I once wrote a piece for Cordillera Today's Lifestyle page called, “So you wanna be an actor?” In it, I talked about what I believe are the fundamental prerequisites to becoming a performing artist. I had to go back to it recently, if only to remind myself why I chose to be in this unforgiving field that is theater, after receiving a rather emotional and venomous retort online regarding the way local artists have once again been sidelined in what is now touted as the country’s number one festival. A certain John whom I don’t remember having ever met, who also asked not to have his comment deleted in the “interest of free speech,” invaded the rather cryptic conversation between me and a friend on the matter, and called it sourgraping.
I agree with him. But for different reasons.
Theater artists are the epitome of the term “starving artists.” They often start with a production with nothing more than sheer passion for the craft and the burning desire to tell a good story to an audience. That’s probably why theater continues to thrive despite the dismal situation it’s been in, it was never about money, not for most Baguio-based artists anyway.
In the almost 15 years since our first production here in Baguio, things barely changed: very talented local artists still play second fiddle to big name ones from Manila. The small increase in honoraria over the years is due more to inflation rather than improved circumstances. They are still virtually ignored by major local institutions, unless talents are needed and bringing name artists from elsewhere cannot be afforded. But year after year, all over Baguio – in a rehearsal hall in a school, at the basement of the Baguio Convention Center, out in the open in public parks, Baguio’s local theater artists come together come rain or shine, to pool talent, resources and passion for the craft together to come up with a presentation that they believe will not only entertain the audience, but hopefully change the way they look at the world around them forever.
On stage in a school auditorium or on the sidewalks of Session Road on a foggy afternoon, or on rare occasions when they can afford to pay rent at the Baguio Convention Center, they tell their stories. And it doesn’t matter whether they tell it in a theater filled to the brim with students, or to an intimate audience of 10 people, they will tell that story the same way: with utmost sincerity.
They choose their stories carefully, the intention is not merely to entertain and impress, but to compel, provoke, freeze a moment in time so that the audience can step out of life’s daily struggle for a while and step into the magical world of that art form that allows for real human interaction. In theater, you not only hear or see the actors, you feel what they are feeling for they are sincerely feeling it. You feel their pain because they are in pain. You share their joy because they are truly joyful inside. You fall in love because they have sincerely fallen in love. And all that happens not because they’ve put on great make-up or a fabulous set onstage, that happens because the artists’ passion and pure intentions have broken through the fourth wall of the theater to reach deep inside you right there in your seat, taking you out of the dark and onto the reality happening onstage and that, dear reader, is the wonderful experience, where artist, artwork and audience become one, that they call theater.
Contrary to popular belief, all those elements – the stage, the props and costumes, the make-up, the lights, the music, the poetry, they are not there to deceive, they are there to tell the truth. Or A truth. Every single thing on that space, that performance space, is there for a reason, a real reason – even a mere handkerchief sticking out of an actor’s front pocket is there to tell a story.
And so they never, ever dare to deceive their audience – whether they are Baguio’s or Manila’s 500, or 500 pupils from a public elementary school, or five ambulant vendors – they deserve nothing less than a performance that is a product of the artists’ utmost sincerity, passion and love for the craft.
And that, dear John, is the reason why we’re sourgraping. Not because we weren’t called on to save a production in shambles like they did last year, but because theater is a sacred art form, and since time immemorial, from the time the Greeks went onstage to pay tribute to Dionysus, to the time Macario Sakay staged senakulos to inspire his audience to rise up against the colonizers, legitimate theater artists have preserved the sanctity of the legitimate stage.
And because the Baguio audience deserve nothing less but a legitimate performance by legitimate artists on a legitimate stage.
Whether the performance cost hundreds of thousands to put together, or nothing at all.