Monday, May 16, 2016

CELIA DIAZ LAUREL: Muse of Philippine Theatre

By Donna Dimaano-Bonoan

Unlike other gods who had their counterpart goddesses, Dionysus or Bacchus, Greek god of theatre, appears to have had no particular muse. Good for us Filipinos, the Grecian roots and influence of arts and theatre has led to the emergence of our own stage drama royalties, one of whom was recognized in the 2016 Philippine Gawad Buhay Awards held last April 28, 2016 at Onstage in Greenbelt, Makati. Alongside National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes, Madame Celia Diaz Laurel (CDL), was given the Natatanging Gawad Award, a lifetime achievement award, for her exemplary work and dedication for Philippine theatre and arts in general.

Start of Art. Maria Luz Celia Teresita Diaz Laurel, born to a devout Catholic family, had almost missed her UP Fine Arts education if her mother, as recounted by National Artist Nick Joaquin in the book Doy Laurel: In Profile, released in 2012, only insisted on her sweeping pagan belief on UP and its people. But trusting a friend who promised to look after the young Celia, Mrs. Conching Diaz finally allowed CDL to enroll in June 1947. And just like the war-ruined Villamor Hall where the School of Fine Arts and the Conservatory of Music were lodged, CDL was about to start a new chapter in her life which is far from the medical aspirations that she used to entertain when she was young.

Art Masters. Landing at the helm of Dominador Castaneda (art history), Ambrosio Morales (modeling and sculpturing) and no less than the 1972 National Artist for Painting, Fernando Amorsolo, then director of the UP School of Fine Arts and 1976 National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino, CDL was destined to hone her innate creative bents to perfection. In Book I of her three-part autobiographic book, Colors of My Life: Celia Diaz Laurel, The Painter published in 2014, she related how elated she was when she knew that she will be mentored by Amorsolo and Guillermo, and how frustrated she became when she learned that she will have to wait for a few more years to make that happen because the masters apparently only taught higher college levels. Personal conversations and encounters with these Philippine art titans can also be found and are immortalized in the same book. Aside from vital lessons on contrasting dark and light elements or chiaroscuro which is evident in her artworks, the UP School of Fine Arts, said Celia, has also taught her virtues of diligence and patience – values which are essential in her craft and life.

Drama Arts. In so little time, the Negros lass has literally won the UP community not only through her beauty (thus earning her the Sweetheart of Upsilon tag), but also by her admirable talents in poetry and long prose. Later, she would also join the UP Dramatic Club and Manila Community Players, an affliction for the performing arts which actually started while she was still in the Assumption Convent. From her first lead role as Lilay in Godofredo Burce Bunao’s Newer Years to her one-day notice Tia Consuelo role in Freddie Guerrero’s Forever and to the other lead roles she landed on or rather, landed on her, the theatre stage, aside from Doy Laurel’s heart, proved to be another territory she can rightfully claim.

Family and Art. Early marriage and motherhood did not however stop Celia from improving her craft. In the same interview by Nick Joaquin, Doy Laurel shared that a few months after their first-born Suzie was born, he went back to UP College of Law while “Celia was back in fine arts; she was very serious about her painting and she got excellent grades.” Her theatrical stretches, however has continued to impress National Artist for Theatre Ma. Wilfrido Guerrero. In fact, in her book, CDL revealed, “A week after the play closed [Newer Years], I had a surprise visit from Ma. Wilfrido Guerrero, who was not only a noted playwright and director, but was the head of the UP Dramatic Club.”

After receiving their college degrees in 1952, they headed to Yale University for their post-graduate studies on law for Doy and drama for Celia. Again, Yale Drama Theatre proved to be no unfamiliar terrain for CDL. Thus, aside from being a wife to Doy in their Connecticut apartment, CDL has also become a familiar name in the stage community when she portrayed Queen Gertrude in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Christine Manon in Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, to name a few.

Philippine Art and Theatre. After earning her post graduate Yale degree for Drama, it was time for CDL to come home to Philippine Theatre. She initially joined Dramatic Philippines but it was in Repertory Philippines where another opportunity to cross self-boundaries presented itself. Out of the 53 Repertory plays which she starred in like The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, The Diary of Anne Frank, Fiddler on the Roof, The King And I, and Children of the Lesser God, etc., she also found her eligible spot in set and costume design. With her UP Fine Arts degree coupled with her innate passion for theatre, she manned the production design of 77 Repertory plays including Tennessee William’s The Rose Tattoo, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat, William Russel’s Educating Rita, and many others. To describe CDL’s brand of theatre work, current artistic director of Repertory Philippines’ Theater for Young Audiences, Joy Virata emphasized CDL’s natural eye for art and beauty and her entrepreneurial and financial skills as material for saving several Repertory plays. In the Manila Bulletin’s lifestyle article entitled "The shy Laurel," Jasmine Agnes T. Cruz and Noel B. Pabalate quoted Virata saying that CDL “did make silk purses out of sow’s ears…Her eye for color and texture was perfect. Working within a limited budget, she could make cheap material look like the finest of Victorian and Elizabethan gowns or a splendid cloak or the luxurious finery of an Arabian court. Her evening cloaks for the cagelles at Rep’s production of La Cage aux Folles have never been equaled. She devised ways to save time and money by the judicious use of her fabled glue gun and stapler. It could be said that sometimes close up the costumes looked miserable but viewed from the audience they were fabulous.”

Amusing Muse of Art. With a controversial Vice-President for a life partner, eight children, humanitarian projects, book authorships, and theatrical rigidities on and off stage, it is simply astonishing how CDL was able to juggle all these roles with excellence, grace and humility. This disposition, together with all her exemplar contributions, surely makes her the Philippines’ muse of arts and theatre – an accolade that she truly and befittingly deserves.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Right To Get Angry

A little over a year after EDSA People Power restored democracy in our country, American journalist James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly came out with a scathing article that shook Cory Aquino to the roots of her hair. “A Damage Culture,” as it turned out, talked about our culture—the Filipino culture. Very few agreed with Fallows’ sententious conclusion at that time. Very many posited the view that our manifold problems would be resolved, that the light at the end of the tunnel was in sight, and that the “damage” in our culture Fallows wrote so harshly about could, in time, be repaired.

That would have been understandable because for twenty years our nation was under Marcos’ thumb, and it would take time before we could uproot the evil and rid ourselves of the putrescence of the martial law years. Sure, Marcos did the country a lot of injustices. But blaming the Marcos regime alone, it would seem, was much too easy an answer. What made Marcos possible, what enabled him to hold on to power for so long, clearly proved Fallows’ point. The monumental problem in the Philippines, as Fallows would observe, was cultural and, in many ways, a preexisting condition even before martial law. He was dead right. Our problem stemmed from our “culture,” a unique culture that was shaped, molded, and in many ways, imposed upon us by our benevolent colonizers for centuries.

Listen to this: “The countries that surround the Philippines have become the world's most famous showcases for the impact of culture on economic development. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore--all are short on natural resources, but all (as their officials never stop telling you) have clawed their way up through hard study and hard work. Unfortunately for its people, the Philippines illustrates the contrary: that culture can make a naturally rich country poor. There may be more miserable places to live in East Asia-- Vietnam, Cambodia--but there are few others where the culture itself, rather than a communist political system, is the main barrier to development. The culture in question is Filipino, but it has been heavily shaped by nearly a hundred years of the "Fil-Am relationship.' The result is apparently the only non-communist society in East Asia in which the average living standard is going down.”

Every word Fallows has written about our culture rings true today. Nothing has changed except that our conditioned worsened. Sadly, the culture that Fallows says is damaged would in fact remain severely damaged more than two decades after.

Of the things Fallows wrote in his article, there’s this one paragraph that got me hooked from beginning to end, especially now that we are gearing up for the 2016 presidential elections. Again, listen to his words, and listen very carefully: “Most of the time I spent in the Philippines, I walked around feeling angry, angry at myself when I brushed off the latest platoon of child beggars, angry at the beggars when I did give in, angry at the rich Filipinos for living behind high walls and guardhouses in the fortified Makati compounds euphemistically called villages, angry as I picked my way around piles of human feces left by homeless families living near the Philippine Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard, angry at a society that had degenerated into a war of every man against every man.”

Now why would I feel like someone had just walloped my stomach after reading those searing words? If James Fallows, a visiting foreigner, can get angry over what is happening in our country decades ago, why can’t we? The late Teodoro “Teddyman” Benigno, in his poignant essay titled “Our Damaged Culture,” provides us with an answer: “This is what gets me, the Filipino’s infinite capacity for patience. We can never really get angry, it seems, even if there is everything to get angry about.” WHAM!

As election day approaches, we have all the right to get angry. We have all the right to say, fuck that establishment, damn all the sonouvabitches and dimwit politicians who tormented us for years, many years. If I were to believe the lessons of history, then something tells me about our revolutionary tradition, that we pride ourselves as a heroic people, and that our patience has limits when pushed to the edge of destruction.

What could be the core of our damaged culture? I think it is the fact that we refuse to look beyond ourselves, all we really care about is what happens to us and members of our families. Yes, we do in fact get angry sometimes, but only if our interest, our familial interest is at stake. We always tend to pull our punches, not wishing to offend the person or persons we are talking with, especially if that person is family. Ah, why would Binay support any anti-dynasty movement when Abi and Jun-jun can enjoy the perks of Makati City and the Congress? Why would he decide to back out of the presidential race (out of delicadeza and in view of the corruption allegations) and divest himself of the immunity he enjoys when losing in the elections means jail time for him? Why would Poe advise her close ally and San Miguel Corporation chief Danding Conjuangco to implement a no-ENDO and no labor-only contracting policies in all his business ventures when Danding majorly finances her campaign? Why would Santiago reveal her current health status when she actually has nothing lose? Why would Roxas admit the lapses of PNOY’s administrations in security, disaster response and overall economy when he himself was part of the government whose “daang matuwid” mantra failed many? Why would Roxas question Kris Aquino’s use of the presidential chopper as a blatant form of corruption when her celebrity status helps in his and running mate Leni Robredo’s campaign? Why would he care for the tanim-bala victims when they represent no significant number of the voting public? With all these questions, one remains in my mind and that is: If they wouldn’t, why would we?

I was told that in order to help others, we must help ourselves first. I cannot agree less. We certainly, to paraphrase the words of Senator Bongbong Marcos, cannot give what we do not have. But I guess, it becomes very different when our actions are imbued with national interest because the moment we start looking beyond ourselves rather than pursuing our own motives to the detriment of our county, then that could be a good start to call ourselves a community—a nation. That is the struggle and it is real.

But yes, come to think of it, when our ancestors cried out for independence from Spain, it took them 300 long years to do so. When we shouted “Tama na, palitan na!” during the Martial Law, Marcos was already in position for 20 years. We were probably too patient. Or too forgiving, perhaps? Well, masochism is a sign of psychological imbalance. If we want change, a nation cannot be so forgiving or too patient. Oh, I’m probably thinking out too loud.

But really, once again, as we prepare for the coming elections, the citizenry is lured to believe that all that truly matters is continuity of leadership, and by “continuity” I mean, that the reins of power would remain firmly in the hands of the privileged few. But for many disillusioned citizens who are sick and tired of traditional politics, disgruntled Filipinos fed up with corruption at all levels of our society, the 2016 presidential elections could be their seething cauldron of outrage against the establishment. And somehow as our awakened people gaze on the political horizon, they can see just one man, one dogged man with the wills of steel, whose courage to propel the ship of state away from “imperialistic Manila” is almost certain. That man is Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

May our angry and awakened tribe increase!