Anton Juan stages ‘Bayan-Bayanan’ as musical at CCP

The maverick theater director is also behind the flowering of the arts in a culture center in QC

Anton Juan the maverick director (Photo by Emmanuel Canteras, courtesy of Erehwon Center)

When Anton Juan, maverick director and enfant terrible of theater, was offered the post of chief cultural consultant by Erehwon Center of the Arts, he suggested two projects for 2022. One is the classic play by Bienvenido Noriega, Jr., Bayan-Bayanan, which focuses on the plight of Filipino migrant workers abroad. The other is the film Amon Banwa sa Dagat (Our Town of the Mangrove Moons), which highlights the plight of Filipino fisherfolk whose fishing grounds are being usurped by giant trawlers. An adaptation of Thorton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning metatheatrical three-act play Our Town, the film was shot on location in Suyac, a small town in Negros, from April to May 2022. This feature film, which had merited a grant from the Kellogg Institute of International Studies, will be shown not only in the Philippines, but also abroad.

‘Bayan-Bayanan’ cast meeting

Considered as Noriega’s most famous work, Bayan-Bayanan was premiered by Teatro Pilipino in 1975 under the direction of Rolando Tinio  (posthumously declared a National Artist for Theater and Literature in 1997), and has since been staged many times by Bulwagang Gantimpala, Tanghalang Pilipino, and other theater groups, under the direction of Tony Espejo, Pio de Castro III, and Juan, among others.

Juan, who’s on sabbatical leave from Notre Dame University in Indiana, USA, considers Bayan-Bayanan a noble play. He says he has directed it many times, and it should continue. “I did the play in Geneva, where it was written, and in Athens with migrant workers, and joined in with some members of the embassy, which was also the case in Geneva. I did this as a reading in Stockholm, then we did it in Chicago, in Toronto, a reading in Ottawa, and a stage reading in Paris. Many migrant workers identified with it, and even here. We’re a country where many are somehow related to migrant workers.”

The setting of the play is Geneva in the 1980s, when migrant Filipinos from all walks of life gravitate towards the aksesorya (apartment) of Manang (to be portrayed by theater actor, soprano, University of the Philippines professor and ALIW Hall of Fame awardee Banaue Miclat-Janssen), a Filipino mother figure who cooks for the homesick Pinoys. As the seasons change, their lives intertwine as they grapple with the vagaries of life in a foreign land. It’s a story inherent in our kababayan who dream and hope for a better life, while faced with the desire, and fear, of returning to their native country.

Juan considers ‘Bayan-Bayanan’ a noble play that many migrant workers identified with 

The play has been modernized and set to music and titled Bayan Bayanan–Letters from Home. “I started mulling over it in Chicago,” says the director, who has been knighted twice with France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1992 and the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite in 2002. “I have a composer friend, magna cum laude from the UP College of Music, but she’s a medical doctor, Cleofe Guangko Casambre, who composed the music for Sweet Stranger: Josephine Bracken. We did a musical in Chicago so I decided, maybe we can do Bayan-Bayanan as a musical. And we were moving towards it. But many difficulties came. Then the pandemic. Now is the chance once again.”

New songs were added by Bryan Sapigao, Russ Cabico who is a singer-actor in LA, and Jonathan Cruz, also the musical arranger. A special song by eminent composer Jerry Dadap was added. Juan says, “Cabico has migrated to LA, so his music is quite young. He has a temper that will attract the young right now. Cleofe has a classic background, so she sounds very much like Schumann-Chopin but very modern, as well. That kind of combination. Plus, I devise. I am devising, with tones very much like Kurt Weill, the German composer who had a successful collaboration with Bertolt Brecht.”

Juan, whose last outing before the pandemic was the play RD3RD, based on Shakespeare’s Richard III, and which was seen as one of the earliest theatrical productions that confronted the reality of the times, says of his present theatrical venture: “What I want to bring up is a very intimate musical, but big in terms of heightening the feelings of each character representing the different kinds of migrant workers abroad. And I’d love to do it as a kind of homage to our migrant workers, the global movement of migrant workers, for which Filipinos are among the first. It’s a very strong problem right now.”

Erehwon Center for the Arts is funding Bayan-Bayanan: Letters from Home with venue grant from the Cultural Center of the Philippines for shows at the Main Theater on July 15, 16, and 17. The musical has signed up known artists from theater, film, music, and opera companies, including Miclat-Janssen, Ava Olivia Santos, Abi Sulit, and Greg de Leon. The French Embassy in the Philippines has sponsored the participation of French actress Uno Zigelbaum for a special role in the musical, which it has designated as part of their series of celebrations for the 75th anniversary of Philippines-France diplomatic relations.

Rafael Benitez named his venture after a bookshop of his youth on Padre Faura, Ermita, now gone

Theater design is by multi-awarded Ohm David, formerly Dulaang UP’s resident designer and technical director, and light and visual design is by Meliton Roxas. Tickets are available at Ticketworld.

From left: Rafael Benitez, project manager Regina Samson, Anton Juan, and the author

Rafael Benitez, chairman and CEO of Erehwon, says that the choice of Anton Juan as chief cultural consultant was destined. “Anton was my teacher in Humanities, I know his track record. And he’s a guru!”

Benitez named his venture after a bookshop of his youth on Padre Faura, Ermita, now gone. He used to be an Erehwon Bookshop regular. He swears that memories of it “still linger in this senior citizen’s mind.”

He recalls how he persuaded his board of trustees to approve the same name for his art center in Villa Beatriz Subdivision, Old Balara, Quezon City. He adds, “Besides, there’s this roundabout way coming to our art center, as if you are going nowhere but end up actually here!” That’s Erehwon “here and now,” not Samuel Butler’s Utopian “nowhere.”

Erehwon building with the scenic elevator

Erehwon opened its doors on Aug. 30, 2012 with its initial exhibit, Volume One, curated by Ruel Caasi. The spacious building used to be an industrial bakery owned by Benitez. He wondered what to do with such a space when the bakery closed shop. That year, too, the four-story building expanded into a performing arts center, with the entry of the Metro Manila Concert Orchestra under composer and conductor Chino Toledo.  A floor was for the exclusive use of its resident dance company, the Ballet Philippines-Daloy Dance Company. Space was also earmarked for artist residency. Within its facility is a state-of-the-art, full-color commercial printing press.

In 2013, the center held the Erehwon Fiesta featuring Mementos, an exhibit of memorabilia of National Artist for Literature Francisco Arcellana. The Arcellana show was the first of a series honoring the National Artists of the Philippines. Erehwon Fiesta II in 2014 featured an exhibit in honor of National Artist Nick Joaquin under the theme The Art of Storytelling in Words and Images. Its curator, UP Professor Reuel Aguila, described the event as Erehwon’s initial contribution to Joaquin’s centennial celebration in 2017.

Behn Cervantes inspired Erehwon’s key principles of promoting convergence, collaboration, and camaraderie among artists

Erehwon has prided itself in being a center for advocacy. It encourages participation in the arts through education and outreach programs involving young students and communities, cultural exchange and cooperation, and making art accessible to as many people as possible. This has given it a reputation as a People’s Art Center, meriting the Quezon City Government’s highest form of honor, the Manuel L. Quezon Gawad Parangal Award, as one of the Outstanding Citizens of Quezon City in 2018.

Unveiling of Heber  Bartolome sculpture

On its second decade of existence, Erehwon Center for the Arts has installed three life-sized sculptures of Nick Joaquin, Behn Cervantes, and Heber Bartolome, all made by artist Jose “Al” Gilroy, a protégé of National Artist Napoleon Abueva.

Anton Juan with the sculpture of Behn Cervantes at Erehwon

Cervantes, a theater pioneer and acclaimed film director, inspired Erehwon’s key principles of promoting convergence, collaboration, and camaraderie among artists. His image stands in welcome at the entrance to the entertainment venue named after him, Behn Cervantes The Roofdeck, with Nick Joaquin with his ubiquitous bottle of beer.

A life-sized sculpture of folk-rock icon Heber Bartolome, who started Erehwon’s Filipino Music Legends Series with his iconic song Tayo’y Mga Pinoy, portrays the musician playing his guitar at center stage of the open-air venue, surrounded by the floor painting of artist Leeroy New.

Erehwon has also installed an all-glass elevator significantly improving accessibility to the upper floors of the center, especially for senior citizens and the physically challenged.

What else is in store for Erehwon? The theater mentor in Anton Juan envisions an Erehwon Academy of Arts where local and international theater greats will be able to hone a young generation of artists. The second decade of Erehwon may yet see a further flowering of the arts in our country.

Erehwon Youth Rondalla

About author


Alma Cruz Miclat is a freelance writer and retired business executive. She is the author of deluxe books Soul Searchers and Dreamers: Artists’ Profiles and Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II, and co-author with Mario I. Miclat, Maningning Miclat and Banaue Miclat of Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal, a National Book Awardee for biography/autobiography in 2007.

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