COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
For the love of drama
The year was 1983 when I first met Joey. That was when I went back to the University of the Philippines College Tacloban (UPCT) after a year away from school. Along with a common friend, we were trying to organize a cultural group, go into theater, and mount a play in particular. I was still caught in that Drama Fever after having a short stint at the University of San Carlos Theater Guild under Nestor Horfilla.
So my early days at the university were spent with Joey sitting at the stairs of the Justice building or at the side of the concrete pavement while we waited for our friend to arrive, then, discuss what the nature of the organization would be with both of them arguing the most. Eventually, a cultural resource group called “Panangbu-an” was formed, a loose association of UPCT and Leyte State College (LSC) students and alumni.
When the group would gather, I did a bit of leading in the limbering exercises and a few interpersonal relations exercises. There was no play yet for Joey to direct. The group however was able to hold forums on culture and the arts. And finally, it produced a play directed by Joey and was staged at UPCT and LSC (now LeyteNormal University.) After that successful presentation, a theater group was formed at UPCT (now UPVTC) and Joey stayed with that group—for the love of drama. I moved into another world when I joined the student council the following year.
For the succeeding years, I became a mere spectator of art performances, from stage drama to musicals. The years of the 80s I watched plays directed by Joey. He’s very good in blocking, characterization, and in breaking a story into small strategic scenes. A story or script is an abstract thing in itself and somehow Joey has an emphatic way of concretizing it, visualizing the written words. Yet for a long time now, I haven’t really seen a major play. And even if we both live in Tacloban it seemed that our paths have gone in different ways. Until that night of June 30.
I was watching the sarswela “Panahon han Kawara han Paglaum, an Pagbalik ni Senyor Sto. Niño ha Tacloban” directed by Joey, that is, Prof. Jose N. Lianza of the LeyteNormal University. The show simply overwhelmed me, rekindled my once love for drama, and made me realize how much I missed watching a full-length play, like the ones I used to see before in Cebu and later here in Tacloban. And that how much I missed Joey, for even if we occasionally bump each other at the heart of Tacloban it was only while watching the sarswela that I saw again the Joey I once knew.
That June 30 Waray sarswela at the RTR plaza was more than your usual stage drama; with its mammoth cast of over five hundred—a multitude, the spectacle of images telling a very powerful story of a community devoted to the Senyor Sto. Niño, and the soulful music and sounds giving a beautiful background to the scenes. And for our history being retold, our memory is strengthened. For as Prof. Lianza notes: “This re-staging of Waray sarswela is an attempt to re-signify and re-inscribe that almost forgotten part of our collective memory—an event that had happened in this part of the country at the closing of 19th century.”
My only regret was that I was seated at the front, so near the stage and getting a limited view of the whole performance. A little distance away from that big stage would have given me a better vantage point, and a better appreciation of the whole show; backdrop, cast of characters, lights, and all. But then, I was simply filled with joy and awe with what I saw.
Prof. Jose N. Lianza over the years has “organized, acted and directed a number of theater plays and groups like TEATRO OBRERO (Tacloban and Manila Chapters), UP Runggiyan, UP An Balangaw Performing Arts Group, Carigara Community Theater and the LNU Harambee Folk Development Theater.” At present, he is the Artistic Director of the Sirang Theater Ensemble of the LeyteNormal University, re-staging mostly the works of Leyte’s noted poets and dramatists/playwrights like Eduardo Makabenta, Sr. and Illuminado Lucente. Indeed, a lifetime of commitment to theater and to the people it serves.