American Influences in the Philippine Theater .The first decade of American colonialism was marked by suppressed nationalism. As Filipinos look for escape to ease the feeling of being colonized by another country, the theater served as the most convenient outlet. This was the era of seditious and nationalist theater when playwrights and actors ran the risk of arrest and prosecution because of dramas such as Walang Sugat, Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas, Hindi aco Patay, and Tanikalang Ginto by Juan Abad. Some of the zarzuelas written by Juan Abad, “Mabuhay ang Filipinas!” was staged at the National Theater on May 17, 1900; Mapanglaw na Pagkakaalaala,” at the Universal Theater that same year; “Manila-Olongapo,” the product of his imprisonment in Olongapo, and at the Zorrilla Theater in June 1901, “Bulaklak ng Smapaloc” and excited the minds of native theater-goers. Other early writers include Aurelio Tolentino, Pascual Poblete, Pedro Paterno, Hermogenes Ilagan, Severino Reyes whose works reveal patriotism and the resentment to American’s rule, the plans to overthrow it and uprising and freedom. In June 1902, Severino Reyes established the Gran Compania de Zarzuela Tagala which was responsible for the reforms that made native drama as delightful experience.
The era also showed an active audience as two kinds of plays appeared. The acted plays which were circulated in manuscript form and the published pieces which were printed in principal papers of Manila like El Renacimiento, La Patria, Grito del Pueblo, and Kapatid ng Bayan. Riggs called the published plays more than serial poems in dialog but plays full of anathema and hate fully expressed in execrating and cursing the American government thereby urging the people to exterminate the government and even the friars.
A Contemporary Philippine Theater. Theater in post-zarzuela period was mainly in English, written products of the educational system installed by the Americans in 1901, and performed principally in school and university setting. English plays were indications of the first attempts for Americans to influence the Philippine theater. Soon after, theaters began to distance itself from the mass majority; English-speaking urban and school communities became the major audiences. As American motion pictures thrive, the theater fought a losing battle as audiences began to lose interest in it. The Americans were somewhat successful in diffusing Western cultural standards throughout the country.
The Filipino theater only returned to its vernacular in the 1960s, although more contemporary in perception and techniques. The theater traveled a long way before it again touched the lives of many Filipinos. Also, only in the 1960s when scholars like Nicanor Tiongson, Doreen Fernandez and Isagani Cruz have started to investigate indigenous forms of Filipino drama and made cultural studies a legitimate academic discipline .
The foundation of Philippine Educational Theater Association or PETA in 1967 by Cecilia Guidote was the driving force behind the Philippine theater today. Fresh from studying in the West, she noted that the “national theater of the Philippines should embrace the capital, the cities, the towns and the barrios, of the islands and should be devoted primarily to the quest for a dramaturgy truly expressive of the Filipinos’ national culture.” The concept advocates a popular theater catering to all sectors of the society. This project of Guidote continued onwards with the Kalinangan Ensemble being the professional performing arm of PETA. The arm branched out to the communities, educational and industrial sectors and became not just an experimental theater but also a performing arts academy now known as the Central Institute of Theater Arts (CITAP), the country’s first and only theater academy as of 1989. In the 1970s, a network of people had been operating in the country with the objectives to counter the government-controlled culture and the rise of information media. Later 70s¸ actors and actresses were seen during marches and mass rallies performing to the street crowds as desire to overthrow Marcos dictator regime became more heated.
The objectives of PETA and the people behind it was one of the noblest acts in the history of theater arts. Behn Cervantes, an acclaimed dramatist and director affirmed that Philippine theater is for the audience. It must be and should not be the kind that travels and goes to the communities to perform, not just to entertain but to function as a factory of thought, a prompter of social conduct, an armor against despair and dullness and a trumpet of new philosophical, social religious and moral ideas.