National Theatre Academy: A Concept and a Proposal

* Presented on 22 August 2020 via a webinar/conference TAMPOK 2020: SABADULAAN organized by the National Commission on Dramatic Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts

Maraming salamat, Mr. Eric Divinagracia for that generous introduction. Maraming salamat rin sa NCCA, lalo na kina Lutgardo Labad, Filemon Blanco at Dessa Quesada Palm for organizing this conference. Maraming salamat din po sa lahat ng nakikinig ngayong hapon. 

This presentation reflects the possibility of instituting a national academy of the theatre or the national theatre academy, which as I understand, it is envisioned as an institution that will organize theatre artists, teachers and academics in the Philippines together. In short, the possibility of a professional federation for theatre people in our country. 

To provide a glimpse of my personal notes or commentaries, I am answering three questions posed by the organizers. Honestly, the questions, which you see on your screen right now, are daunting but I’ll do my best to pose some insights about the potency of such academy. 

Let me first describe where I am coming from because whatever is shared this afternoon comes from these positions:

You heard a while ago my bionote. Obviously, my theatre life revolves around performance research and dramaturgical practice at the University of the Philippines Diliman. I am also a firm believer that the theatre is a social and cultural idiom assisting to understand the self, the society and culture.

In addition, I am an active member of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) and a core member of its working group named the Asian Theatre Working Group (ATWG). 

From the positionalities, my idea of an academy is patterned after my academic position at UP Diliman and my active engagements with the IFTR and the ATWG. 

Having said that, I propose the following to be the general mandates of the academy:

  • Serve as the professional organization of theatre artists, teachers and academics in the Philippines;
  • Organize national academic and artistic gatherings such as conferences, symposiums and festivals;
  • Establish working groups or smaller organizations for specific research and creative projects;
  • Assist members to obtain grants and funding from foundations, corporate and governmental institutions;
  • Provide trainings to drama and theatre teachers and practitioners especially to communities in regions; 
  • Set up a database or an archive of resources for the use of teachers, students and scholars in Philippine theatre and performance;
  • Publish works of its academic-members in peer-reviewed book series or a journal; and
  • Promote the works of its artist-members in different information dissemination channels.

With the proposed mandates, I now turn to my proposal of the core principles of the organization. These are:

TEACHING, RESEARCH AND CREATIVE WORKS, and PUBLIC SERVICE.

Actually, these are the same minimum requirements expected of a faculty member at the University of the Philippines, especially for those who are under the tenure track. We call them the tripartite responsibilities of a UP faculty. 

As a UP faculty, it is expected for us to develop our fields of learning and research by producing scholarship and/or creative works of high quality and by demonstrating our respective capacities to sustain research and creative work activities. We also need to contribute to the learning of students through competent and effective teaching, including updating of syllabi, especially the reading resources of the students because knowledge production and debates on theories and issues are never ending. 

On a personal note, it is important that I also follow the development of theatre and performance theory, even methodologies in the production of knowledge – to prepare the future of the students whether in the academe or in the industry.

My role as an academic is to render service not only to the University but also to the larger community. This means I have to engage in activities that enrich the University’s academic life by undertaking public service projects that improve the quality of life, address contemporary problems of society, or generally raise the welfare of the community at large. 

The question: how are these translated to the proposed institution of the academy?

As a TEACHING academy, I envision the institution as a venue where members are provided the latest theatre and performance pedagogy including the latest theoretical debates in the fields of theatre and performance. At the same time, the academy must serve as a training ground for its members to develop curricula and to update syllabi, ensuring within the context of world theatre with emphasis on Philippines society and culture. At the same time, it is important to ensure that their development are beneficial to the needs of the students. As a teaching academy, I also think of the organization as a training ground for collaboration and intercultural encounters, and a space to learn the latest developments in practice – in the local, the regional and the global arena. 

As a RESEARCH institution, I believe the academy must function to assist its members to look for funding opportunities such as research grants, fellowships, scholarships and other forms of subsidies. 

At the same time, it is an organization that is envisioned to develop and maintain a database of resource materials – a digital archive of theatre and performance resources for everyone. 

I also see the organization as an important platform for the dissemination of research and creative outputs by organizing conferences, lecture-series, festivals, and other forms of gatherings significant to its members. 

In relation to this, I perceive the organization to partner with prestigious academic presses, to print book series and/or to publish an official academic journal. With this, the publications mandate of the organization is fulfilled. 

It is also important for the organization to produce an official magazine (may be an online magazine at first), to feature productions and other announcements related to the organization and, specially its members. 

In the context of the University of the Philippines, PUBLIC SERVICE is extension work, and it is defined as “a contribution to achieving excellence in social and public service, specially the underserved sectors. Extension generates, validates, and applies knowledge that can enrich instruction and research.” As a PUBLIC SERVICE organization, I believe the academy must extend its support by reaching out to the teachers, scholars and artists from the regions and the barrios, especially those with no direct access to the basic services that the organization offers. 

With my fellow speakers; very privileged to be part of this panel with the following stalwarts of theatre and education.
With the organizers and moderators of the panel: Top row: Eric Divinagracia (Moderator of the Panel, University of San Agustin), Desa Quesada-Palm (Conference Convener, Siliman University), Steven Fernandez (Speaker 1, MSU-IIT), and Holbart Savior (Synthesizer, Liceo de Cagayan University); Middle Row: Ricky Abad (Speaker 4, Ateneo de Manila University), yours truly (Speaker 2, University of the Philippines Diliman), Gardy Labad (Conference Director, NCCA), Filemon Blanco (Chair, National Commission on Dramatic Arts); Row 3: Sunita Mukhi (Speaker 3, DLSU-CSB), Bengie Kikay (Stage Manager), Diane A. (Annotator), Nikki and Di (Technical Support)
Photo taken during my presentation by my sister and number one fan.
Photo taken during my presentation by my sister and number one fan.

As for the structure, I think we should begin by looking at the potential members of the academy. My proposal is to include any person in the Philippines who teaches, researches, writes and practices theatre to qualify as a member. This means, a Filipino citizen or not as long as a resident and is affiliated with any theatre institution in the country is welcome to become a member. 

For the purpose of sustainability, like any other professional organization, it is important to collect membership fees. 

Do we welcome students? Perhaps, graduate and postgraduate students? Shall we welcome tertiary students? Do we need categorization on membership? Are we open to honorary membership? How much is the membership fee? Is it a lifetime membership? Annual? Are we open to welcoming institutional membership? These are some important items we need to discuss and agree upon.

What about the decision-making body of the academy? How do we call it? In IFTR, the General Assembly is the sovereign power of the Federation.

Members of the General Assembly elect the President, the Vice Presidents and ten members of the Executive Members, while the two secretary generals and the treasurer are appointed and serves at the pleasure of the President. The editor of the Theatre Research International, the official publication of the organization and the President of the International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives and Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts are ex-officio members. Past presidents and head convenor of the annual conference are de facto co-opted members. Past-president has an appointment of four years as co-opted member, while the convener has an appointment of two years in the Executive Committee.

Other important function of the General Assembly include the body that has final control over the constitution and its modification. Any member wishing to amend the constitution must give notice in writing to the Secretary General (Administration) at least two months before the date of an Executive Committee meeting. Amendments may be presented to a General Assembly for ratification only when they have been approved by the Executive Committee.

Can this be appropriated in the context of the academy we are envisioning?

I believe we can.

Let us focus on the Executive Committee. Perhaps, we can also pattern it to other professional organizations in the archipelago. Maybe we can have a President and an Executive Vice President who are elected by the General Assemblies and then three VPs are appointed: VP for Luzon, VP for Visayas and VP for Mindanao or maybe a VP for Practice and Industry, a VP for Academics and a VP for Research and Development are appointed by the President and the EVP. We can also adapt having two secretaries: one for information and communications and the other for administration. The treasurer is also an appointed officer. Up to ten elected Executive Committee members may be elected and we can include the Head of the NCCA National Committee on Dramatic Arts and the President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines as ex-officio members in the first few years of the academy. Eventually, we can co-opt individuals to be members – depending on the projects we are going to initiate. 

As for some projects, may be two staple projects in the first few years of the academy’s institution: a national conference and a national festival alternating every year. Like the IFTR, I see the potential of universities partnering with the academy to host a national conference bi-annually.  Then in the future, if the academy is already financial stable, the academy may start publishing academic books, manuals, handbooks, magazine and a journal. Then, the academy might even start subsidizing research works and creative projects supplementing the funds that the government partially provides to artists and scholars via the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. 

May be in the first year – we collaborate with a University in the National Capital Region and in the next conference, we invite a university either in Mindanao or in the Visayas to submit a proposal to host the annual conference. Same goes with the festival – maybe we tap the industry and the community theatre groups to collaborate with the academy in hosting national festivals bi-annually. The academy shall subsidize a portion of the expenses; hence the necessity of collecting membership fees.

Are these projects feasible? I am optimistic. First, there are several academic institutions in the archipelago which offer programs either in theatre and performance or related fields.  These academic institutions include the University of the Philippines Diliman (Theatre Arts), UP Los Baños (Comm Arts, major in Theatre), Ateneo de Manila University (Fine Arts, major in Theatre), Liceo de Cagayan University (Literature and Performing Arts program), MSU-IIT (Culture and Arts Studies Program), Siliman University (Speech and Theatre Program), West Visayas State University (Performing Arts Program), Naga College Foundation (Drama and Speech Program), Bulacan State University (Theatre Arts Program), St. Louis University (Culture and Arts Education), Cebu Normal University (Culture and Arts Education), University of Batangas (Culture and Arts Program), University of Bohol (Culture and Arts Program), among other academic institutions. 

The list of commercial and community theatres in the archipelago may be tapped and invited to participate in the over-all agenda the academy. In the National Capital Region, there are about 15 registered performing arts companies. We can also include in our list semi-professional companies that are aligned with the objectives of the organization: Dulaang UP and Tanghalang Ateneo in Metro Manila, IPAG in Iligan City, Little Boy Productions in Cebu. The community theatres must also be tapped to actively participate in the organization: ArtiSanta Rita in Pampanga, YTC and the Vaudeville Theatre Company in Cebu, Dulaang Kasing Sining in Bohol, among others.

There are other professional organizations who have been meeting annually to share the latest trends, development in theory and practice and address key issues through conferences. I am specifically referring to organizations such as the Association of Anthropologists in the Philippines or UGAT, the Sociological Society of the Philippines, the Historical Association of the Philippines, the Speech Communication Organization of the Philippines, the Linguistic Society of the Philippines. Take for example the Speech Comm Organization of the Philippines, its members have travelled to Baguio City, Quezon City, Boracay, Los Baños and Naga City in the past five years. The UGAT have met in the City of San Fernando, Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro City, Malaybalay in Bukidon, Quezon City, City of Manila, Baguio City, Iloilo City, Legazpi City, among other cities for their annual conferences. 

I see the academy traveling from Intramuros to the University of San Agustin in Iloilo to Mindanao State University in Marawi City or Iligan City to UP Diliman or the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City to Saint Louis University in Baguio City to the University of San Carlos in Cebu City to Liceo de Cagayan in Cagayan de Oro City to Siliman University in Dumaguete or from the walls of Intramuros to the Cultural Center of the Philippines to the community theater of Tagbilaran in Bohol, to Arti Santa Rita in Pampanga to the stage of the Philippine Educational Theatre Association in Quezon City or the Onstage at Greenbelt, the home of Repertory Philippines, among other potential institutions to host a prestigious academic and/or theatrical event. 

This is my concept of a national theatre academy. It is an academy where members help each other to learn and even unlearn pedagogies, to develop methods of research and creative works, to affirm and critique each other’s works.

Thank you very much.

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