PH thespian makes it in Land Down Under



As a prestigious community theater for Fil-Aussies in Australia, Dulaang Bayan-Melbourne (DBM) for the last 33 years has come full circle in a manner of speaking.

Its beginning saw Cultural Center of the Philippines artistic director Chris Millado with Ces Quesada and Nestor Horfilla helping to put up the group through a series of theater production workshops. This recollection was made by its founder and artistic director, who was also a pioneer member of and one of the pioneering members of PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association), Manny Asuncion, who recently came to town to showcase tan indie film Kesehoda at the UP Film Center.

His colleagues, mostly from the theater outreach program of the original Dulaang Bayan of the defunct University of Life, which he used to manage for the conjugal dictatorship, were in full force–except for the conspicuous absence of one departed member/film comedienne Zorayda Sanchez who was sorely missed by the group.

Kesehoda was inspired by one of Manny’s acclaimed plays of the same title that he wrote and directed for DBM in Melbourne. The same play is included in his book, Manny G. Asuncion Season’s An Anthology of Filipino-Australian Down Under.

Kesehoda shows the diaspora perpetual angst of Filipino migrants in the Land Down Under, as well as memories of romance they left back home that keep on hounding them even in their new imagined community.

Manny recalled that before he set foot to Australia, Kesehoda was originally submitted as a short play he wrote in the Brechtian tradition which he submitted to founding director of PETA, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez. It did not see the light of day as Cecile left for the States to elude arrest from the former President Marcos who was reportedly incensed at the critical plays staged at Fort Santiago during Martial Law.

Lino Brocka, who would later become National Artist for Film, was then one of Cecile’s theater novices who took over the management of the company. Manny recalled that when Lea Productions offered Cecile a directorial break for film, she passed on the project instead to Lino. On record, that’s how Lino got his first big break via Wanted: Perfect Mother.

Manny, on the other hand, got his writing job for TV in the early ’70s when Lino ventured into long-running drama anthologies such as Hilda with Hilda Koronel as mainstay; Babae, and the horror Anino. Director Marcial Sanson also commissioned him to write for such drama anthologies as Cristina for Tina Revilla, Ito Ako Pinky for Pinky de Leon, and Kutob.

Very memorable to him was the TV special directed by Sanson titled Pag-ibig, Pahimakas Ng Isang Manlalakbay in which Vilma Santos played the Japanese girlfriend to the character of Dr. Jose Rizal.

Manny has written only one screenplay though unbilled for director Fyke Cinco titled Kahit Ang Mundo Ay Magunaw, with Pilar Pilapil and Christopher De Leon in the lead as lovers.

Anyway, after Kesehoda’s film showing focused discussion group followed at a donut house along Roces Avenue, moderated by director Johnny Jose Cruz on problems affecting Filipino migrants in Australia.

Manny, in his capacity as a legal interpreter heading Australia’s NATI (National Accreditation of Translators and Interpreters) disclosed the rampant and pathological addiction of Fil-Aussies to casino gambling, particularly by the elderly and professionals who would end up depending on government dole outs.

Manny by the way will become the 1st PIMAF’s (Pinoy International Music & Arts Festival) awardee for his outstanding achievement in cultural work overseas. To be given to him on August 31, the PIMAF is the latest addition to his trophy collection, which includes awards from the Victoria Multi-Cultural Commission Board of Excellence for Community Work; the Filipino Community Council of Australia for National Leadership Award; and the Philippine Normal University.

PIMAF organizer Anacleto Belleza Millendez, also known as “Doktor Ng Bayan,” will lead the awards night-cum-concert featuring Michael Pangilinan, Miguel Aguila, and Willy Jones.


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