Joel Lamangan is Gantimpala Theater's new artistic director

Joel Lamangan is Gantimpala Theater's new artistic director
By Walter Ang
August 3, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Joel Lamangan
Theater, television and film director and actor Joel Lamangan is Gantimpala Theater's new artistic director.  He steps into the position months after GT's founding artistic director Tony Espejo passed away last year.

GT's theater season line-up for 2013-2014 includes its iconic "Four Classics:" "Ibong Adarna," "Florante at Laura," "Kanser (Noli Me Tangere)," and "El Filibusterismo."

Also included in this year's season are two touring musicals: children's musical "Ang Prinsepe at ang Pulubi," Beth Puyot's translation of Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper," and the historical drama "Katipunan: Mga Anak ng Bayan," to commemorate the birth sesquicentennial of nationalist and revolutionary Andres Bonifacio.

Lamangan, while well known for his work in film with multi-awarded commercial and critical productions, actually started out in theater.

He was part of the cast in Gantimpala's inaugural production in 1978 directed by Espejo, Bonifacio Ilagan's "Katipunan: Mga Anak ng Bayan," a look at the "short life and turbulent times" of Bonifacio.

Now as artistic director, Lamangan comes full circle as he will co-direct with GT Board Chair Jun Pablo a new musical version with lyrics by Ilagan and Jeffrey Camanñag and music by Jesse Lucas.

Born and raised in Cavite City, Lamangan's earliest influence towards a life in the performing arts was watching his paternal grandmother Juanita directing moro-moro productions.

His activism was sparked while doing odd jobs at the Naval Station in Sangley Point, then still run by the US Navy (where his paternal grandfather served as a constable). "There I saw how the Americans treated the Filipinos. I knew that there was something wrong, that there was injustice," he says.

These two passions already merged as early as his student days at Cavite National High School where he formed a theater group called Teatro Caviteño. "We staged agitprop plays."

For college, he enrolled in Political Science at Lyceum of the Philippines University. "There my eyes were opened to the fact that reforms are needed in our country." He later transferred to University of the Philippines to take up Philippine Studies.

This was during Martial Law (1972-1981) where he would join street demonstrations and, as a result, was jailed twice (1973 and 1977) and tortured. While he was incarcerated in Camp Bagong Diwa, he staged poetry readings and one-act plays.

Expanding horizons
Upon his release in 1978, he resumed his studies at UP and there he directed "Mayo A-beinte Uno Atbp. Kabanata," for Samahan ng Mag-aaral sa Pilipino.

He was hungry to learn more about theater and took an acting workshop with Repertory Philippines where he was tasked to do Brutus' monologue from Shakespeare's "Julius Caeser."

"In the province, the Brutus monologue is usually an oratorical piece rather than an acting piece, so I orated. [Rep founding artistic director] Zeneida 'Bibot' Amador asked me 'What are you doing?!' and I said 'Ma'am, I am orating.' She screamed at me to get out and threw an ashtray at me. I never went back," he says laughing.

Lamangan used to hang out at For Santiago and, one day, as he passed by the open-air theater Dulaang Rajah Sulayman, where Philippine Educational Theater Association was based at the time, he saw their rehearsal for "Antigone."

"Their work impressed me and I joined their workshop," he says. This time, he finished the workshop and was later accepted as a member. He honed his writing and directing skills under the likes of Lino Broka, then Peta's executive director, among others.

He first acted for Peta in Tony Perez's "Si Moniko at ang mga Higante" (directed by Nonon Padilla) and first directed Malou Jacob's "Rajah Sulayman." "In the beginning, I really wanted to be an actor, but with time realized I would like to be the pilot in shaping the interpretation of texts in a certain way, that I would like to direct."

He joined Gantimpala because "I wanted to expand my horizons," he says. Lamangan also did productions with the Manila Metropolitan Theater. As a delegate of the International Theater Institute, he was able to go abroad to study different schools of thought, such as Brechtian theater and Theater of the Oppressed.

After his acting debut for Gantimpala, the first production he directed for GT was Benjamin Pascual's "General Goyo" (1979). The most recent production he directed for GT was "Balisawsaw Pusong Ligaw," Ricky Lee's adaptation of "Dog Day Afternoon" (1989).

Social realist
Lamangan transitioned to TV writing and directing in the 80s. "In the early days of my TV directing, I had a lot of separation anxiety from theater. I really missed theater."

He cast Amador in one of his TV shows and asked her, "Do you remember me? You threw an ashtray at me."

"She told me, 'See? If I didn't throw that ashtray at you, you wouldn't be where you are now!" he says laughing.

"When Lino [Brocka] died in 1991, I decided to join the film industry," he says, debuting with "Darna" in 1991.

His filmography spans comedy to drama (and for good measure, a musical, too: In 2006, he directed "Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Ze Moveeh," an adaptation of the Tanghalang Pilipino musical adapted from the graphic novel by Carlo Vergara.) and his advocacy of social realism is reflected in the themes of his films.

Social realism as filtered through his own interests in activism, human rights and related topics are common subject matter in his film output. This year alone, he has directed "Burgos," about desaparecido activist Jonas Burgos (which will be the closing film of the 2013 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival), and "Lihis," about communist rebels during the '70s (an entry to the 2013 Sineng Pambansa All Masters Series Film Festival).

This advocacy, of course, permeates all his works, including theater. "I believe that we are citizens first before we are artists. Artists do not stand on a pedestal, we are part and parcel of the community that we live in. Artists' work should be a reflection of the truth."

"[Social realism] is part of the thrust of Gantimpala Theater. All art, whether theater, film, literature, music, should say something about a certain group of people in society at a certain time. Anything that is expressive of something is social. We are all social beings."

While his appointment as GT's artistic director may be perceived as a homecoming, he has never really completely left theater. He constantly gives workshops to theater groups and he ensures he either directs or acts in at least one theater production every year. Just last year, he acted in Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' "Forsaken House" and GT's "Sayaw ng mga Seniorita."

"I was trained in theater. I would not be where I am now if not for theater. Theater is my first love. Not that I don't find fulfillment in film and TV work, but this is where I find fulfillment. I have reached a 'certain' stature, na hindi naman katingala ngala (that's not really anything worth looking up at), [nonetheless] I have to use it, I have to give back. This is where I came from."

He hopes for a better appreciation of what the arts has to offer. "The arts is never seen as a force. People talk of economic forces or political forces but culture and arts are the soul of a people. It is a strong force, instrument, system that can be used for change, to expose and correct weaknesses and to strengthen what is right. It can uplift us to a certain kind of standard."

Lamangan points out the role that Gantimpala aims to fulfill, to plant seeds into audiences and artists that will hopefully will take root and bloom. "We want to do theater that serves the needs of the people through the truth of our productions. We want to train young people in the disciplines of theater to produce future good Filipino artists."

"Florante at Laura" runs Aug. 2-17 and "Ang Prinsipe at Pulubi" runs Aug. 8-Sept. 15 at different venues including AFP Theater, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City; Star Theater, Star City, Pasay City; and SM Southmall Cinema 3, Las Piñas City. 

Contact 5280603 or 09215286308. Add on Facebook (gantimpala) and Twitter (@gantimpala_tf).

Thank you Alwyn Ignacio, Ed Murillo, Roobak Valle, Fernando "Nanding" Josef, Ige Ramos, Dennis Marasigan and Nikki Torres.

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