Ateneo Theater Students Shine in 2019 APB Vietnam Theater Festival

October 11, 2019

Five Ateneo theater students , all females, wowed an international audience with a brave depiction of gender issues in the recently concluded Asia-Pacific Bond of Theater Schools festival held in Hanoi. Vietnam from September 23-29.  The student’s work, A Woman’s Place -- a play that the students themselves wrote, designed, and directed -- strung a series of vignettes that confronted their burdens and fears about being females in Philippine urban society.  The audience, in response, praised their honesty, resourcefulness, creativity and insight in dealing with the issues while admiring as well the quality of Ateneo training in instilling students with confidence and courage. 
The five students -- Alyssa Jam Binay, Maia Dapul, Senandra Gomez, Chrisse Joy de los Santos, and Tara Oppen Jamora -- are BFA Theater Arts Students.  Two of them, Maila Dapul and Chrisse Joy de los Santos, were recipients of the coveted Loyola Schools Awards for the Arts a few months back. Assisting them were two faculty members: Guelan Luraca who served as artistic consultant and Daniel Roan Cortezano who, as Technical Director, also worked as Light Designer and Stage Manager.  Ricardo Abad, as head of delegation, acted as Production Manager.  Their participation in the 2019 APB Festival received support from the Loyola Schools Internationalization Committee and the Office of Student Activities.
Team Ateneo with their Festival program folders.  Front row (left to right): Chrisse Joy de los Santos, Maia Dapul. Daniel Cortezano.  Back row (left to right): Guelan Luarca, Ricardo Abad, Tara Jamora Oppen, Alyssa Jam Binay, and Senandra Gomez
The five students with their Vietnamese guide, Nguyen Ahn (in orange shirt)
The three faculty members on board
A special shout out goes to Laura Cabochan, soon to be a Fine Arts faculty member, who intensely worked with the students in exploring the topic and in pursuing ways to translate their ideas in theatrical form.  Laura is completing her Ph.D. in Educational Theater at New York University.  She volunteered to help the students in their devising process while she was in the Philippines on a study break.
A Woman’s Place took audiences in different spaces of the students’ lives -- in public spaces like the home, the classroom, and the street as well as in the private spaces of dreams and memory.  The girls, who played themselves, took turns to tell audiences their troubling stories (or those of their friends) in a particular space, among them the fears of being molested, the strong pressure to conform to established female roles, the anxieties of being possibly pregnant, the anger felt at men who betrayed them, and the stigma surrounding attempts at cross-dressing. Towards the end, they sang a Visayan lullaby, and while alluding to a mother’s way of protecting her child, declared their hope for a similar kind of protection, a safe and caring space for women to thrive and freely express themselves.
Opening scene of A Woman’s Place
Performance scene: Jam and her troubling dream
The students going over technical points before the show with D Cortezano.
Audiences cheered after the performance. Many of the women delegates from Asia and Australia approached the Ateneo students saying how much they related to the material as they shared their own experiences in their respective spaces.  Some recalled their own mothers who, they felt, also endured the same burdens and problems.  Others were envious that the Ateneo students can express themselves that way within the school setting, something they cannot do in their own school.  The faculty delegates, in turn, wanted to know more about our training process that makes student actors confident, brave, and authentic.  Overall, the Ateneo performance stood out and with it, the kind of education that the Ateneo delivers to its students in the arts.  
Conference host Le Quy Duong cites the students’ work before the festival audience.
The workshops conducted by the Ateneo faculty added to the luster.  Guelan Luarca regaled delegates with a workshop on “Life Games,” a system he himself created as a tool to facilitate the writing of performance texts in devised productions. Daniel Cortezano drew fans in his workshop on the use of colors in light design as he advised student and faculty participants to break free from the conventional meaning of colors while at the same time remaining sensitive to the cultural meaning of various hues. Cortezano also helped several schools to set up and light their productions, and for his work got special recognition during the festival’s closing ceremony.   Both Cortezano and Luarca were just as active in networking with faculty members of different schools.  The results of this networking will resonate in the coming years as these exchanges become formal, thus helping Ateneo Theater Arts enrich student training in acting, movement, direction, and design.  
D Cortezano with fellow technical experts from Australia and Vietnamese guide, Tranh Ah (far left)
Ateneo students with actors from Taiwan National University of the Arts
Ateneo actors with a student puppeteer from the Shanghai Theater Academy
The Ateneo team with delegates from the National School of Drama, India.
Ricardo Abad moderating a Q&A after a performance from Mongolia.
The students learned a lot, too.  Options for performance opened for them, and with it came a greater respect for traditional performance styles, the courage to venture into themes outside their immediate biographical experiences, and the numerous opportunities to share and do theater with newly-found peers from twenty schools in the Asia-Pacific region -- including those from another Philippine group, the Integrated Performing Arts Guild MSU-IIT.    That they are able to gather ideas and insights from the festival for their future work is indeed one of the reasons why the Asia-Pacific Bond of Theater Schools came about in the first place.
Ateneo students with other delegates doing a Laban movement exercise with a Korean teacher
Meanwhile, the heads of delegation conducted their own meetings to discuss ways to make future APB festivals a more effective vehicle for learning and a way to make Asia-Pacific theater more visible in the larger international theater scene.  They also elected a new set of officers to lead the association for the next two years.  When the votes were cast, Ricardo Abad emerged as APB President.  That’s another story to tell and one that does not overshadow the amazing performance of Team Ateneo in Hanoi during the autumn of 2019.  
One big fight! 
A final dinner to cap an amazing week in Hanoi.