Monday, May 16, 2016
CELIA DIAZ LAUREL: Muse of Philippine Theatre
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.