Frank Rivera fights on


Frank Rivera

On a rainy afternoon in a suite at the Manila Doctors’ Hospital in Ermita, theater director Frank Rivera is enjoying another breather from his regular chemotherapy sessions, which have been going on since April this year.

Rivera is afflicted with lymphoma, a type of blood cancer which, in his case, developed on his bone marrow along his dental structure. To prevent the cancerous cells from spreading, doctors had to take away part of his cleft and his gums in an operation that took some 12 hours.

This is his fifth month in the hospital and, thus far, he has paid only P700,000 and still has a balance of P1.2 million. To help him raise the amount, a fund-raising concert will be mounted on Oct. 18 at the Emilio Aguinaldo College along Taft Avenue, with a 3 p.m. matinee and a 7 p.m. gala.

Rivera’s head is now bald, but hair is starting to grow again. With the cleft and gums on his left cheek taken out, his speech has become slurred.

“I am, in a sense, fatalistic,” says Rivera, clad in a light blue hospital gown. “Yes, I do believe in fate, but I also believe that we were ushered into this world with a mandate to make it a better place to live in. Yes, life is full of choices and mine is obviously my love for theater.”


Original and exciting

A graduate of the University of the Philippines where he majored in English and Pilipino, Rivera was lured into theater during the last years of Severino Montano’s Arena Theater Guild. Those were the times when, along with Montano, Rolando Tinio, Jonas Sebastian, Tony Mabesa and Anton Juan were the respected theater stalwarts. UP was lorded over by National Artist for Theater Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero.

The acclaimed Sining Kambayoka of Mindanao State University

Rivera started out writing poetry (he still does these days) and ventured into playwriting. He soon began winning prizes.

His love for the arts was nurtured in Paete, Laguna, where he was born 65 years ago. “When I was about 3, I used to mount puppet shows using paper cutouts. Since I could not read at that age, I verbalized what I saw as parang komiks,” he recalls.

When he visited Mindanao State University in the early 1970s, Rivera felt he could do something original and exciting in that campus. In 1974, he founded the Kambayoka Theater Ensemble, which drew its inspiration and aesthetics from the rich indigenous cultures of Mindanao, particularly the Maranaos of Lanao. Kambayoka adapted the folklore, customs and folkways of the communities around it, including their oral and written literary traditions, visual arts and music.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning, Rivera recounts. “There were other theater groups in the campus doing Shakespeare and Broadway musicals. When I told them my ensemble would make use of local folklore and traditions, I got the cold shoulder. Of course it didn’t help that I didn’t come from Mindanao.”

Favorite participant

But he persevered and, in time, Sining Kambayoka would establish itself as a theater force in the south. From the Marawi campus in Mindanao to the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago and all over the country, Sining Kambayoka has toured all over the country, and is also a favorite participant in international theater festivals such as in South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The ensemble was the official Philippine representative in the recent 2013 International Ramayana and Majapahit Festivals held in Yogyakarta and Surabaya, Indonesia. Organized by the Indonesia Ministry of Education and Culture, the festival had participants from other Asian countries including India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos and Thailand.

One of Rivera’s books, “Mga Kuwentong Maranao.” Rivera has authored 21 books of plays for stage, radio, TV and film, plus short stories, essays and four books of poetry, published by the UST Publishing House.

Kambayoka has also garnered awards and citations from various awards-giving bodies, among them the Aliw Awards and the Gawad CCP para sa Sining Pantanghalan. The ensemble’s repertoire is encapsulated in Rivera’s book, “Mga Kuwentong Maranao,” where he recounts how Sining Kambayoka became one of the most acclaimed and established theater groups in the country.

In the same book are political satires that Rivera wrote during Martial Law. The plays blended Maranao artistic traditions such as the “bayok” (chant) and characters from tribal tales with commentaries on the contemporary political situation.

‘Makata sa cell phone’

Also known as “makata sa cell phone” with his popular “textula” series, Rivera has, to date, authored 21 books of plays for stage, radio, TV and film; plus short stories, essays and four  books of poetry published by the UST Publishing House. He has received four National Book Awards while his poems and “textula” are read in political rallies, passed around as text messages, read on radio, posted on social media, printed in tabloid and newspaper columns, recited in school programs and utilized as material in oratorical and declamation contests.

Rivera says he rediscovered something with his life-threatening illness.

“It was heartwarming seeing visitors performing excerpts from Sining Kambayoka plays in my hospital room and even in the corridors. I know I will die a poor man, but I am happy enough to realize many people still love me and they come from all over the archipelago. I would not have made these many friends if I did not fall in love with theater.”

The fundraising concert “Tula, Awit, Dula ni Frank G. Rivera,” celebrating his 45 years in theater, will be held at the Emilio Aguinaldo College Theater along Taft Avenue on Oct. 18, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Featured performers are theater actors from Sining Kambayoka, Alab-Artistika, Philstagers, Earthsavers and A.C.T.I.O.N., as well as Liesl Batucan, Alegria, Njel de Mesa, Vince Tañada, Nenen Espina, Jim Pebanco, Fray Paolo, Dang Elio, Wally Tuyan and Joel Lamangan, plus other special guests.

The show will be hosted by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez and Arthur Casanova, with video by CJ Andaluz and stage direction by Joey Nombres.

For inquiries, call Arthur Casanova at 0917-8231499, or 0917-8238982.

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  • DennisApolinario

    Life is beautiful, even when plagued with difficulties as, in Frank’s case, the chemo sessions he has to go through. It’s a blessing to still be able to wake up to a bright morning and hear the chirping of birds, and to smell the flowers. Life goes on and we just have to roll with the punches. Be strong, Frank.

  • Common_Good143

    At CCP, a Sining Kambayoka play on one fight scene that suddenly went into a slow motion…the audience erupted into a deafening applause and elicited a standing ovation. Perfect! Unforgettable indeed!

    Thanks sincerely for the good times you have shared with our family. God is great!
    A healing miracle is always there.

    I always thank God for all the healing miracles in our family in spite of my weaknesses. From the moment my infant child recovered in 1986 from near death because of infection and high fever (I placed the Bible, a gift by my mother on my wedding, placed it beside the head of my child and prayed until I fell asleep and woke up in the morning with my infant boy all smiles, and just recently for my dear wife. Again praying, promising…and fulfilling. Sometimes I am in denial but God in His time creates the unexpected all the time! Cheer up and believe!

    I am the brother of one of your theater actresses then.

  • speedstream2

    Here’s hoping, sir, that you’ll win your fight against the Big C. Hang in there and keep the faith. And, yes, I agree: There’s a purpose for our existence.

  • Ma. Eppie E. Serrano

    Frank you are one of those who figure much in my life

  • Ma. Eppie E. Serrano

    Frank you are one of those who figure much in my life. Our common love for the arts and for theater, in my specific case, the Sining Kambayoka, has brought us together for good. How glad I am for having been a part of this big global family and I feel so privileged for having been trained and nurtured under your very care and mentoring. You made me act, write, and direct. You counseled me on a private matter that made crucial impact on how I would decide for my future. You helped expand my world for allowing us to travel, meet people and explore on our potentials. You are infectious. The green wine bottles that I collect and decorate my home right now is an example of your infectious ability – ability to influence people.

    I pursued another path after 1976 by joining a religious movement at first groping and wondering if I would ever have the chance to put to use the good building block that Kambayoka had built in my life. I soon realized that nothing good in life is wasted. Every good building block has its purpose and place to shine. Every good experience has its own way of repeating itself. That’s the reason why Kambayoka has survived for 40 years and more. You have sown such a good seed the fact that SKE had grown, bloomed, produced fruits and travelled far and wide. I was adamant and unsure how to sow that good seed with the new family. But lo and behold, I soon realized this new family, Lakas-Angkan Ministries, helped me to appreciate and affirm all the more God’s creative nature. Our creative gifts and talents all emanated from Him. He is the Greatest Artist – Creator of Music, Poetry and Language, Movement, Dance, sounds, EVERY BEAUTIFUL THING.

    Today I serve as trainor of all our leaders and emerging ones in an annual one-month summer training workshop that utilize The Arts in varying forms for our evangelistic programs. I get to express my love for the theater and use it for God’s purpose of communicating His saving grace. When my children were still schooling in their elementary years, I had the chance to direct or train actors and get involve in school plays in different schools.

    Thank you so much Frank for that one afternoon you saw me peeping by the MSU lecture hall. I had wanted so much to join that three-day acting workshop but I had no money for the registration. I went backstage and approach you “Can I join your group even if I was not able to join the workshop?” By that time you were already practicing for a production. You allowed me. I ended up playing my most memorable role of Busaon described by Ms Orosa as “the witch shines on stage”.

    I believe in miracles and God’s healing touch. I saw this happen in our own Couples Cell Group – 2 got healed of breast cancer, 1 colon cancer and 1 pelvic cancer. Their contemporaries who got afflicted with the same illness had long gone home but my Cellmates still survive. The difference? Because of prayer and personal relationship with God. Pervent, contrite, humble, kneeling, believing prayer. God has this special bias for His children. When they call, He answers. To me, the moment I kneel, the answer is always YES, NEVER NO OR WAIT. The bias remains. Being His children makes a lot of difference. I once asked Him how to become God’s child. I asked this one afternoon while in my senior year at MSU.

    I have no problem believing God but I wondered why the emptiness in my heart. I asked Bago-Araga (Ate Chang) “How do I accept Christ?” Instead of answering me she wrote in a piece of paper Romans 3:23, Romans 6: 23, Romans 5:8, John 3: 16 and John 1: 12. I studied the verses she gave and took particular notice of John 1: 12 “To all who RECEIVED Him, who BELIEVED in His name, to them He gave power to become children of God.”

    I heard a still small voice instructing me to open the back of my small Bible. I opened it and saw the PRAYER which went like this “Lord, I confess that I am a sinner. Please cleanse me of my sins. And right now, I open the door of my heart, I invite You and ACCEPT YOU AS LORD AND SAVIOR OF MY LIFE.” I know that was the start of a personal relationship with Him. This gives me the assurance that I am God’s child. We have His favor.

    I am praying for you. All of us hope and pray you will be with us next year when we celebrate our 40th anniversary. Amen

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