*a repost of my article in the May 8, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today.
In the late 90’s, there were hardly any active independent theater groups in Baguio. We in Open Space hoped to fill that void. Our first production in 1996, “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” which opened at the (then) BCF Theater as part of their Golden Anniversary celebration, seemed to have revived local interest in the art form - former school-based theater artists came out of hibernation and soon an umbrella organization for both school-based and independent theater groups was proposed.
UP Baguio took the initiative of organizing the first conference of local theater artists. But politics and parochialism got in the way – nobody seemed to trust anybody else, and my participation was questioned for not being “truly taga-Baguio.”
Naively believing that a play can survive without the support of the academe, we staged a play in the summer of ’97, “A Prelude To A Kiss,” at the Mountain Breeze Theater of Camp John Hay, which would later be the venue of a proposed casino that would topple the reign of traditional politicians who were pushing for it. We held auditions and a number of members of St. Louis’ University’s Center for Culture and the Arts, free for the summer, auditioned, and made it to the cast, to the dismay of their director, who did come to watch the play and called it “immoral” because of that one kissing scene. They would also much later be dismayed upon learning that some of their school’s alumni have joined our group. As for me, I felt really sad to learn that they would rather let the talents of these people who were not connected with the school anymore stagnate rather than be showcased for the benefit of the community.
The production was a box-office flop, but we didn’t mind for it proved that Baguio was teeming with thespians, all they needed was recognition, opportunity, and a venue. We moved on.
In the meantime, Baguio’s rapid urbanization surged forward, and while more and more concrete structures were erected all over the city eclipsing its famed beautiful skyline, the Baguio Arts Guild, and with it the local arts and culture scene, slowly crumbled. A re-organization was done, an interim set of Board of Directors was put in place, tasked to overhaul the guild’s organizational structure, who in turn elected a triumvirate who will do the actual work which included me, sculptor Kigao Rosimo and the late Santiago Bose. We had differences in opinion as to how the guild should move forward, so we eventually gave way to Santi who singlehandedly held the reins of the organization for the next few years.
In 1998, after obtaining the permission of Malou Jacob and the late Rene Villanueva, we staged the twin-bill “Tonyo/Pepe,” which featured monologues on Antonio Luna (written by Villanueva) and Jose Rizal (by Jacob) at the Bulwagang Juan Luna of UP Baguio with myself playing the role of Luna and Amar Chandnani as Rizal. This was the time when a school principal, after receiving our letter inviting their school to the play, was so shocked to learn that the ticket price for the show was pegged at a ridiculously low price of P25.00. She remarked, “Twenty five pesos?!? Ang mahal naman! Akala ko piso lang ang ticket kasi taga-Baguio lang naman kayo!”
The Bulwagang Juan Luna can comfortably accommodate an audience of about 350. At P 25.00, provided we have a full house, we can gross P8,750.00. Less P3,000 (then) for venue rental, a few hundreds for printing expenses, a couple of thousands for production expenses (costumes, sets, props, food and beverage, etc.), add in rehearsal and other pre-production expenses and you get an idea about how much is left for the cast of seven and production staff of five.
I felt bad that the school principal thought that for Baguio-based theater artists, a one-peso ticket price was just right. But, after a couple of years of living here, I was just also glad to be called "taga-Baguio."