Written By Jude Cartalaba
Robert Brustein said, the primary function of a theater is not to please itself, or even to please its audience. It is to serve talent.
Perhaps, it was then the path that Vince Tañada saw on himself even if he was pursuing Law in San Beda College back then. He was destined to be in the theater, heading a group called Philippine Stagers Foundation (PSF), which has now grown its members to more than 50 and 22 regulars (meaning they are already the prized talents).
“Starting out the group was really blood, sweat and tears altogether”, Tañada confessed. “Philippine Stagers Foundation was founded in 2002, but it was originally called Dulaang Bedista Alumni Production. To date, we have a total of 328 shows for Ako Si Ninoy, making our group a phenomenal success that broke all Philippine theater box-office records. EnzoSanto, for example, got 100 performances.”
Recently a Dangal Ng Bansa award was also given to PSF by Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino. Instead of flying to the United States of America to pursue his preparatory law studies at St. Marys College in California, he opted to stay in the Philippines and enrolled at San Beda College on Mendiola Street in Manila where he took Philosophy. It was in this 109-year-old educational system that he found his passion for theater. Vince was a member of Dulaang Bedista, the resident theater organization of San Beda that started in 1992. He was writing plays back then. His theater group was ambitious and wanted to go beyond from adaptations to introducing Filipino original plays.
“We wanted to be radical in terms of treating theater”, Vince said. “As stage enthusiasts, we opted to do some experimental presentations. We were radical during those years”.
“We did all-original plays such as Cain at Abel, Out: The Musicale, Enzo (non-musicale version), Pahiyas sa Underpass, Si Mildred at si Brenda, and Anonymity Inn.”
In 1992, Vince also played Huse in Rene O. Villanueva’s Hiblang Abo which was directed by Lou Veloso in 1992 and was staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
Despite being successful with his study in Law and worked at Cruz-Cruz-Navarro law office, his love for theater didnt wane. He was also teaching labor laws in San Beda when he and his group from Dulaang Bedista decided to put up Dulaang Bedista Alumni Production, now Philipine Stagers Foundation (PSF) back in 2002. It was through national artist Cecile Guidote-Alvarez founder of Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) and the former executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, who recognized PSF as a great contributor for theater arts and in nurturing Philippine culture.
After going through all the labor pangs of starting out a group and when the rest of the original eight members opted to exit from the commitments, along with Hans Christian Lim and Jeffrey Ambrosio, Vince and the rest persisted to carry on what they had started.
It was then considered a divine intervention as God is faithful to complete the good work they all had started out; their moment came when Rafael C. Lopa, the executive director of Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation came to see them and witness how their musicale, Ako si Ninoy befits the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of former Senator and Philippine hero- Ninoy Aquino.
“I could vividly remember the night we did our performance of Ako si Ninoy at the Cojuangco mansion in Dasmariñas Village”, Tañada reminisced that experience. “It was one sentimental performance. We were just garbed with our Ako si Ninoy shirts and jeans. Close friends and relatives of the Cojuangcos and the Aquinos were all there, and we brought the house down in tears!.”
That night signaled a new dawn for the Philippine Stagers Foundation as it staged the seven-year-in-the-making, selfless heroism-themed musicale; inspiring Filipinos, the youth in particular to be heroes in their respective daily lives. The original weekend-gig theater concept has evolved into something that delves into a social advocacy.
When asked what makes PSF different from other theater groups, Tañada humbly shares:
” What made us a stand out is the fact that we are not just focused on the art of performing but also in the value of actually helping the needy. PSF has 30 scholars in high school and colleges, including some of its members. Golden Acres (a home for the aged), Asilo de San Vicente, and the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation are also their partner charitable institutions as beneficiaries”.
Theater: His Life…
Tañada admittted that portraying the character of the late Benigno Aquino, Jr. was a life-long dream and it did come to pass. Amidst the success PSF is enjoying, he felt the need to further intensify even more his advocacy to use theater arts as a medium of education.
“We know that theater has a two-fold purpose, to entertain and to educate”, Vince continued saying.
“Hence, I have moved heaven and earth just to convince school heads, principals and administrators to use our play as an instrument for instruction.
“This is also the main reason why I write stories of heroes or important parts of our Philippine history. The problem is, some DepEd superintendents and supervisors and even parents of students do not see this important component of theater. Maybe they are the ones who take arts for granted. They see this merely as a money-making venture or a business. I have never treated the arts as a means of livelihood. This is not my bread and butter. This is my passion.
“People, especially those in the education department should see this. Culture and the arts are both the heart and soul of the nation. If used properly, our youth will learn more. As an artist he, too, believe in the concept of profitable creativity as he says, Some of the new graduates would think that having a career in theater is not financially rewarding. I want to change that misconception. I guess it depends on the theater company. I know that the main investment of a theater company is the actors, their talents. Hence, I give everything back to my members. It has been the practice of other theater companies, mainstream or fly-by-night to suck all the energy, talent and expertise of their employees, pay them meager amounts and drop them like a hot potato when not needed anymore. Theater company owners, artistic directors or managers should be more sensitive toward the needs of their actors. Treat them well and come hell-or-high water they will work on their craft and your product will be really good.”
Only a few knew that he once ventured into the bar and restaurant business called Fox Square on Kalayaan Avenue in 2001. Having an innate flair for cooking, he was hands-on in managing the business and literally cooking some of its specialties, but grew tired.
“We would close between 3 to 4am because UP and Ateneo students use to hang out there. I had to go to the office at 8am. It was bad for my health. I closed it two years after when I became so busy with the legal profession and had few hours sleep”, he revealed.
But with theater, he never got exhausted. This is the path he chose to live and walk for the rest of his life. Whenever he teaches and facilitates in the acting workshops, he sees and loves all the aspiring young people who don’t know anything but have the strong willingness to learn.
“I always refer to them as tabula raza, a blank tablet whom I can develop and pop-in instructions”, Vince said in the end. “When Kierwin or Patrick or Jordan (the PSF- prized talents) started, they didn’t sing. Jordan only knows Itaktak Mo dance moves whenever he was asked to dance. Now, they are regarded as good triple-threat actors with a back-to-back recognition from the Aliw Awards to boot. But I don’t want to take the credits solely. They also worked hard for it. These people practiced and persevered a lot and it wasn’t easy. Yes, I truly believe that everything in this world can be learned, with a right attitude, inspiration and a strong desire to learn”.
by mr. jude cartalaba