It was William Shakespeare, of course, who wrote of people in “As You Like It”: “They have their exits and their entrances/And one man in his time plays many parts.”
This would be a most apt description for Dr. Ricardo “Ricky” Abad, sociologist, teacher, thespian and an innovator/agitator of the Philippine stage.
At Ateneo de Manila University, where he was named Professor Emeritus, he was known as a legend among teachers, usually deploying his thespian skills in class (You can catch his teaching legerdemain in his Areté Magisterial Lecture: “Democracy and Human Capital: Why Education Matters” on YouTube. He also won the Metrobank Most Outstanding Teacher Award twice.
Abad made the aforementioned “exit” on Dec. 26 after battling cancer. He was 77.
Working with Tinio
One of the greatest—if not the greatest—“parts” he played was as unique contributor to the Philippine stage, anchored on pushing for an innovative, self-defined Filipino theater.
Ricardo Gianchand Abad made his “entrance” on Aug. 10, 1946 in Manila to Jose and Rosa Abad.
Theater made its entrance into 9-year-old Abad’s life when his father took him to the old Ateneo campus in Padre Faura to watch a performance of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” which left quite an impression, as he recalled in a 2013 Lifestyle article. He made his theater debut in an Ateneo Grade School production of “The Prince and the Pauper” in 1957, followed by his first stint working with National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio in the Ateneo Experimental Theater in college.
After earning his degree in sociology at Ateneo, he got his PhD from Fordham University on a Fulbright scholarship.
Upon his return from the United States, he picked up where he left off by becoming part of Tinio’s nascent company Teatro Pilipino, which would bleed into Abad’s own mission of transforming Western classics into the Filipino context and language as well as originals. He became most identified with Tanghalang Ateneo (TA), where he served as moderator/artistic director from 1984 to 2014. This tour of duty as director allowed him to experiment, develop and do virtually any play he wanted, often staging Tinio’s Tagalog translations of classic Western plays on their own or for bilingual productions. He also mentored an impressive cast of actors and production personnel through the decades on his home base, the Rizal Mini-Theater, in what is now Faber Hall.
Abad also liked working with actors and actresses “who show up, do the work, enhance the play, learn quickly, get along with the crew, make fellow actors look good, try out various readings in rehearsals and show no vanity. They also move me when they perform. So I cast them often,” he said.
Perhaps Abad’s most acclaimed production was 2012’s “Sintang Dalisay,” a dance/drama adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” set in a fictional Muslim territory in the Philippines; the star-crossed lovers are Jamila of the Kalimuddins and Rashiddin of the Mustaphas. The play featured choreography by Matthew Santamaria, kulintang music by Kontra-Gapi and production design by a frequent collaborator, the late National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador Bernal. Originally staged at the Rizal Mini-Theater, “Sintang Dalisay” would eventually be performed in Belarus, Malaysia, Taiwan and would also win two Aliw Awards (Best NonMusical Production and Best Direction) for Abad. Abad himself would be enshrined in the Aliw Hall of Fame in 2017.
He was also instrumental in establishing Ateneo’s Fine Arts program (now the Department of Fine Arts), which featured the first Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater.
Dr. Melissa “Missy” Maramara was one of the students in the very first batch of Theater Arts majors. With Abad’s encouragement, she earned her MFA from the University of Arkansas on her own Fulbright grant. She would go on to become perhaps the most successful of Abad’s leading ladies, appearing onstage for three companies in the US, and for New Voice Company, Tanghalang Pilipino and TA. She’s also appeared in film (the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Maging Akin Muli”) and TV (the ABS-CBN teleserye “Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay”). An assistant professor at the Department of Fine Arts, she continues to act and direct.
As a director, Maramara described Abad as being “so freaking brilliant. He’s so original. He’s so out-of-the-box. He is so grounded in the text, but he also sees beyond the text in a way that is relevant and still honors the text’s intentionality. So, his understanding is rooted in theory, but he allows theory to expand our understanding appreciation. He starts there and then yeah, he has so much trust in his actors but at the same time, he encourages play, and he’s not afraid to offer alternatives. The dynamic between actor and director was always very give-and-take and conversational.” As an actor, she told Lifestyle that Abad “made me brave. He wasn’t a coddler. It’s always an invitation to grow, to be smarter, more creative.”
For Maramara, Abad’s legacy for Philippine theater is the emphasis on how “the classics are important, and not as the colonial tool used to get us to buy into a certain ideology, but to empower ourselves, to use our own voice, our own understanding and forge our own way. He came from the United States, but he was adamant about the Filipino angle. He looked not just at the grander, more sophisticated aspects of society. He went to the grassroots level. He went to the prisons, he went to the children; he did all that.”
Abad’s last two projects showcased even more of this duality. In 2005, he founded RolePlayers Inc. with TA alumni to hold workshops on creativity for business people. He was also named artistic director of Areté, Ateneo’s cultural and creative hub.
Abad’s two-day wake on the first days of January was held in his familiar theater home, the Rizal Mini-Theater. His funeral Mass was held at the Church of the Gesù on Jan. 3, and the Mass’ end was met with a much-deserved standing ovation and cries of “Bravo!”
“Theater is not just an art; it is a weapon of change,” Ricky Abad said back in 2013. “And the better the students become, the more effective they will be in liberating people—including themselves—from oppressive systems, intellectual rigidity and moral backwardness.” INQ
A tribute to Dr. Ricardo G. Abad’s legacy with be held at the Areté’s Hyundai Hall on Feb. 4, Abad’s 40th day.