returned to TV and the stage, with Brocka, who was already a celebrated filmmaker, acting in Hanggang Dito Na Lamang at Maraming Salamat (PETA’s longest-running production) and directing Larawan, the Filipino translation of Joaquin’s Portrait of the Artist. Tragically, both of them died early – Brocka in a vehicular accident in 1991 and Bernal from health complications five years later.

11011It was through Brocka and Bernal that PETA members found their footing in Philippine cinema, with Bernal also recruiting talents from the other repertory groups. Like Brocka, Bernal carried a theater background from the University of the Philippines, where he was to return after his effective retirement from film practice. Several PETA talents, specifically Joel Lamangan, Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, and Mae Quesada, worked in Bernal’s media projects, with Ongkeko-Marfil later recruiting him to train the members for film and TV.

11011While Bernal’s impact may have been more medium-specific, introducing the multiple-character format by reconfiguring the earlier “smorgasbord” gimmick of Sampaguita Pictures and insisting on a societal analogy where no single character could claim to be the center of the narrative, Brocka’s industrial innovations were no less crucial. After Brocka’s own debut in 1970 (with Bernal following the year after), he had a flurry of film outputs, writing three scripts for his own projects and one script, a comedy, for a popular comedian. Contracted to work exclusively for a major studio, he slogged through a period action vehicle (Santiago!) with the top local actor Fernando Poe Jr., and had two hits in a row. Critics hemmed and hawed over these works, but by Christmas Day, Brocka provided a present that would resound through the rest of his career and prove himself to be equal to the best practitioners of the then-raging bomba (soft-core pornographic) trend.

11011Still considered a vital text in Philippine queer cinema, Tubog sa Ginto also provided Eddie Garcia, an extremely capable actor already being relegated to villain roles, with an opportunity to foreground a conflicted, obsessed, lustful-yet-closeted gay family man. Garcia responded by turning in what has since become a benchmark for Filipino male performance. Although Brocka would eventually suffer from creative burnout a few years later, the example he set with accepting a few commercial impositions before insisting on a project that enabled him some creative leeway (which he demonstrated again the following year with Stardoom) became a pattern that he and Bernal, together with several of the talents they mentored, would observe in their big-studio careers.

11011More impressively, Brocka ushered in a renewed Golden Age after his studio stint by taking time off to organize an independent production company and coming up with a personal project based on his small-town experience, with the assistance of a talent he introduced in Tubog, Mario O’Hara. Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang was not just a sleeper hit; with its audience primed by Brocka’s campus and office tours to discuss the movie, it also swept the industry awards and enabled Brocka to come up with his city movie, Maynila, which is possibly the most well-known Filipino movie among foreign film enthusiasts and also the first Filipino movie to be made available in Blu-ray, through a remastering by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. The year after Maynila, 1976, was considered a milestone in Philippine cinema, with local financiers seeking to replicate Brocka’s one-two punch by producing their own anti-formulaic film projects.

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Brocka’s Children

Brocka’s impact on Philippine cinema was so all-encompassing that his name has become a virtual shibboleth for most contemporary “indie” practitioners who declare his example as their ideal and who aspire, in their own way, to be “the next Brocka.” In fact, if Bernal and a few other filmmakers did not emerge, it would be possible to define the Second Golden Age as Philippine cinema’s Brocka period. Since he effectively remained the custodian of PETA during Guidote-Alvarez’s political exile in the US, eventually being appointed its executive director, the public was inclined to perceive PETA through him.

11011On a personal note, I was surprised to realize that several film talents associated with PETA productions were actually fielded by Brocka, and that a few filmmakers associated with Brocka films (notably Mike de Leon, cinematographer and co-producer of Maynila; and Laurice Guillen, performer in several titles including Tinimbang Ka) were not from PETA either. After he made a name in European film festivals, starting with Cannes, a number of other personnel from Brocka Productions – notably Orlando Nadres, Bey Vito, Lito Tiongson, Soxie Topacio, Jeric Soriano, and Joel Lamangan (all deceased except for the last two) – were also able to initiate their directorial careers. Except for Soriano, all were PETA personnel. Tiongson, Lamangan, and Topacio were mentored by Brocka (along with Balintataw veterans O’Hara and Nadres) via another drama anthology, Tanghalan, which aired for only one season in 1977, as well as via a follow-up program, Lino Brocka Presents.

11011O’Hara (also deceased), de Leon, Guillen, and Lamangan established significant directorial careers. Nadres focused on writing (both scripts and plays), Topacio continued directing and occasionally performing mainly for theater. He took over PETA’s executive directorship after Brocka. Tiongson forged a still-to-be-rediscovered career as political documentarian via an NGO, AsiaVisions. Another PETA talent, recruited by Lutgardo Labad, was Maryo J. de los Reyes, who became a member of the theater’s pool of directors. When Labad was assistant director for Lupita Kashiwahara’s Alkitrang Dugo, Labad endorsed de los Reyes as acting coach. Since then, de los Reyes (also recently deceased) became a successful blockbuster director and the festival director of To Farm Film Festival.

11011Finally, one of the strangest career turns is that of Labad, who is musically gifted and is also an all-around PETA hand and cultural-policy expert with a solid foundation in people’s aesthetics. He directed, among others, May-i May-i, Dupluhang Bayan, Nasa Puso ang Amerika, and Radiya Mangandiri, and has been spearheading cultural tourism in Bohol, his home province. In film, Labad is known almost exclusively as a music director (Tinimbang Ka Nguni’t Kulang, Ganito Kami Noon… Paano Kayo Ngayon, Magnifico, Independencia). If closer attention were to be paid to the overlooked aspect of production, he would arguably be the country’s finest film scorer since Bayan Ko composer Constancio C. de Guzman.

11011Looking at the larger picture of PETA’s participation, it would be possible to conclude that the theater group would have found itself in film, via television, even if Brocka had not come along. But inasmuch as Brocka embodied PETA’s ideals and visions, it would be more appropriate to assert that Philippine cinema has distinct characteristics that may be traced to PETA itself: the concern for issues of national and global significance, the drive to reach the widest possible sector of the public at large, the willingness to work within industrial limitations, and the readiness to introduce formal and thematic innovations that have the potential of advancing audience appreciation of both medium and material. Even in the face of shifts in presidential regimes, industrial dynamics and technologies, these ideals have persisted, a testament to the theater group’s solid grounding and adaptability.

11011Evidence of this persistence may be seen in PETA’s handling of Balintataw. The declaration of martial law in 1972 resulted in the closure of Channel 5, which aired the program. By then, Brocka already had a solid foothold in the Philippine movie industry. As PETA was witness to the dismantling of the Marcos regime in 1986, as well as to the mass media’s power to mobilize participants in the people power uprising, PETA endeavored to revive the program in its original medium – it initially reappeared as Radyo Balintataw, under Guidote Alvarez’s tutelage, on DZRH. With Soxie Topacio overseeing the process, the TV program was reintroduced in 1988. From the start, Balintataw was never envisioned as a profit-generating venture; this time around, it was primarily intended to demonstrate PETA’s aim to upgrade the media literacy of its audience within politically progressive terms. Because of the then-novel atmosphere of democratic space, the program was able to assume a more confrontational tack, telling stories “of marginalized sectors in Philippine society – peasants, workers, urban poor, indigenous peoples, women, and others” (Samson et al.).

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Enter Broadcast & Film Inc.

In order to facilitate the orderly transition of talents from stage to mass media, PETA set up in 1987 a unit called Broadcast & Film Inc., or PETA-BFI, under the supervision of Soxie Topacio. It was, according to Joel Lamangan, “a continuation of Lino’s desire to bring to TV and film PETA’s commitment to truth” – Balintataw was, in effect, its laboratory. When Brocka’s commitment to the Concerned Artists of the Philippines heightened following the assassination of Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., PETA was, in turn, guided by Soxie Topacio. One controversial detail that slowly came to light during that time pertained to Brocka’s political journey: he had not always been what you may call a fully formed social radical. In fact, at separate points during his tenure as executive director, he discouraged queer behavior and later denounced members who were allegedly Communist-underground partisans using their PETA membership as legal cover (see Johven Velasco’s “Brocka’s Theater: Something for the Heart,” in Lino Brocka: The Artist and His Times, ed. Mario A. Hernando). PETA stalwarts like Topacio and Labad were the ones organizing general assemblies so members could collectively articulate the organization’s position.

11011Funds for the PETA-BFI program had to be sourced from abroad and were solicited on the basis of a Community Media Education Program facilitated by trained theater counterparts. The program brought episodes to various rural communities using videocassette technology. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, who had become the most active film director among the PETA-BFI trainees, was in charge of the PETA-BFI following her participation in the directing workshop. Her first directorial output was an early episode for Handog ng PETA series. She was originally assigned to assist Marilou Diaz-Abaya, who eventually declined because the deadline was too tight. Ongkeko-Marfil organized a PETA-BFI directing workshop with Ishmael Bernal as main facilitator, in cooperation with the Mowelfund Film Institute. The MFI students, including renowned cinematographer Neil Daza, attended the workshop. Topacio brought in Brocka to lecture on lighting and provide feedback on the participants’ output. Lamangan was requested to mentor individual students. Finally, as if to provide contrast between the series’ pilot program and Brocka’s less politically pointed TV series Lino Brocka Presents, Topacio set the tone for Handog ng PETA by tackling the long-standing yet always controversial agrarian conflict between landholders and tenants – the basis for over half a century of resistance and armed rebellion reflected in his teleplay, “Si Panyong at ang Hatol ng Guhit na Bilog,” an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

11011Unlike its earlier incarnation, which garnered the enthusiastic support of its home TV station, the revival of Balintataw confronted a situation where the media technology was about to transition from film to TV, and then with other media and the internet. Hence, the rampaging commercialism that marked Philippine cinema during the 1960s was starting to make its presence felt in TV, culminating in the current scenario where TV studios have taken over mainstream film production. But unlike the commercial cinema predicament where several independent studios could occasionally challenge the major producers – which they continue to do at present – TV can only count on a limited number of players and has to contend with stricter censorship centered on family values, not to mention competing for advertisers based on the results of hotly contested audience surveys.

11011As a result, the new Balintataw’s reliance on grants could not be sustained. The realities of commercial production – where name stars, for example, get the bulk of the budget – made the PETA-BFI members realize that all the attention they devoted to production and creativity would be for naught if they continued to overlook the business and management aspects of their undertaking. The most successful PETA-associated filmmakers since Brocka’s demise were Mario O’Hara and Joel Lamangan, with O’Hara (who died in 2012) dealing with box-office traumas during his debut year (1976) by incorporating happy endings even in his darkest material. Lamangan rose to prominence as the mainstay director of Viva Films (to which he was introduced by Brocka), a major studio during the Second Golden Age. Lamangan succeeded by fostering a reputation for swiftness and budgetary discipline. He ended up with an extensive filmography, nearly the equal of the combined number of films by Brocka and Bernal, and managed to embark on an ongoing legacy project of telling the overlooked stories of the struggles against the martial-law dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

11011From the perspective of PETA-BFI insiders, however, the unit was still a part of PETA. Brocka and the practitioners who followed may have come from PETA but they were shared with the rest of the country and the world, given media’s universal appeal and accessibility. Hence, on the basis of the outpouring of sadness and the wealth of recollections that followed his recent death, Soxie Topacio has remained foremost in PETA-BFI members’ remembrances. He was almost literally a PETA mainstay, starting out at 17 and never leaving until death claimed him nearly 50 years later. Topacio also had a string of some of the most memorable PETA productions to his name as director: Pilipinas Circa 1907, Canuplin, Macli-ing Dulag, Kung Paano Ko Pinatay si Diana Ross, DH (Domestic Helper), and Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo. His devotion to PETA was so complete that he managed to make himself known in Philippine media in only one instance each time. For TV, his role as Neneng in Duplex was regarded as too groundbreaking so that RPN-9 executives, probably worried that the censors might inspect their programming, decided to dissuade all other depictions of gay characters so they could focus on upholding Neneng – and like a true trouper, Topacio delivered. Interestingly, when the Directors Guild of the Philippines Inc. got funding for “indie” productions, Topacio came up with Ded Na si Lolo, adjudged not only the best in the series, but as the Filipino movie worthy of sending to the Oscar competition for Best Foreign Language Film. Based on Topacio’s experience of family wakes, Ded Na si Lolo necessarily had a gay character, played by Neneng’s successor, Roderick Paulate.

11011In a real sense, PETA-BFI provided its own set of lessons for members who started out as talents trained for the people’s theater. Even those who had passed on left indelible marks – Soxie Topacio with his fluid, cinematically staged plays and rambunctious characters in various performing arts media; and Johven Velasco, with a long list of trainees including award-winning performers, and an impressive record of scholarship on theater, film, and TV at the University of the Philippines. Those who passed on in a different sense, by migrating abroad, continue to demonstrate the lessons they accumulated. Evelyn Vargas-Knaebel supplements the efforts of her husband in promoting Philippine indie films in foreign venues. Her husband, Martial Knaebel, is Director of the Fribourg International Film Festival, formerly the Third-World Film Festival, in Switzerland. Beth Mondragon Williams brought her experience in CMEP (as grants-person and video director) to her job as large-scale show producer and fundraiser in Australia. Louie Pascasio left for the US and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in mass communication while teaching mass communication theory and production and participating in Circa Pintig, Chicago’s Fil-Am theater company.

11011The members who remain Philippine-based followed and expanded on the lessons and examples bequeathed by their predecessors and mentors. Mae Quesada-Medina joined PETA-BFI while doing a stint for another TV drama anthology, Dear Teacher, directed by Ishmael Bernal. Her participation peaked as the executive producer of Petabisyon. Avic Ilagan branched out to audiovisual productions for various activist NGOs, along with a stint, like Johven Velasco’s, at a local university’s film scholarship and instruction program. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil responded to PETA-BFI’s traumatic experience with funding shortages by resolving to explore mainstream TV and film setups, with the objective of disseminating the PETA-BFI ideal to wider audiences. This while confronting the media industry’s limitations and exploiting their potentials, which she managed as director for Maalaala Mo Kaya and Pira-Pirasong Pangarap and as manager for Star Cinema’s children’s films and GMA-7’s News and Public Affairs programs. When digital technology arrived and enabled everyone to create and distribute content more easily, financially and technically speaking, she opted to venture into self-produced independent filmmaking – the first PETA talent to immerse actively in this mode of practice. The only effort by another PETA member that came close to a “personal” production outfit would be Brocka’s Cinemanila, which only managed to put out four films during the director’s mid-1970s comeback. Ongkeko-Marfil’s Erasto Productions and Erasto Films have the same number of titles, with more projects in the pipeline. An even newer area of exploration is new media, which Ongkeko-Marfil is also exploring as PETA pioneer, via her recently launched website Pelikulove (

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Specialized Training, Awards and Demise

The first scriptwriting workshop was held at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Mount Makiling, Los Baños, Laguna. Ricardo Lee acted as facilitator for the original materials, while Rene Villanueva and Velasco took on the materials adapted from the stage. There were participants from various theater groups and regional partners, including George de Jesus and Bundo Deoma from Negros, and PETA’s Liza Magtoto. The second Writing for Television Workshop was supported by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and was facilitated by Rene Villanueva. Avic Ilagan also re-collected a season-long TV anthology titled Handog ng PETA, directed by the PETA-BFI members plus PETA veterans. This TV anthology was essentially composed of televisual adaptations of past PETA productions. This became the culminating activity of the BFI workshop participants who, in effect, added TV production skills to their stage expertise.

11011The first major directing workshop was held at the UP Film Center in cooperation with the Cultural Center of the Philippines through the office of Rowena Concepcion. Soxie Topacio and Lito Tiongson participated, while Lino Brocka, Joel Lamangan, Lutgardo Labad, and Peque Gallaga were invited as guest lecturers. The second batch of workshops was held in cooperation with the Mowelfund Film Institute, with Ishmael Bernal lecturing on directing, Amado Lacuesta on scriptwriting, Manolo Abaya on cinematography, Jaime Fabregas on musical scoring, Peque Gallaga on production design, Noel Clemente on sound, and Nick Deocampo on film theory.

11011PETA-BFI’s Handog ng Peta and Petabisyon series, its Children’s Television Program Sige Sali Ka Na, and its Telesine specials won awards from various recognition bodies. By the end of the millennium, however, PETA-BFI stopped producing any more programs. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil explains:

While we were all focused on this newfound creativity, we found the managerial and financial requirements to survive the industry too daunting. We couldn’t break the rules because, in fact, we disagreed with the rules. Perhaps another time, a new strategy could be found to conquer the medium…. For this particular period, victory was giving birth to programs that fulfilled the needs of that particular time as well as in giving birth to another generation of practitioners who would carry and implement the vision at their own time and place and hopefully pass it on to others as well. (Samson, et al.)

11011The call for PETA-BFI would be to recognize the ongoing transformation of mass media, with TV merely as the transitional medium and the internet as an even more challenging option and, so far, the ultimate destination. The internet promises to be the next major area of confluence and contention, directly responsible for the decrease in profitability of the so-called analogue media: print, film and TV – although these have been undergoing digital transformations as well. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, who had stints in Second Golden Age film projects as well as the TV-dominated digital-era productions, took to heart the lesson learned from the revival of Balintataw and made sure to develop a CMEP-type marketing strategy for her projects, starting with Boses (2008) and continuing through Lakbay2Love (2016). She kept away from new film productions in order to set up Pelikulove, still at its initial stage but aiming to be a women-centered website that provides content resembling the PETA package: films, trainings, coverage, and, as a tribute to theater, plays on video, starting with its coverage of the political play Indigo Child, a story based on martial law, written by Rody Vera and staged by Jose Estrella. Unlike previous approaches (e.g., Avellana’s Portrait of the Artist as Filipino), the ideal represented by Indigo Child retains the integrity of the play while simultaneously maximizing the strength of cinema, such as its ability to tear down the fourth wall to facilitate intimacy with its audience. Online distribution is also part of Indigo Child’s future trajectory.

11011The democratic nature of new media (the academic term for the internet) is its strength, since those without financial resources could register and post their material and have the same chance as major corporate players at attracting public attention. But the same democratic nature is also its weakness, since it would be relatively easy for the malicious minded, including hackers, to spoil people’s interactions to push whatever motive they might have. In this case, Joel Lamangan’s insight on performance comes to mind:

11011Acting is not the monopoly of so-called stars or actors in the industry. For ordinary citizens – as long as it’s their personal stories and they’re familiar with the emotions, the conflicts, that are being narrated, even more if they’re the main characters of the story and if they’re convinced by the resolution that the story wishes to uphold, because they experienced it – like the material I directed for Petabisyon, a story from Davao about urban-poor folk who fought back, got killed or arrested – all the actors were Davaoeños – they knew the story, the life, so it was so easy for them. I didn’t have the heart to teach them. I could only adjust what they were doing, for the medium. (Phone interview translated to English, conducted by E.O. Marfil, September 4, 2017)

11011Perhaps the most useful insight, as far as the broadcast and film training and application unit within a theater association is concerned, would be the concept of reciprocal integration. Mass media possess the technological advantages of streamlining human exertion (one only needs a single staging of a filmed event), perfecting the presentation even after production via editing, graphic enhancement, and sound and music effects, and then providing reproducible material that could be marketed everywhere simultaneously, even abroad, to ensure bigger returns for the equivalent investment in a stage play. On the other hand, theater is capable of harnessing individuals and challenging them to perform at their peak capacity, usually with an unpredictable ensemble and an approach that resists atomizing or focusing on only one specialized element to the exclusion of everything else. So it makes perfect sense for PETA to start with the stage, then move on to mass media, especially considering that at both ends of the process are the people. They provide the raw material for the research that gets turned into plays, which are then refined and presented in media, and then returned back also to the people, as the audience this time. PETA-BFI, during its existence, performed as the conduit by which a nation was able to witness, assess, and critique itself. The ending of the PETA-BFI narrative is open, and a passage from A Continuing Narrative on Philippine Theatre might provide us with some realistic insights for moving forward:

…the vision to use “theater’s offsprings” of television and film to bring forth a national theater of cultural and social significance to the people, to give a country a name and a soul through the stories of its children,… would find fruition… for a time, but sadly thwarted as well in the end, first by the dictates of one man, later through the dictates of an industry. But it would be far from the truth to say that these efforts were in vain. PETA     has also grown and learned through these difficult and trying years, undaunted in making its voice heard, uncompromising in its conviction and principles. Many Filipinos from the city to remote barrios have seen and heard the stories and been touched by the fire of this vision (Samson, et al.)

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[1] I must clarify that I have not found any definitive first-hand proof of this claim, beyond the account of old-timers.

About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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