PETA celebrates 50th year, looks forward to the future
These are interesting times. Former human rights activists now collaborate with plundering regimes, establish their own political dynasties, and silently consent to a campaign that has led to the murder of over 7,000 citizens. Leftists fight one another in a fratricidal feud. Feminists become apologists for rape jokes and gay slurs.
But though people change allegiances and ethics, one institution has stayed true to its vision: The Philippine Educational Theater Association is more relevant and more activist than ever.
On April 7, PETA staged the first of its two-day 50th Anniversary concert entitled, Singkuwenta. (WATCH: 50 years of creative evolution and struggle at PETA)
Written by Anj Heruela, directed by Melvin Lee, with musical direction by Jeff Hernandez and Myke Salomon, it was narrated by Soxie Topacio, Joel Lamangan, Mae Paner, Dessa Quesada-Palm, Cris Gonzales, and Meann Espinosa. It featured the PETA Choir, the UP Singing Ambassadors, Noel Cabangon, Aicelle Santos, Rody Vera, among many other performers.
The concert featured the signature songs from PETA's greatest theater performances: Rak of Aegis, 3 Stars and a Sun, Care Divas, and Pilipinas Circa 1907, to name a few. Many of the same songs performed that night comprise PETA's 50th anniversary commemorative 13-track album, Sa Hirap at Ginhawa.
Staged at the spacious and modern PETA Center, the concert nonetheless had to be performed for two consecutive days. There simply was not enough room for all the alumni, VIP guests, friends, and family that PETA had accumulated throughout half a century.
PETA's golden anniversary brought together founders of various theater and music companies. Among the attendees on the concert's first night who packed the PETA Center were PETA founder Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez, PETA chairman Marlon Rivera, and former PETA chairmen Ramon del Rosario Jr, Phinma Foundation president; and former ambassador to the US Joey Cuisia.
They were joined by Audie Gemora, acting legend and director for entertainment at Solaire Resort and Casino; Joy Virata, founding member of Repertory Philippines; Tony Mabesa, founder of Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas; Nicanor Tiongson, art crtic former vice-president and artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP); Chris Millado, playright current vice president and artistic director of the CCP; and Denisa Reyes, former artistic director of Ballet Philippines.
Also at the commemorative event were Robert Seña, Cherie Gil, Gina Alajar, Bembol Roco, Grace Nono, Dingdong Avanzado, and Jessa Zaragoza, along with stage and television director Nick Lizaso, Gabe Mercado, founder of the Silly People's Improvisational Theater; and Chino Toledo, composer, music professor, and co-founder of the Metro Manila Community Orchestra.
Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, founder of Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas, also graced the event, as did former senator Heherson Alvarez, Senator Riza Hontiveros, former child theater actress and reproductive health advocate; and Glenda Gloria, Rappler managing editor.
The PETA Center – designed by Leandro V. Locsin Partners – is a tangible testament to the growth, daring, and stability of the theater company. PETA has come a long way from the open air ruins of the Plaza de Armas at Fort Santiago, Intramuros, that National Artist for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin transformed into Dulaang Raha Sulayman, PETA's first home. Inter-faith rites and a thanksgiving mass were held there earlier to commemorate the company's golden anniversary.
Founded in 1967 – years before the Marcos regime declared Martial Law – during the nascent stage of the protest movement and counter culture, PETA espoused staging original Filipino works that were didactic and activist. This was in contrast to the American and British plays staged by Repertory Philippines, which was founded that same year. The two theater companies have complemented each other through the years, with many of their alumni founding other theater groups that are now responsible for today's artistic diversity.
"PETA was born 50 years ago out of a vision of dynamically applying theater, the meeting ground of all the discipline of the arts, as a force for education and social transformation towards peace and sustainable development," founder Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez explaine in her message.
"It was a dream to build a national theatre movement truthfully articulating our people’s thoughts, feelings, values and aspirations by drawing meaning and power from the lives, language, heritage and habitat of our people," she added.
She continued: “Theater is a mirror for our national identity; an armor against social ills, a memory bank to prevent a nation’s amnesia, an engine for employment and entrepreneurship, a conscience and a lighthouse for a pathway of moral recovery and international understanding.”
Through the years, PETA has survived various challenges: the imposition of martial law that led to the exile of Guidote-Alvarez; finding financial stability and its niche in a post-dictatorship Philippines; and constantly outdoing itself with each new production in today's highly competitive theater renaissance.
PETA's works evidence both its unwavering advocacy as well as its artistry and virtuosity: Rak of Aegis wove a story on urban poverty, government neglect, and climate change from the slow rock torch songs of Aegis band; 3 Stars and a Sun exposed the current feudal society and its penchant for historical revisionism with a dystopian science fiction narrative featuring the songs of the late rapper Francis M; Care Divas espoused gender equality with a campy drag show; and Pilipinas Circa 1907 transformed a zarzuela into a stirring lesson on nationalism.
PETA's continuing adherence to this vision is best distilled by the Singkuwenta concert's own spiel, written by Anj Heruela.
"As artist-teachers, our duty goes beyond mirroring the times. Our duty is to use our work in raising the questions that need to be asked, to confront the forces that threaten our liberties, to reject narratives that distort our sense of history, and protect the dignity of our nation’s continuing story. Beyond being conduits of the voiceless and the faceless, we pledge ourselves to empowering those who are never heard nor acknowledged to find their own voice and assert their place in a just society." – Rappler.com
Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. He is a former editor-in-chief of asianTraveler Magazine and lifestyle editor of The Manila Times, and a writer for MEGA and Lifestyle Asia Magazines. He covered terror attacks, military mutinies, and mass demonstrations as well as reproductive health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS, and other important issues. Rome Jorge is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.