Tony Espejo, founder-artistic director of GantimpalaTheater, is ecstatic that his baby, formerly known as Bulwagang Gantimpala, isnow a full-grown adult at thirty-one. He declares, "We must be doing somethinggood to have last this long and I owe this to our audiences, of course, and tomen and women who continue to make the company pulsating with energy anddynamism.
"Our decade reign at the CCP [Cultural Center of thePhilippines] as Bulwagang Gantimpala definitely enriched Philippinedramaturgy," Espejo points out. "Books were being published featuring the playswe staged-and these made easier access to these plays. So that all of a sudden,you have an interest in Filipino plays and professional and amateur dramagroups were staging them. The experimental box that was Bulwagang Gantimpalaoffered a fresh look at staging plays: one didn't have to have athousand-seater [venue] to stage a production. One needed imagination, thesense of intimacy created a new style of truthful acting and new wave ofperformers emerged together with a super efficient staff. There was no room formistakes at the Bulwagan."
When asked why they left the CCP, Espejo narrates, "There was no choice but toleave CCP with the change of administration during the time of EDSA 1. We hadnegotiations with the management then but they decided not to renew ourcontract as one of its in-house dramatic arts companies. The unwritten rule wasto erase all projects that have a Marcos stamp and since we were arguably oneof the more positive agenda during the Marcos era, we have to be obliterated."
In consultation with some of senior members of Gantimpala,Espejo accepted the invitation of the late society doyenne Conchita Sunico tomake Manila Metropolitan Theater its home. At the Manila MET, he introduced thestaging of the Four Classics.
"We had a fabulous reception," remembers Espejo. "So, Ithought why not transfer these productions at the Main Theater. We were doingvery well at the Dalubdulaan but somehow, the limited seats will not keep usalive so I said we would take the gamble. We either pack the 1,500 seater METMain Theater to earn money and keep us going or go bust. Thus, Florante atLaura was born and as they say, the rest is theater history."
CLASSIC CHOICES. Espejo, of course is very much awarethat some quarters think that Gantimpala Theater have milked the theaterindustry with his productions of the Four Classics (Florante at Laura, NoliMe Tangere, El Filibusterismo and Ibong Adarna).
He counters this by saying, "Without the Four Classics, wewould have folded up a long time ago. Beyond the practical aspect of finances,we have trained a big number of actors and production staff by theirinvolvement in the classics. These plays are epic in nature and require manyactors performing several roles. The young actors have used these plays as atraining ground and the same can be said with the production staff. Thehistorical nature of these productions demands research and training of inperiod plays so it requires a well-trained set of production staff which I amvery proud to say that up to this day, the production staff of Gantimpala areconsidered as the best in the industry today."
"I often wonder why doing the Four Classics, as part ofone's artistic repertoire, surprise some people. I am just following thestandard practice in the field of music and ballet. The Nut Cracker, DonQuixote or Giselle are necessary as part of the repertoire of anydecent classical ballet company. These titles mark your cornerstone in yourdevelopment as ballet companies. Also, Handel's Messiah, doing Beethovenor Mozart concerts are staple repertoire of any decent orchestra. Now, what Iam trying to present is that Noli, Fili, Florante and Ibong Adarna mustbe staple repertoire of any decent, aspiring or professional theater company inthe country precisely because our dramaturgy stems from these classics," hecontinues.
He adds, "Without sounding boastful, I know that thisseason, PETA, Dulaang UP, and Tanghalang Pilipino are incorporating the Noliand Fili in their lineup of plays and though they might tweak the storyor present their versions of these novels, it cannot be denied that they areobviously realizing the importance of these classics. "
31ST ANNIVERSARY. What can audiences look forward toPETA's 31st year? "Our season once more focuses on the educational role thatlive theater provides to our student audiences and the general public. Ourperformances bring flesh and blood to the famous characters of the stories wedramatize, making them more believable and accessible to the audience. We also emphasize the values inherent in thestories and underscore such virtues as love for country, caring for environmentand honesty, truth and justice," answers Espejo.
"Still, the Four Classics come alive on the Gantimpalastage. Each play continues to enlighten our market and speaks to today'saudiences with a message that we must be proud of our cultural heritage andthat all the truth and lessons they present are still relevant."
He continues, "We are also producing Sleeping Beauty,J. Dennis Teodosio translated this Grimm's Brother tale into Filipino and itwill tell us of the life story of Aurora and the curse thrown upon her by theevil fairy—on Aurora's eighteenth birthday, she would prick her finger and die.
"We conclude our season with A Life in the Slums, by National Artist forTheater Rolando Tinio, first prizewinner, English division, 1975 Don CarlosPalanca Memorial Awards. It revolvesaround the lives of two sisters: Millie, happy and content in the slums andAnnie, who lives a miserable, high society life. They meet, discuss the wonders and horrors of their existence andin the end, reverse their societal standing. "
"Aside from all these, we have touring productions as wellnamely Bonifacio Ilagan's Katipunan: Mga Anak ng Bayan; Wilfrido Ma.Guerrero's Forever and Teodosio's Ang Pagong at ang Matsing."
Gantimpala Theater's 31st season officially begins with Floranteat Laura on August 1-3, 15-16 (AFP Theater) and August 8-10 (SM Southmall).For information on bookings and ticket reservations, call899-5745/896-3503/474-5198 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.