Gantimpala celebrates its 30th anniversary by staging four milestone plays

by Jocelyn Dimaculangan
Sep 5, 2007
Francis Ong (left) and Michael King Urieta star in Ang Pagong at ang Matsing, which is one of the offerings of Gantimpala Theater Foundation for its pearl anniversary.

For three decades, the Gantimpala Theater Foundation (GTF) has been producing Filipino plays that reflect the country's rich cultural heritage and tap the talents of local artists. To mark its 30th anniversary this year, the theater group has launched its Pearl Theater Festival this September with the goal of "exciting the intellect, stirring the heart, and electrifying the soul" of its audience.

Viewers can watch its productions for free at the Concert at the Park Open-Air Auditorium in Rizal Park (Luneta), Ermita, Manila. The plays start at 7 p.m. every Sunday this month.

Gantimpala Theater returns to its roots by choosing to stage plays that herald back to its Bulwagan days. In 1977, the Bulwagang Gantimpala (the forerunner of GTF) was set up as the resident company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Founding director Tony Espejo tapped the winning plays of the annual CCP Literary Contest to use as material for the newly established theater group.

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These untested, untried plays enriched Philippine dramaturgy and sparked interest in Tagalog plays. By using a small venue to stage its plays, the group developed a fresh look at staging plays. According to Espejo, "one didn't have to have a thousand-seater [venue] to stage a production—one needed an imagination, the sense of intimacy created a new style of ‘truthful' acting."

For ten years, they were subsidized by CCP. In February 1986, right after the EDSA Revolution, the contract of Bulwagang Gantimpala was not renewed, forcing the theater group to find other venues to stage their productions.

It was then reorganized as the Gantimpala Theater Foundation and was invited to perform at the Manila Metropolitan Theater. Since then, the company has been staging the four classics—Kanser (Noli Me Tangere), El Filibusterismo, Florante at Laura and Ibong Adarna—for students and academic institutions.

MILESTONE PLAYS. Tony Espejo, artistic director of the GTF, reminisces about the 30-year journey of the Gantimpala Theater Foundation. "We chose four Bulwagan plays—productions that we feel are milestones in the ten years of Gantimpala in the CCP. Then, we have a musical children's play, Ang Pagong at ang Matsing—as inspired by Dr. Jose Rizal whose story was told to him by his mother, Doña Teodora Alonzo."

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Now supported by the National Parks Development Committee, the GTF has been regularly staging open-air productions at the Concert at the Park Auditorium for the past four years. Kicking off the Pearl Theater Festival is the historical play Katipunan, Mga Anak ng Bayan, which was staged last September 2.

This very first Bulwagan production won first prize in the 1978 CCP Literary Contest,which was written by Bonifacio Ilagan. It tells the life story of the great plebian, Andres Bonifacio. This historical play narrates the events in the life of the Supremo prior to the tearing of the cedulas, which marked the start of the Philippine revolution.

The main characters are Lowell Conales (Andres Bonifacio), Pamela Hundana (Gregoria de Jesus), and Remus Villanueva (Emilio Jacinto). Jeffrey Camañag directs this production.

This Sunday, September 9, Ramona Reyes ng Forbes Park (second prize 1976), will be staged at the Luneta. This period play, written by the late Bienvinido Noriega Jr., is a drama featuring a house cleaner torn between staying with the man she loves or following her dream of working abroad and securing her future.

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Kathy Arguelles will play Ramona with fellow thespians Abel Napuran, Arkin Da Silva and Adriana Agcaoili. It is directed by Jake De Asis.

Bombita (first prize, 1981) written by Tony Perez will be staged on September 16. This black comedy questions the blind obedience and subservience of young rookies in the military. Funny in a pathetic sense, it reveals the emotional and intellectual capacities of men in uniform.

Perry Escaño, Abel Napuran, Troy de Guzman and Yutaka Yamakawa will portray as the soldiers, under the direction of Soxie Topacio.

Tony Espejo takes on directorial duties for the play Taluktok,writtenby Leoncio P. Deriada, (third prize, 1983). This production is staged in honor of Caloy Abrera who performed in the original production as retreat master. Taluktok is a coming-of-age tale of five graduating senior high school students who conquered Mt. Apo and their growing up fears. It will be performed on September 30.

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Espejo directs the boys portrayed by Michael King Urieta, Christopher David, Raymond Talavera, Kristian Chua, Noel Escondo. Meanwhile, Billy Parjan acts as Fr. Feliciano.

In addition, the children's musical play Ang Pagong at ang Matsing gives a new twist to the well-known bedtime story. Aside from featuring the two characters who want to outwit each other, GTF adds Suso and Tarsier as zany, irreverent sidekicks to Pagong and Matsing. This charming, engaging, and fun-filled musical extravaganza is also a modern take on friendship, environmental concern, and Filipino virtues.

It will be staged at the Rizal Park this December.

With reports from Carmeline Rubi

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Francis Ong (left) and Michael King Urieta star in Ang Pagong at ang Matsing, which is one of the offerings of Gantimpala Theater Foundation for its pearl anniversary.
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