By : Marie Datu, Founding Artistic Director School Year 1980-1981
It was the summer of 1980. I was in my second year of college at the University and come June will be majoring in Journalism as a third year college student. Although I was involved in various organizations and every since I could remember I have always been fascinated with the art, the craft and the discipline of Theater. It was a logical step on my part, therefore, to become a member of the University-wide theater organization—Teatro Tomasino. And I was. Fate would have it, that summer, I was selected to be the organization’s theater scholar to the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s intensive Theater Arts Summer Program. I never asked whether the Teatro gods chose me for my acting skills or for my organizational skills; but the important thing was I was their theater scholar and I left it at that.
Cool, I thought. Summer affords us to do many things—read, travel, or learn something new. This time I am going to learn more about Theater for free. So there I was on my first day of PETA classes—a stranger in a sea of even stranger faces—students from different schools and people from different backgrounds and social standing. Look there was even up-and-coming actor Roi Vinzon with his very hot girlfriend Mae Cendana joining the workshop. Of course there stood our would-be mentors and tormentors Soxy Topacio, Joel Lamangan, Iktoy Reyes, Cecile Garrucho and Lutgardo Labad Jr who were supported by the entire PETA ensemble members.
I never felt so lost, so small and so insignificant amid these swarm of theater talent. My self confidence dipped to sub-zero daunted by the thought that I will be learning from these professional theater people—the guys that I ‘ve admired and who I’ve watched perform on stage all my life. I was about to retreat when lo and behold I saw the familiar face of my classmate Nick Galvez. I never felt so happy to see him. But wait, what’s a soon-to-be Economics major doing in a Theater class I asked? Life, indeed, is full of surprises. Nick and I became fast friends— we were and turned into PETA’s quiet but dynamic duo—like Batman and Robin.
In the end, Nick and I handled the PETA classes quite well and suffice it to say, we survived those rigorous months of doing writing, directing, production design, lighting, music and sounds. It was a summer well spent.
It’s back to school. I went back to Teatro Tomasino armed to the teeth with new skills. But things were different with Teatro Tomasino. It must have been a bad year. New theater productions are not happening. Rehearsals were hard to manage. The egos of those playing the lead roles were in a constant clash. Creative differences were plenty. There were leadership and succession issues. There was even a proposed membership boycott. It was a mess.
All my frustrations I have vented out to Nick. We often discussed about why and how come the College of Engineering, Pharmacy, Medicine, Architecture, Science, Nursing have their own respective theater guilds but Arts and Letters had none? Yes, there were long drawn conversations on this topic.
Nick said, “So why don’t you put up a theater guild for Artlets. This way you could run it the way a theater organization is suppose to run. Make it better.” I paused and found the idea daunting. But I had to rise to the challenge and I told him. “Okay I’ll do it but only if you’ll support me and be with me on this.” Nick agreed and a sacred pact was sealed.
The partners in crime were at it again. Nick and I then handpicked a handful of students from both the junior and the senior level to form the core group.
This core group worked day and night. We wrote the constitution, did a signature campaign, lobbied up and down the corridors, up, front, back and center of the OSACS and the Dean’s Office. We were relentless.
And then it finally happened. Artistang Artlets got approved as a student organization and became the official theater guild of the Faculty of Arts and Letters. June 24, 1980 we held the very first auditions for the membership of The Arts and Letters Theater Guild aka Artistang Artlets. It was Araw ng Maynila Day. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The audition lines snaked the length of the first floor AB Corridors all the way to the Dapitan gate.
July 3, 1980
This is the official birthday of Artistang Artlets and the date the founding officers of the Theater Guild for School Year 1980-1981 were sworn into office:
Marie Luz Datu – Artistic Director (AB Journalism Batch 81)
Philip Punla Jr. – Technical Director (AB Communication Arts)
Imelda Dominguez – Secretary (AB Journalism)
Janina Villanueva– Asst. Secretary (AB Communication Arts)
Nicolas Galvez Jr. – Finance and Business Director (AB Economics Batch 81)(Who do you trust with money if not your partner in crime?)
Ariel Robeniol – Asst. Finance and Business Director (AB Economics)
Cesar Pareja – Public Relations Director (AB Political Science Batch 81)
Bienvenido Perez – Asst. Public Relations Director (AB Political Science Batch 81)
Founding Faculty Adviser: Mrs. Piedad Rosales
July 1980 – July 2010-Artistang Artlets 30 years and beyond
The theater guild we founded turned 30 in 2010. This small theater company contributed and is continually contributing talents to the world of entertainment– be it in radio, television, film or theater. Budding careers and long lasting friendships have been shaped and formed– glued together by months of creating and putting up theater productions. We are up and still counting to date more than 800 plays and more than a hundred theater seasons. There have been so many productions that even we couldn’t keep count.
Among the best and the brightest AA Alumni who have been shaped and honed the ‘Artistang Artlets Way’ are—Isay Alvarez known for her roles in “Magsimula Ka” and “Miss Saigon” (who said during her auditions in Artistang Artlets that she only wanted to sing and that learning how to act would be a bonus) Winnie Cordero—a popular radio and television personality (she held the Artistic Director slot for two consecutive school years or 8 seasons), Piolo Pascual, Chynna Hortaleza, Ollie Memije who now teaches theater arts in a private school in Charlotte in the US and who was taken in as a scholar in France by mime master Marcel Marceau after Ollie’s graduation– plus countless others who are now accomplished professionals in their own right be they on stage, behind the curtains, on camera or behind the cameras–as performers, writers, singers, directors, producers.
Our theater dream became a reality. You only have to ask the thousands of AA Alumni members who have taken to heart the saying, “Once and AA, Always and AA.”