Fernando Josef, artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), is worried how the new production, the opener of its 24th theater season, of Cultural Center of the Philippines' (CCP) resident theater company would fare against the much-anticipated and much-talked-about Cats. The Broadway musical, mounted by an Australian company, has extended for a week or so at CCP's main theater, Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, coinciding with the opening week of Banaag at Sikat, Isang Rock Musical (Glimmer and Ray of Light, A Rock Musical).
Even without Cats, Josef is constantly concerned how to attract people into going to see plays in the country as much as how to find resources in mounting one. Despite dreary situations, desire and ambition do not cease, and artists found ways to come out with substantial projects, such as the musical version of Banaag at Sikat, an important Tagalog novel of Lope K. Santos published in 1906.
The concept of the play was discussed as early as 2005 by Josef and literary critic and poet Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for literature. Lumbera began writing the libretto, planning to finish it to be mounted in time for the novel's centenary in 2006. The project proved to be challenging, and the libretto took more time to write than previously thought. Eventually, Lumbera spent about a month in Davao City to write and finished it in 2008.
The next step was to find funding to mount the musical. TP's initial funds were not sufficient for the envisioned scale of the musical. When Lumbera was named National Artist in 2007, entitling him to an annual grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for his projects, the problem was solved. National Artist for theater and design, Salvador Bernal, came on board as production designer and gave part of his grant to the project.
Banaag at Sikat becomes a major and exciting production now with the involvement of two National Artists, opening TP's season that focuses on the works of National Artists. This is in addition to the fact that the novel, the basis, is a significant work in Philippine literature. The most important of writer Santos's works, Banaag at Sikat is one of earliest novels written in Tagalog. Featuring clashes between the rich and cruel business owners and poor laborers, and a love story between a poor socialist activist and a daughter of a rich man, the novel speaks of socialism and anarchism.
"Pinagtaganan ang awtor bilang tagahubog ng wikang Tagalog at tagapagpalaganap ng kaisipang makabayan at maka-manggagawa (The author is respected as moulder of the Tagalog language and promulgator of nationalism and labor rights.)," Lumbera said.
Though it is a work that every Filipino should know about, selling Banaag at Sikat is a problem. Lumbera admits that the younger generation are reading less and less thus they are not familiar with the novel, which is in "old" Tagalog.
"Sa kasalukuyang panahon , nagbago na ang wikang Tagalog at ang pagbabasa ay inagawan ng sine, telebisyon at kompyuter ng mga kabataan na dati noo'y libro ang pinaglilibangan. Kung tatanungin mo ang mga estudyante kung nabasa nila ang Banaag at Sikat, titignan ka na wari baga'y isa ka ng nilalang na galing sa ibang planeta at may dalang balitang hindi nila mawari (Today, the Tagalog langauge has changed, and movies, television and the computer has snatched reading of its audience of young people, who spent their time on books before. If you were to ask students if they have read Banaag at Sikat, you would be looked at as if you are a creature from another planet bearing a message they can't comprehend.)," he said.
Lumbera added: "Upang ipakilala ang nobela, naisip kong isadula ito nang kahit papaano magkaroon ng pagkaintindi sila kung bakit dapat igalang si Lope K. Santos bilang manunulat at palaisip. Ang naging problema ko sa pagsasa-entablado ng nobela ni Lope K. Santos ay ang polemikal na karakter ng Banaag at Sikat. Ang maraming bahagi ng nobela ay binubuo ng paglalahad kung 'di man pagtatalo tungkol sa mga kaisipang sosyalista. Magugunita na ang pakay ng nobela ay ipakilala sa mga manggagawa ang mga kaisipang nagtataguyod sa kapakanan ng taong lumilikha sa pamamagitan ng kanilang pagpapawis ng yamang sinasarili ng kapitalista (To make the novel known to many, I thought of making it into a play so that people may understand why they should respect Lope K. Santos as a writer and thinker. The polemical character of Banaag at Sikat became my problem during the process. Many parts of the novel consist of explanations, if not arguments, on socialist ideas. Remember that the intention of the novel is to introduce to laborers ideas that uphold the rights of workers who sweat for riches the capitalists acquire for themselves)."
For the play, Lumbera put into action the struggles and thoughts of the characters. Moreover, the production is made more attractive, especially to young people, by transforming it into a musical using indie rock music. The music is written by Lucien Letaba, who has written music for many productions including Hibik at Himagsik nina Victoria Lactaw (2002) for Dulaang UP, written Lumbera. Directing the musical fell into the hands of critically acclaimed director Jose Estrella.
The characters of Banaag at Sikat will be brought to life of a formidable cast of actors including Al Gatmaitan, Ayen Laurel, John Arcilla, Roeder Camañag, Angeli Bayani, Banaue Miclat, Clottie Lucero, Emlyn Santos, Greg De Leon, Raymond Roldan, Bong Cabrera, Martha Comia, Tara Cabaero, Franco Laurel, Jonathan Tadioan and Riki Benedicto.
"There is creative tension between the old and the new mindset linking hands and soul moving forward. A collaboration of the brilliant minds of our National Artists and the fresh young voices of Tanghalang Pilipino artists, Banaag at Sikat is truly a work where tradition and new genres are bridged through the ties of brilliant artists moving in synch," exclaimed Raul Sunico, artistic director of the CCP.
Banaag at Sikat, Isang Rock Musical shows at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater) from Aug. 18 to 22 and 25 to 29, at 8 p.m. (for performances every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and 3 p.m. (for performances every Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Special performances are available upon reservation. Ticket prices are at P600 (regular), P300 (student) and P480 (senior citizens). For inquiries, contact Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-3661 or 832-1125 locals 1620 or 1621; the CCP Box Office at 832-3704; or TicketWorld at 891-9999.