Monday, February 1, 2010

Children of Coroz

I first met the children of Coroz last November, 2009 when I joined the team of artists from the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) on a visit to three areas affected by last year’s devastating typhoons for art therapy sessions. We spent two days in Coroz, Tublay, Benguet and at the end of the second day, I knew I would be going back there some time soon. I did last Friday.

I needed help, so I broached the idea to members of our theater group, Open Space, and after getting the commitment of some of the members, my wife, RL, solicited the help of the Fernando & Rosa Bautista (FRB) Foundation through Ms. Kristine Bautista-Sameon, who almost immediately agreed to the proposal: a workshop that will introduce the children to the wonderful world of theater and hopes to help the community in Coroz put together their very own theater group.

In the more than 20 years that I have been in theater, I have been to countless workshops, both as a student and a facilitator. As a young boy of 10, I learned about props making in that very first workshop I attended at my mother’s Workshop for Creative Survival. In that workshop, we turned what mostly seemed like garbage into backdrops and hand props: a two-dimensional 10-foot by 30-foot landscape made of discarded computer printouts (some of which we recycled into notebooks and photo albums), a lion headdress made out of shredded newspapers, etc. I learned about group dynamics exercises in several teen theater workshops at the CCP and in one held by actors from the Royal Shakespeare Academy, I learned about method acting. Up north and in the mountains of Baguio and the Cordilleras, I have conducted creative dramatics workshops for children in Baguio, Kabayan, Banawe and Ilocos Norte. I would never forget that the boy from Laoag whom his mother described as having been very shy, even antisocial, all his life. I cast him as the lead performer in that workshop’s culminating activity and his mother couldn’t believe her eyes as she watched her son take center stage to tell his story. In Kabayan, the theater group that the Cordillera Green Network helped put together through its workshops, one of which I was fortunate enough to have been a part of, has been staging plays that are entertaining while at the same time thought-provoking and educational.

These experiences, and the countless possibilities it can open up in the individual, are what I wanted to share with the children of Coroz.

And so last Friday, with my wife, stage actress RL-Abella-Altomonte, fellow theater artists Ro Quintos, Jeff Coronado and Eunice Caburao, together with photographer Jojo Lamaria and whom I believe is my theater-bound 11 year-old son, Leon, at half-past eight in the morning, we were waiting along the highway somewhere in Tublay for the jeepney that was hired by the FRB Foundation to take us through that rugged dirt road to Coroz.

The FRB team, led by Ms. Sameon included social workers of the foundation, its scholar-barbers and cosmeticians who will be providing free haircuts to the children and bags and bags of goodies (clothes, food, etc.), soon arrived and another 30 minutes later, we were being welcomed by the excited elementary pupils at the school grounds.

After starting the day with morning snacks, the workshop proper began with warm-up exercises and vocalization. The day’s session aims to simply introduce them to theater, and we opened with a conversation about plays they’ve seen (they haven’t and most of them had no idea what a stage play is), their favorite movies, stories, etc.

We then introduced them to what I believe are the four major elements of theater – idea/story, space, artist, and last but not the least, audience. And then the fun began – group dynamics exercises to emphasize the concepts of collaboration and cooperation which are very important in a collaborative art form such as theater.

Before the morning was over, we had the kids going “onstage” and infront of an audience to tell their personal stories and dreams: most of them want to become teachers, nurses and policemen, several dream of becoming missionaries... one of them want to become the president of our country.

After lunch we brought out the paints and brushes and canvases and encouraged the pupils to imagine themselves as the persons they want to become, and how that person relates to the community – and two hours later the school grounds was covered with paintings of teachers in classrooms, policemen and nurses helping those in need, missionaries working with the community in building houses, and at the end of the day, after several free haircuts and after handing out gifts, we knew we would have to come back again soon.

And when we do, our next task would be: bring a whole performance to Coroz to show them what they themselves can do on their own some time in the near future – tell their very own stories.

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