‘Our sun,’ mentor, and friend Ricky Abad: ‘To this day, I carry his voice in my head’

He cast me as Antigone, he played Creon himself—How fascinating to have seen the world through his storytelling once upon a time

Ricky Abad
Ricky during rehearsals at a theater festival in Indonesia a few years ago (photo: Reamur Adaza David)

(This article is a longer version of the author’s eulogy during the first night of the funeral vigil for Dr. Ricardo “Ricky” Abad, and it will appear in a book of tributes being prepared by Tanghalang Ateneo alumni and the Loyola Schools Fine Arts Program. Abad—artistic director of Areté Ateneo, professor emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology and of Fine Arts, founding director of the Ateneo Fine Arts Department, and the longest-serving artistic director and moderator of Tanghalang Ateneo—passed away Dec. 26, 2023.)

Ricky Abad

From the faded pages of Tanghalang Ateneo’s Season 15 program in 1994, the author as Antigone and Ricky as Creon

Remembering Dr. Ricardo Abad, our Ricky, former moderator of Tanghalang Ateneo (TA) and pioneer of the Loyola Schools Fine Arts Program, means remembering a time when we thought we carried the weight of the world on our shoulders, and a good night’s sleep was dispensable. Yet we felt invincible. We saw Ricky as invincible.

He was my director and mentor, both terrifying and charismatic, at a time when smoking was still allowed inside the Rizal Mini Theater, while we rehearsed lines and blocking well into the night. After rehearsals, he’d join us for sisig and beer as we talked about dream roles and storytelling. He would listen and bear witness to our woes and triumphs as father, sage, drinking buddy, astute critic, guiding hand, kindred spirit, solid comforter, fellow cackler, even Ninong! My love affair with my husband Eboy began in TA, and when it was time to get married, he accepted our invitation to be a godfather with delight! Through the years, Eboy and I would swap the same stories about him again and again, sometimes with old friends, sometimes with our sons. We would laugh about memories of him throwing chairs and kicking a hole in sets that were still wet with paint during tech rehearsals—a confounding contrast to the patient friend who was curious about what you knew of heaven and hell as concepts and constructs. To this day, I carry his voice in my head.

Ricky Abad

Presenting to the audience during the 2019 Faculty Day (photo: Francis Matthew De Guzman)

“There will still be many days, Devi,” he told me on my first theater season. I was 21. The only time I asked him how old he was, he said he was 48. What a wise, old age, I thought. I never asked again. With Ricky, I suppose I felt like a child who wanted to be seen: “See me! Pick me!” And he did. He cast me as Antigone, and he played Creon himself for my final college theater season some 30 years ago. What an electrifying experience that was. Because it was such an impressionable time, that fleeting moment in the spotlight remains vivid in my memories. I was not intimidated by his command on stage. Instead, I was strengthened and buoyed by his presence. I remember marveling and savoring our debates as Creon and Antigone on laws and loyalties, the murkiness of right and wrong, and the consequences of saying yes or no in a world that will continue turning no matter the personal decisions made. I felt his power as Creon emboldening the fierceness of my Antigone. I would see my arms the following day and wonder at the bruises that had gotten there. I would realize that they were marks made by Ricky’s Creon as he would try to stifle my Antigone’s reasoning. I never even felt the pain. How invigorating this all was for a younger me who wanted to be seen and heard.

I was not intimidated by his command on stage. Instead, I was strengthened and buoyed by his presence

A striking episode from this period revealed the complex layers with which we respond to the world each day. In one matinee performance, as we were deep into our debate on stage, Ricky suddenly turned director, abandoned being Creon, and left me to shout at the crew backstage who, to his ears, were noisy in their murmurings and movement. “ANG INGAY-INGAY NYO! MAY PALABAS!” I did not want to break character and continued to fix an infuriated look out into the audience. When he was done lashing fire and brimstone, he joined me again and, without skipping a beat, proceeded with his lines.

I do not remember the rest of the performance, but the following day, when we were all gathered around for company call and when Ricky started reminding everyone about theater decorum to avoid the mistake of making noise and distracting him and the audience, I interjected, “It’s my play, too, Ricky! You left me on stage! You humiliated me. It’s my play, too!” I had been seething with the injustice of it all.

Immediately, he slumped into his seat. “Ah, I’m very sorry, Devi.” He hung his head to the side, perhaps weighted by the awareness of what he did. What an insight into a person’s inconsistencies, contradictions, and contrasts. Here was this man who seemed to be in such full authority of himself and everyone in that cast and crew, and yet was quick to offer an apology when a mistake was exposed. I loved and respected him more.

Indeed, we who moved around the sun that he was in our younger days continued to be in awe of him despite and through these incongruities. Since then, in between those many days of moving from the theater spotlight and into the classroom as an English teacher, I would see him every so often around the Ateneo campus. He would be walking, erect as always, his shoulders down and squared with his chin up. His view would meet mine and he would say, “Ah, Devi.” I would feel then as if I were being addressed as a colleague, a peer, no longer that child who would say “See me!” But I cry for that child, still.

Sadness and longing were expressed in many forms during his wake, in the tributes to his greatness and humanity. In his funeral Mass at the Church of the Gesu, seven priests presided at the final rite. Fr. Rene Javellana mused, “I wonder what Ricky would say to all this.” There again, the contrasts and incongruities. The solemn trappings of religion amid stories about his irreverence and humor, his warmth and temper. The urn containing his ashes stood beside his portrait, the provocative glint in his eyes captured forever. I imagine Ricky watching the ceremony of casting incense and holy water on his remains, while contemplating the origins of these rituals we need to comfort ourselves when death inevitably comes. I imagine his stance that understands. This is what we need, the embrace of grief and longing, and the abandonment to faith and love.

In his funeral Mass at the Church of the Gesu, seven priests presided at the final rite. Father Rene Javellana mused, ‘I wonder what Ricky would say to all this’

We grieve for Ricky’s passing and the passing of a time when running in the rain or crying by a lamp post was a most dramatic, wondrous thing. How fascinating to have seen the world through his storytelling once upon a time. I hark back to his various directions and know that I will still follow them whenever I need to face an audience.

“Yours is the first voice they will hear, Devi! Carry it all the way to the back of the theater! When you say that last word, let it rise! Find the light, show your face and find the light.”

As I wonder how else to make sense of these peaks and valleys that shape our days, I pray for Ricky. May he find the light.

Find the light, Ricky. Once, when our hearts were so much younger, you were ours. You saw me then, and that is enough.

Ricky, the author, Rofel Brion, Fr. Asandas Balchand SJ, and JP Vergara during Faculty Day at the Ateneo in 2019

About author


The author is an instructor at the Department of English of Ateneo de Manila University, and a former member of Tanghalang Ateneo.

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