The teachings of the church can be presented in a very subtle way—not preachy. It can be a subliminal attack that awakens the belief and faith.
These were the words of Msgr. Augustin “Ting” Ancajas, a London-trained director and prolific playwright who has been actively involved in Cebuano theater. The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI) recently launched his collection of plays, Mga Tinagoang Bahandi (Hidden Treasures) at the New Wing, Ayala Center Cebu. The book comprises 10 plays: 7 one-act plays, 2 monologues, and 1 full-length play. Two plays were not yet shown in public. The book is sold for 690php.
Portraying the everyday Cebuano way of life, the plays are written in Sinugbuanon that captured the nuances and raw emotions. Msgr. Ancajas sees to it that he writes for himself a play each year as a birthday gift. The plays that are published in the book were originally selected from the 20 plays that he had written over the years. Laptop—what could be considered as the longest running Cebuano play in contemporary times—will soon have its sequel in August titled Pinoy Downstairs.
“You will not understand the sequel unless you’ve seen Laptop. I made sure to add in references in the lines”, said Msgr. Ancajas in an interview during the book launch. This will be the first two-part stage play in Cebuano theater.
A priest, director and playwright, Msgr. Augustin Ancajas is the founder of Il Signore Theatre Company 2021. The year 2021 is in anticipation if the 500th anniversary of the Christianization of the Philippines. Its objective is to raise public appreciation of theater as a modern form of evangelization. ISTC 2021 brings its theater production to different schools and churches.
When you’re the only priest to present bible teachings through Cebuano plays in contemporary times, it begs the question as to how this came to be.
You’ve been a playwright for years. What finally made decide to launch a compilation of your plays?
It was because of the insistence of Haidee Palapar who heads the documentation group of RAFI. Her department works on the preservation of culture and written materials. She knows long before that I’ve always been writing and that no other priest writes theater plays. No one is really staging plays every now and then with so much passion and gusto, and the plays mounted were my own writing. And I saw the importance of putting my works out there for the next generation. I want to promote Catholic imagination like paintings and other works of art. As for me, I discovered theater.God’s grace is working even in the most ordinary things in life. The conversion, realization, solution but you don’t have to present it in a preachy manner. This is the very reason behind all of what I’m doing—the metaphysical things around us, the divine, that sense of awe. The humanity is there, your emotion, your thoughts. In theater, it’s all raw.
What do you love most in what you do?
I love exploring theater because when your into it, you become so involved. I’m happy that God gave me this gift of writing; that I can go to the deepest level of emotions of the characters.
What’s the first hook that gets you to start a new play? Is it a character, a theme? A question you’ve been wrestling with?
An inspiration, they usually come. My mom would catch me still awake at 2am. I’m trying to focus on biblical things. Martha and Mary in Lukas 10:41. Martha is the active and successful while Mary is the laid back traditional. I bring the gospel message into a different level where many can relate. I am not a biblical but I am a storyteller. I can tell you a story with this as a background.
How much of the characters are based on the bible and those that are based on personal encounters?
The recent ones are inspired bible-based, geared toward re-appropriating the gospel message into new context, but prior to that, they were inspired by personal encounters and reflections. I’ve always been intrigued by life and I’ve always loved writing so it came easy for me. The Laptop is based on experience when I was in London, and Pinoy Downstairs was when I spent for two weekends in a manor house where I worked as one of the Filipino workers. I get inspired by different people I met and the nice thing is that I already know the fundamentals and elements of dram and theater so I can play around, and I’m lucky to have a theater company where I can mount them on and allow these to incarnate.
You’ve done a great job in your advocacy of promoting Cebuano heritage specifically in the community theater. Why do you feel this is an important cause?
Sad thing is, there are playwrights but they don’t have that chance of getting their plays mounted. That’s going to be the death of a playwright. Theater culture has really died in Cebu. You have to hard-sell to the point that it’s already embarrassing. When I sell my tickets and I get something like “Wala’y libre dira? Ay di na lang mi”, because I know theater is not the priority of people—its bugas.
So what we do, we bring theater to schools for students to have a totally different experience with it; that it will have a lasting effect on them. The plays they watch are inspiring, different, something that would change their perception. Hijas school, the Sacred Heart students for example, cried. They were inside the story even if they asked “What’s alas onse?”.
What do you think is the prevailing challenge in Cebuano theater?
We’re still in the acceptance stage. We still have to force ourselves to bring it back to our culture. Also, there’s the budget to be considered.