The theater can be considered a life form in itself. Artists, directors and audience all gathered in what seemed to be a close encounter with life, in a sense that what is seen and heard in it has both the power and form to stimulate, transform or entertain a ceasing life.
With elements of the sound, lights, performances, the dances and the words in a staged theater combined altogether to create a perfect mix, the theater becomes the ‘expression of a nation’s soul’. It is not a kind of art but in it is a conglomeration of all the arts, one that is capable to stand and reflect a nation, a community or a people. A historian notes this to be a privilege to a theater artist who by “being aware of his ancestral roots and embracing the technology…humanism, as well as the serenity and spiritualism of his country” – serves in the sincere expression of the soul of a being or a nation.
Much more in the case of the Philippine theater that experienced the same birthing, yet understood its vicissitudes as it finds its place and identity in the rich Filipino culture through times. In this article, I will give a background on the existing literature on Philippine theater, tracing its history and forms, how it evolved to what it is now, and how authors and artists perceived the condition of the Philippine theater in our times today. I will target to answer this paper’s objectives by presenting the literature on Philippine theater historically – from the pre-colonial times, during the Spanish regime, came the American colonizers, to the contemporary theater. I will divide this paper into three parts, the first part of it I will expound now, the other two shall be elaborated on the next two weeks.
The roots of Filipino staging Not entirely known as theater, the dances, rhythms and songs performed in remembrance of old rituals and traditions unique in the tribal communities characterize the earlier forms of Filipino art and drama. Before the Western contacts, songs or awit along with verbal jousts in extemporaneous dodecasyllabic verses expressed in play-and-pretend situations were commonplace. Some of these were in the form of poetical contests in jests and riddles performed on the last day of burial like the duplo (also tibao) and the dalit, a passionate and eulogistic mourning prayer and an epic tale. Natives had drama/plays for the home such as sabalan, pananapatan and, karagatan, while others were intended for large crowds were found in rural communities like tagayan and pagbati, bayok bulaklakan, panyo palaran were found in rural communities (some even up to now).
As early as then, it did not give arts and drama a hard time to pave its way into the lives of the Filipinos. In fact, the unfolding of theater art founded solidly on the people’s inherent musicality and love of plays and spectacle. “The audiences chuckled at the comedian’s antics, reacted visibly to emotional scenes, and swayed to the rhythms of the tango and the can-can, all enjoying the show to the hilt”. A friar in one his letters attested that the audience not just watched actual presentations during feast of consequence but also the rehearsals. Even in the words of Rizal, he described the Filipino audience as a ‘deeply spectator of dramatic presentations’ who listens in silence to a song, gazes delighted at the dancing and mimicry and never hisses or applauds. When he finds the show interesting, he withdraws without disturbing the others and only at times when the actors embrace or kiss the actresses will he howl.