A few weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 1941. I was 13 years old, a first year high school student at the Ateneo in Padre Faura.
I saw my first play production at the famous Ateneo auditorium in Padre Faura. The play was “Who Ride on White Horses” directed by Fr. James Reuter and Fr. Horacio de la Costa. The play was about a fascinating encounter between Queen Elizabeth and the scholar, Edmund Campion.
The production was abruptly interrupted by a blackout. I thought that the play would not continue—but it did. The candelabras from the chapel lighted the stage and the magnificence of the Elizabethan palace glowed in splendor.
The 13-year old Pagsi was mesmerized. Thus began my involvement with theater.
During the Japanese occupation of Manila, I found myself playing a lead role in the Espiritu Santo parish production of “The Seal of Confession.”
Shortly after the war, Ateneo rose over the ruins in Padre Faura, the legendary Fr. Henry Irwin happened in my life and my fascination for Shakespearean plays grew with Father Irwin’s production of “Hamlet” in the ruins of Padre Faura.
I was invited to help found a boys’ club in the slums of Balic-Balic. A number of the boys I taught developed vocations to the priesthood. They needed money for their seminary training. They needed financing.
We put up a series of stage adaptations of English plays in Filipino. And five Balic-Balic boys were ordained priests.
The sisters of St. Paul’s College in Herran needed help with their play production. I was invited to direct stage vignettes and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.” I got to teach the likes of Cristina Ponce Enrile and prima ballerina Maniya Barredo.
Then the newly-built Folk Arts Theater in the CCP complex needed an artistic director for theater. I pitched in with dance-dramas, among which were “Alamat,” a celebration of Filipino folktales, and a much celebrated passion play, “Kristo.”
Then on to being a full-time high school teacher focused on the Ignatian formation of young Ateneans for 65 years.
An old theater program dated Feb. 25, 1955, heralded its inception as the Ateneo de Manila High School Dramatics Society. Soon, it was drawing crowds with its steady stream of Shakespearean plays, from “Macbeth” to “Hamlet,” and then on to Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” to Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”
In 1966, with its first production of Filipino one-act plays, the group gave itself a new name—Dulaang Sibol.
With its new name came new ventures. First, translations, then “transplantations.”
The year 1967 spawned Paligsahan Pandulaan. We dared our high school students to write, direct and produce their own plays.
The contest spurred the 16-year-old Paul Dumol to soar with “Ang Puting Timamanukin” and to sear with his “Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio.” Teener Tony Perez enthralled with his “Hoy Boyet, Tinatawag Ka Na, Hatinggabi Na’y Gising Ka Pa Pala.”
A day after the first Paligsahan, newspaper drama critics were hailing the winning plays as “a major breakthrough in the development of our national language.”
If the young can write plays that can move critics to sit up and take notice, perhaps they can write songs that a nation can sing. Thus was born our Timpalak Awit in 1975.
Thus, a first year high school student wrote a song that would later be hailed as the best original Filipino composition that year. The song was “Hindi Kita Malilimutan.” The 14-year old composer then is now the seasoned religious songwriter Fr. Manoling Francisco S.J.
In 1976, after 20 years of staging our plays in converted classrooms and borrowed halls, in slum clearings and convent parlors, the Ateneo gifted us with a theater home, small and intimate, with 156 precious seats.
And this year, after an unbroken series of productions for 60 years, we celebrate our diamond anniversary.
Sixty years old, and still, Dulaang Sibol is, in the words of Fr. Miguel Bernad S.J., “a theater forever young.” And in many aspects, the description is apt. Sibolistas are high school students as young as 12 and no older than 18.
Still, Dulaang Sibol is high school theater with a difference. National artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco describes it as “high school theater with a professional polish.”
Why has Dulaang Sibol lasted for 60 years? Perhaps, because it is primarily a Christ-centered community that deeply values the day-to-day formation of the young Sibolistas. And perhaps, because it has a teacher who has made Sibol his life work and mission.
Sibol is a brave theater beginning that can sometimes startle and stun, as only the young and the young-at-heart can—with that exciting brew of idealism and naivete served with passionate vulnerability and the fumbling persistence of birdlings in their first flight.
Along with Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, Onofre R. Pagsanghan is this year’s recipient of the Philstage Natatanging Gawad Buhay! for Lifetime Achievement.