Meet Bonifacio anew–in a Pinoy noh play

Meet Bonifacio anew–in a Pinoy noh play
Aug. 20, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

One of Noh Theatre Ensemble's
previous productions, "Okina," in 2006.
Photo by Joseph Uy 
The Noh Theatre Ensemble (NTE), a resident theater group of University of the Philippines' Center for International Studies (UPCIS), will stage "Cedula sa BGC: Isang Kontemporanyong Noh," on Aug. 26-27 at University Theater, Villamor Hall, University of the Philippines.

"This noh is set in a mall in BGC [Bonifacio Global City]," says NTE's founding artistic director Jina Umali. "It's about Andres Bonifacio, so meet the 'B' of BGC, the Father of the Philippine Revolution."

NTE members have received continuous training since 2005 from Naohiko Umewaka, a noh grand master whose family's involvement in noh dates back 600 years.

Umali explains that centuries-old noh is the oldest form among the Japanese performance traditions, characterized by the use of masks, controlled physical movements and abstracted choreography such as sliding steps, and lines that are sung.

"One of the differences between noh and other art forms is that noh deals more often with ghosts and the afterlife," she says.

"I [wanted] to make Bonifacio return as a ghost through noh," says Umali.

"Cedula" is her adaptation of Ericson Acosta's play "Moñumento," staged in the mid-1990s by Alay Sining, into the noh format.

What is a Filipino noh, exactly?

"Most of the elements come from Noh theater, except the text [script and language] and the performers," she says.

"'Cedula sa BGC' explores Bonifacio's life and death, and his many roles such as thespian, nationalist, husband and leader of the revolution; it's a distillation of the struggle and process to become Bonifacio and for the Philippines to become a nation."

The production will be in Filipino with Filipino performers, in collaboration with noh grand masters Umewaka (expert in noh acting for principal roles), Shigeji Omura (expert in noh drum) and Isso Yoji (expert in noh flute).

"We train using the noh repertoire and transpose the shodan, the structural segments of noh, into Filipino."

"The costumes of the major characters are real noh costumes provided by the Noh grand masters. Some of the costumes are from the UPCIS collection of Japanese kimono and hakama (pleated trousers). Additional costumes are recreated by Darwin Desoacido," she says.

Andrew Cruz plays Bonifacio. The cast also includes Diana Alferez, Tess Jamias, Derrick Gozos and Al Gatmaitan.

Otto Hernandez handles set and lighting design.

The production commemorates the 120th anniversary of the 1896 revolution led by Bonifacio against Spain, which began with revolutionaries symbolically tearing their cedula (community tax certificates).

The production also celebrates the 60th year of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Philippines and the 20th anniversary of the Japan Foundation in Manila.

Umali points out that she isn't directing the production in the Western sense of the word.

"The three noh grand masters are my collaborators as there is no director in noh. 'Giving direction' in this particular production means asking their opinion and involving them in the artistic decisions when it comes to their specializations."

"We are in this together in the way that the Filipino performers and musicians are equally my collaborators. I present the concept and structure of the play to them, and the artistic details of the noh tradition is interwoven into it-tailor-made, so to speak."

Umali has codirected "Kanjincho" with Tony Mabesa for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas and has directed Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio's "Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa: Isang Noh sa Laguna" for NTE.

She founded NTE to introduce Asian performance practices to Filipinos. Students who've joined the ensemble come from diverse backgrounds, with courses ranging from engineering to library science; no performing background is necessary.

The public is welcome to audition for future productions or to join the (usually free) training sessions. Schedules of upcoming sessions are announced on the group's Facebook page.

"Cedula" is twin-billed with UPCIS Bunraku Ensemble's staging of Andres Bonifacio's "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa," featuring coloratura soprano Luz Morete, music by Restie Umali and choreography by Joanne dela Calzada.  ("Bunraku" is traditional Japanese puppet theater.)

Discounts are available for public high school and college students. "Cedula sa BGC" runs Aug. 26-27 at University Theater, Villamor Hall, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Call 0918-9286398, 426-7573, 981-8500 loc. 2460 or Visit or link:

Farewell, Jonas Sebastian, theater pillar and Temptation Island's Joshua

Farewell, Jonas Sebastian, theater pillar and 'Temptation Island' 's Joshua
Aug. 13, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jonas Sebastian.
Photo courtesy of Juno Alexis Rosales
Director and actor Jonas Sebastian passed away on July 31 at age 73. He died of cardiac arrest after contracting pneumonia.

Born in Quiapo to a family who owned the movie studio Oriental Pictures, Sebastian entered the performing arts in 1967 as an actor in productions directed by Inquirer columnist Nestor Torre at Ateneo de Manila University, and Joey Gosiengfiao at De La Salle University.

He later joined Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) as an actor and set designer; and Repertory Philippines as a set designer, eventually directing the company's inaugural production of "Sleeping Beauty" for its Repertory Children's Theater. He also acted and directed for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, helming "Asyenda Animal" for the group's inaugural season.

Dinner theater
His directorial debut was "Hello Soldier" for Peta in 1971. His directing scope would grow to encompass comedies, classics, Filipino works, and foreign material. He went on to direct dinner theater and opera in the late 1970s and 1980s, and drama classics in the 1990s.

In a Facebook post, actor and director Bernardo Bernardo recalled being directed by Sebastian in several productions: "[When] dinner theater fare in posh hotels was all the rage, Jonas Sebastian was the undisputed King of the Classy Sex Comedy Romps!"

Sebastian formed or cofounded a number of theater groups: Voyage Theater Group, focused on experimental plays; and Babaylan Theater Group/Dulaang Babaylan, focused on the revival of traditional theater forms such as senakulo, in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, he directed for Tanghalang Pilipino ("Ginintuang Bayan," "Orosman at Zafira" with John Arcilla and Allan Paule alternating as Orosman) and for Bankard Ticketcharge (Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance").

Sebastian (seated center, second row from top, with eyeglasses)
with the cast of Bankard Ticketcharge's
"All's Well That Ends Well," 1999.
Photo courtesy of Aries Alcayaga
He cofounded Actors Classic Ensemble, which staged Shakespeare and world classics from 1994 to 1997. Cofounder Joshua Spafford, a former actor with Repertory Philippines, said, "He's an important cornerstone Filipino theater artist and a teacher to so many people who have come of age today. Those who knew him closely knew what a kind, loyal and loving friend and ally he could be.

"His passion for his craft and his passion for sharing this knowledge had no bounds. He went out of his way to help procure scholastic papers, studies and other valuable resources on studying classics which, in the pre-internet time, was hard to come by. More and more the culture of mentorship is vanishing, so someone like Jonas, who shared knowledge with urgency, was rare."

In a Facebook post, Spafford wrote, "He spent countless hours, years even, not just directing but teaching a good number of younger artists how to study a text, how to deepen a role, how to find comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy, and sharing his belief that the theater was worthy of a lifetime of love and worthy as a calling."

Actress Adriana Agcaoili said, "Whenever we'd emerge from one of his intensive and very rewarding table sessions (he was a firm believer in textual analysis, especially when we were doing Shakespeare), his actors liked to joke that Jonas treated Shakespeare like the 'Matrix'--he could crack the code for you."

Math and movies
Sebastian as Joshua in the 1980 film "Temptation Island."
Before he entered theater, Sebastian put his undergraduate and master's degrees in mathematics from University of the Philippines to use as a teacher there for five years. He was known to wear white gloves in class, as he claimed he was allergic to chalk.

In the 1980s, along with his theater contemporaries who were shifting to film, he wrote scripts for television and film. He also forayed into film acting, and is well-known to fans of the 1980 cult film "Temptation Island" as the character Joshua, the pageant coordinator.

On stage, he essayed lead roles in plays such as "Cyrano de Bergerac," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Peer Gynt," "In My Father's House," "Largo Desolato," "The Cherry Orchard," "The Chairs" and "The Merchant of Venice."

Eccentric, colorful
Theater colleagues paying their respects at Sebastian's wake.
Back row (from left): Jacques June Borlaza, Lorna Lopez,
Mona Katigbak. Middle row: Miguel Vasquez, Allan Palileo,
Weng Lopez, Adriana Agcaoili, Richard Cunanan, Charlton
Villanueva. Seated: Jeremy Domingo, Andre Tiangco,
Gwyn Salazar Guanzon, Apollo Abraham.
Photo courtesy of Adriana Agcaoili
Spafford said, "To not acknowledge that he could be eccentric, and I say that fondly, would be doing him a disservice. At the end of the day, all he cared about was the theater and his extended `real' family: theater artists."

Agacoili added, "Jonas was temperamental. The size of the bump on his forehead grew according to his frustration over a play, or a scene, or an actor.

"But he was also the most loving and generous director, laughing the loudest in the theater during a performance, never mind if he was the only one, or embracing you with tears in his eyes, very vocal about having loved a scene you just did.

"When he was pleased with a run, he would grin and literally twist in his seat, looking absolutely gleeful. He was a genius, no doubt about that, both as an actor and a director."

Bernardo said, "Bowing in respect to one of my favorite stage directors. Also, one of the most colorful. Geniuses in theater are notoriously quirky and difficult to work with, but what amazing inventiveness, fearless choices  and titillating logic spring from their unbridled imagination. Jonas was the only director who made me cry out of frustration; but, more often, from sheer joy of watching him create magic on stage."

Sebastian's wake was held at Heritage Park in Taguig City, where he was also interred. He is survived by four siblings: Jehu Sebastian, Jonathan Sebastian, Joseph Sebastian and Janet Santos; and their respective families. link:

Rachel Alejandro in an 'unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers'

Rachel Alejandro in an 'unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers'
Aug. 6, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Rachel Alejandro
Upstart Productions' "Love/Sick," a show with nine short plays written by John Cariani that explore romantic relationships from first meeting and dating to disillusionment and divorce, opens this weekend at the Mind Museum Auditorium in Bonifacio Global City and runs until Aug. 20.

Artistic director Joel Trinidad directs, helming a cast that performs double or triple roles each to thresh out 18 different characters. Among them is Rachel Alejandro, who has been friends with Trinidad since they were cast together in Musical Theater Philippines' "Alikabok" in the mid-'90s.

"But it wasn't until we did 'Avenue Q' (for Atlantis Productions, now Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group) that we became close," says Alejandro.

"We've been talking about doing more shows together and possibly producing them ourselves for quite some time. 'Love/Sick' is the result."

Strange and surreal
It's serendipity that Trinidad chose to mount this play, since it's billed as "a darker cousin" to Cariani's earlier play "Almost, Maine," which was staged early this year by Repertory Philippines.

In a YouTube video of Trinidad's meeting with Cariani in New York earlier this year, the playwright jokes that "Love is a serious mental disease, remember that when you watch 'Love/Sick.'"

In previous interviews, Cariani acknowledged that his work has been described as an "unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers."

"It's set in an alternate. reality. You'll meet people. who may believe in love but they're terrified it won't last. You'll meet people diagnosed with obsessive-impulsive (sic) disorder, a woman who has cold feet on her wedding day, a couple who are so busy they forgot to have a baby, and a bunch of others.

"[The play] should feel like a realistic and naturalistic play, until it's not. Everything is strange and surreal and absolutely not normal."

Despite the quirky description, Alejandro says she was struck by the play's "sincerity and raw emotional power and its unexpectedly light comedic touch. It's rare enough for something to be so real and true, but, somehow, this show is funny as well!"

Alejandro played the Witch in Upstart's production of "Into the Woods" last year. Joining her in the "Love/Sick" cast are Teenee Chan, Mica Pineda, Nicky Triviño, Noel Rayos, Bibo Reyes, Onyl Torres and Trinidad.

"It's a mini-reunion for us because Joel, Teenee, Bibo and Noel were all my cast mates in 'Avenue Q,' and the rest were my cast mates in 'Into the Woods.'"

While Alejandro has been in numerous musicals, this is only her second play. "The first one I did was in the early 2000s. It's really a challenge because there is so much more to memorize. I find singing and dancing a lot easier because those are what I have been doing in the past."

Even more challenging, she's tasked to play three different characters. "What I have to find is how to make the three roles distinct and still be true to my objective in each story."

In addition to acting duties, she's also coproducing the run. "Audiences are going to be surprised and delighted by the show," says Alejandro. "I know I was."

Upstart Productions' previous productions include "SOS: Showcase of Original Shorts," "Forbidden Broadway" and "Much Ado About Nothing." "Love/Sick's" set and costume design are by Clarisse Co and lighting design by Daniel Cortezano.

"Love/Sick" runs Aug. 5 to 20 at Mind Museum Auditorium, Mind Museum, 3rd Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Contact 0917-8116516 or Visit or link:

From dislike to devotion: How Topper Fabregas conquered yoga, cardio and the stage

From dislike to devotion: How Topper Fabregas conquered yoga, cardio and the stage
July 23, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Topper Fabregas.
Photo by JC Inocian
Trying new experiences has always proved life-changing for Topper Fabregas.

He never liked performing as a child. "It was like pulling teeth to get me to sing at family gatherings!" he says.

He wanted to become a writer and would join journalism contests. One summer, two of his friends joined an acting workshop by Triumphant Peoples Evangelistic Theatre Society (Trumpets), and he gave it a go as well. Trumpets was holding auditions at the time for its musical "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe."

"My friends dared me to audition. I got a callback on my pager. I didn't even know what a callback meant," he says, laughing. His acting career began when he originated the role of Peter Pevensie.

"I worked nonstop from when I was 19 until I was about 25," he says. There weren't as many theater groups and acting opportunities back then, so he decided to pack up for New York to study acting at Circle in the Square Theatre School.

Something new
He'd begun to establish roots in the United States, even getting his Equity card (the American union for actors). But when he returned to Manila for a visit in the early 2010s, he discovered that "the theater landscape had changed considerably."

"I realized this is where I was supposed to be, that I could contribute to some bigger picture and I was part of some shift," he says.

While taking on numerous acting assignments for Repertory Philippines and other companies (most recently, "Godspell" for MusicArtes and "The Normal Heart" for The Necessary Theatre), he cofounded Red Turnip Theater, where he's been able to transition to directing.

He directed "This Is Our Youth" last year and is now helming the company's 2016-17 season-opener "Tribes." Written by Nina Raine, it's about a deaf man raised by his family to lip-read instead of using sign language to communicate. He then meets a woman who teaches him how to do sign language.

"Someone recommended it to us, and we all fell in love with the material. It felt like something up my alley, with its family setup, its comedy scenes. There's a running joke in Red Turnip that I get to direct all the plays that happen indoors with a lot of props."

Preparation, direction
From left, standing,
Dolly de Leon, Teroy Guzman, Cris Pasturan;
Thea Yrastorza, Kalil Almonte, Angela Padilla.
Photo by Jojit Lorenzo
As further validation of the healthier theater industry he'd come home to, Fabregas had to recruit actors as early as February.

"We have to cast people early since there are so many productions now. You have to get them before anyone else does. I started begging one of them as early as last year."

Kalil Almonte plays the main protagonist, Dolly de Leon and Teroy Guzman take on the parents, Cris Pasturan and Thea Yrastorza are the siblings, and Angela Padilla is the girlfriend.

The play has set design is by Ed Lacson Jr., costume design by Marta Lovina, video design by GA Fallarme, sound design by Teresa Barrozo and lighting design by John Batalla.

Fabregas has been consulting with John Baliza, a math professor to deaf students.

"We discussed how it is and what it's like to grow up and live being deaf. It's a common misconception that there's only one kind of sign language, but there's Filipino Sign Language (FSL), American Sign Language, British Sign Language, etc.

"Like the title of the play suggests, there is a sense of being in a tribe, of having values and language passed down from one generation to the next within that community."

For this staging, he's decided to let the cast use FSL as a way to reach out to deaf Filipinos. Some shows will specifically be tailored to deaf audiences by having supertitles projected throughout.

"My cast asked me, 'Are we a Filipino family in London?' and my direction has been to stick to what the playwright intended but to craft the story through our Filipino filters. Let's read the words, and we'll let audiences receive it as they will."

From hate to love
"I'd always wanted to be a director, I just didn't think it would happen this soon," he says.

Fabregas' past experiences have fortified him for exploring new ones. Back in New York, he'd always been scared of yoga. "I was running a lot and had a lot of physical work in school. My knees started to go. Someone recommended yoga, and I was hooked. It's a total body-and-mind workout, it calmed me down, centered me a lot, and made me in touch with my body."

So much so that he became a certified instructor. "It bled into how I would perform. Now it's my warm-up for any show that I do. As an actor, my body is my instrument, and yoga opens up the heart space."

These days, he has an addition to his regimen: leading cycling classes at Saddle Row- something he also thought he'd never do.

"I don't like cardio, I hate the gym. Toff de Venecia, who is friends with the owners, asked me to try it out because they needed instructors with personality. Before I knew it, I was teaching."

Spreading out
Fabregas' expanding horizons mirror Red Turnip's growth.

Last year's "This Is Our Youth" was staged in an art gallery, marking the company's foray into performance spaces outside of Whitespace events warehouse.

"Tribes" will be staged at Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater. "We're feeling out this venue and will see how it goes," says Fabregas.

"When we founded the company, we came up with a five-year plan. Our intention was always to move around and pop up around the city. We stayed put at Whitespace the first few years just to help establish awareness for the company, but now we've started exploring."

Instead of being encouraged to try yet another new idea, there is one that Fabregas himself brought to the table: the company's ".5" series of smaller productions.

"It's the company's way of staging a show that doesn't have to quite fit in the larger theme of the season. I'm so happy and excited that people have recognized it," he says.

"This Is Our Youth" was the maiden ".5" production, and this year's installment will be revealed later on in the season. "Para may surprise," he says.

"Tribes" runs Aug. 5-Sept. 4 at Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater, Circuit Makati. Season passes available. E-mail Visit or; or call 8919999, visit

Saddle Row is at 2/F Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Call 9663610. Visit or link:

Guide to different yoga styles

Different yoga styles

If you're considering taking up yoga, here is a short guide to the different kinds of yoga commonly offered by commercial/for profit yoga studios.

Yoga is popularly known as a series of physical poses that combines breathing and, sometimes, a bit of meditation/chanting.

Most people who are new to yoga go into it for its physical exercise/conditioning aspects. Most yoga studios and teachers do not incorporate chanting, but even if they do, it's not religion-based, so anyone can still do the chanting or choose not to.

The classics
Hatha yoga
A blanket term that means "physical yoga." Though usually, this is used to describe a moderately paced class using Vinyasa Flow (see below for description), ask your instructor.

Ashtanga yoga
- Vigorous style with set poses. First timers are usually led by an instructor, though eventually, are encouraged to practice by themselves (which is called Mystore style).
- Most commonly offered styles are derived from Ashtanga with variations on poses and intensities
- Developed by K. Patthabi Jois (a student of Krishnamacharya)

- Focuses on correct alignment, poses are held longer
- Developed by BKS Iyengar (a student of Krishnamacharya)

Most commonly offered styles
Vinyasa/Vinyasa Flow/Flow
- Derived from Ashtanga, "freestyle Ashtanga," uses different poses for each session depending on sequence given by instructor
- Recommended for first-timers/beginners as an entry-level yoga style, once you've tried a class, you can decide if you prefer a more vigorous or slower style.
- Vinyasa also means "combining breathe with movement" and it also refers to a particular sequence of poses

Power yoga
- Same as Vinyasa, though usually faster or more vigorous
- Popularized in the 1990s by Americans Bryan Kest, Beryl Birch and Baron Baptiste

Bikram yoga
- 26 postures in a 104F/40C room, usually with no ventilation except when the instructor will open a window or door. Studios in countries with dry climates use humidifiers (up to 40%).
- Developed in the 1970s by Indian Bikram Choudhury, who has been accused of sexual harassment (see below)

Hot/Heated yoga
- Vinyasa Flow or Power Yoga in a heated room
- Usually offered by studios/instructors in lieu of Bikram because of trademark issues

- Usually based on Vinyasa Flow sequences but slower and more gently paced
- May focus more on breathing, relaxation poses and meditation/chanting

Newer styles
- based on Vinyasa flow with adjustments for pregnant bodies

Acro/Aerial/Anti-Gravity yoga
- combines yoga poses with poses done in/hanging from a hammock

Less Commonly Offered Styles
Bhakti/Bhakti Flow/Urban Bhakti
- uses music

- less physical
- repetitive motions, meditation/focusing, chanting

Yoga styles with creators or teachers accused of sexual harassment/exploitation or having sex with students
By Indians
Bikram yoga
- read about the cases here.

By Americans
- based on Vinyasa Flow
- developed in 1984 by Americans David Life and Sharon Gannon
- usually involves chanting in Sanskrit
- emphasizes vegetarianism and love for animals
- read about the case here.

- based on Iyengar yoga
- developed in 1997 by American John Friend
- read about the case here

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