Anak ng PETA!
By Glecy C. Atienza and Manuel D. Pambid
In 2017, fifty years after the founding of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), the Magsaysay Foundation elected the theater group as one of the recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, known as “Asia’s premier prize and highest honor.” PETA was so honored for “its bold, collective contributions in shaping the theater arts as a force for social change, its impassioned, unwavering work in empowering communities in the Philippines, and the shining example it has set as one of the leading organizations of its kind in Asia.”
The equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Asia, the Magsaysay Award is only the latest of many accolades heaped on PETA since it was founded in 1967 by Cecile Guidote. At the awarding ceremonies, the PETA choir rendered a signature medley of patriotic songs that brought back memories of late nights and rushing against flood and curfew after rehearsals at the original site, the Raha Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago.
Today, PETA has its own Theater Center in Quezon City with studios, performance space, and multi-functional areas.
Through the seeds sowed by Guidote, PETA has been pushing for “theater for all”— accessible, original, home-grown and responsive to the needs of those who lack access to education. PETA has developed more than 500 original plays in its repertoire for the past 50 years, all products of a distinct process of artistic creation, referred to as Petang-PETA.
Petang-PETA points to “Repleksyon ng kulturang Pilipino na makasasagot sa pangangailangan ng nakararami” (Reflection of Filipino culture that answers the needs of the many) as guiding principle. The process puts its trust on fresh, local talents. It is a collaboration wherein ideas are thoroughly discussed. It emphasizes the use of Filipino and local language in sharing untold stories and in breathing new life to familiar ones.
Through the decades, PETA’s integrated theater arts approach known as BITAW (Basic Integrated Theater Arts Workshop), has provided alternative approaches to personality development, educational enrichment, and the discovery of Filipino cultural roots. This approach provided a space for expression and critical thought, especially in the ’70s and ’80s when political constraints and cultural repression under martial law were commonplace and education was controlled by conservative social mores.
The training became a living learning circle. Social issues and urgent concerns are studied closely through theater games, lectures from experts, and exposure trips. The integrated arts approach employed theater games. Actors used the language of various art fields to understand social concerns. Workshops became laboratories for possibilities. Together with participants from the communities, courses of action are tested to provide solutions to problems. Collective work and collaboration were encouraged as a lifestyle. Members appreciated each other’s contribution, big or small, because no work is small.
Acronyms became convenient markers for artist-teachers trained to become artist-teachers-organizers-researchers in a bilog (circle). There is IRISE—Initiator-Regulator-Information Giver-Synthesis Maker-Evaluator. Additional acronyms such as the OAO (Orientation-Artistic-Organization) and SPEC (Social-Political-Economic-Cultural), and the RPN (Repleksyon ng kulturang Pilipino na makasasagot sa Pangangailangan ng Nakararami sa loob ng isang panahon) guided the themes which became staples in the original works.
PETA encourages people to realize their capacities, make themselves strong and share what they have with others by cultivating other people’s capacities. ATORs (artists-teachers-organizers-researchers), the new “intelligentsia,” advocate the use of theater to respond to basic community needs. The theater artist’s role is that of community servants who face unending challenges as they negotiate their impact on the audience.
Theater for all means setting the direction for community service, different from the usual regard for theater which has fame, fortune or popularity as target. The training’s motivation is to disseminate ideas, educate the populace, and engage the community into positive action. The community takes center stage; the ATOR initiates, explores possibilities, and facilitates community action. The ATOR becomes the ACTOR—Artist-Community-Oriented Teacher-Organizer-Researcher.
The transformation of PETA ACTORS from being ordinary artists to becoming artist-leaders in transformative action in various levels of community engagements illustrate this. Participants of PETA training programs attest to how their experience has prepared them to become trailblazers in non-theater fields.
Peasant leaders have initiated alternative schools and learning environments for the illiterate.
Workers have used theater processes to unlearn the culture of silence and articulate their demands into collective action.
Students have become community leaders. Teachers, bankers, and government officials refer to the power of the bilog (circle) as their moving force in community-oriented action.
Businessmen use performance skills and audience-oriented programs to improve production and malasakit (concern) for work among their staff.
Overseas Filipino workers find solace and support through the collective spirit evoked by the creative process.
Survivors of abuse and violence have regained their self-confidence and self-worth through interactive sessions guided by the theater process.
Student artists have become professional artists and cultural leaders and have gained their peers’ respect through artistic excellence and innovation of collective work in the creative industry here and in other parts of the world.
After 50 years, hundreds upon hundreds of people have become “mga anak ng PETA.” Scores of artistic works, training programs, community development programs have been produced in consonance with PETA’s theatre-for-all vision, thus gaining enough ground for many people to claim that they are “PETA.”
After 50 years of committed work and solid achievement, there is no turning back. PETA could only forge ahead.
Glecy C. Atienza, a member of the NCCA National Committee on Dramatic Arts and a senior artist-teacher of PETA, has pursued theater work among school- based and community theater groups through her involvement as chair of the PETA-MTTL and the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Pangkultura sa Kamaynilaan at Karatig Pook. Her work as performer-playwright and researcher has been recognized by various award-giving bodies, here and abroad. She is a professor of Philippine literature, language, and creative writing at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, UP Diliman. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Manuel D. Pambid is a multi-awarded playwright and senior-artist teacher of the Philippine Education Theater Association. He is instrumental in bringing PETA’s theater workshop pedagogy to various communities and regions in the Philippines, Asia and North America-Europe. He is a well-loved mentor of theater artists and playwrights and has actively convened theater conferences and consultation in support of regional theater and the national theater movement. His play Canuplin was recently published by the UP Press.