Ateneo’s Pioneering Drama Workshop at Bilibid
Alumni Guest Article by Bernie V. Lopez, HS 1962, AB 1966
When a Singapore school that produced a play in a prison house which went viral online, Professor Ricky Abad of the Ateneo decided to follow suit. In August 2016, he assembled a small team of Ateneo theater artists to give Bilibid Prison’s first ever theater workshop.
The effort was done under the aegis of the RolePlayers, a training group composed of Ateneo graduates. Ricky’s team included Ronan Capinding, Joseph de la Cruz, Charles Yee, Peanuts Valerio, Bea Gulinao, and Nicolo Magno. All are alumni of Tanghalang Ateneo; most now teach grade school and high school.
The participants, students of the Special Classes for Young Offenders (SCYO) program, are not hardened criminals, but teenagers and young adults with minor offenses detained at Bilibid’s Medium Security Risk Compound. The SCYO students under their Program Director, Carmencita Bravo, were joined by a group of much older artist-inmates from Bilibid’s School of Fine Arts (SOFA) led by Mike Bernardino. Bravo and Bernardino were hungry for ways to bring the kids and artists out of their shells, and welcomed Ricky’s team with open arms.
Most of the young people were uneducated and illiterate, with little to reinforce their confidence and sense of self-worth. The challenge was to get them to express themselves.
Ronan Capinding wrote a 20-minute drama specifically for the Bilibid situation, one that would be easy and quick to teach to beginners. The lines were words from the inmates themselves. His approach was simple but ingenious, letting the kids unleash their bottled-up feelings on stage. He assembled a cast of 25 teenagers and artists, and after only four full-day rehearsals spanning four weekends, the inmates gave a maiden performance for a live audience, which included Bilibid officials. One official said after the show that she was in tears, seeing the dramatic change among the inmates. By making an impact on the spirituality of the inmates, Ricky and his team helped prison feel more like a home.
After the resounding curtain call, the cast was asked to say something. Everyone eagerly raised their hands. The transformation was awesome. From extreme shyness, they were suddenly talking with pride and confidence. Manyhad a common message – that they were surprised at themselves that they could talk in front of an audience with candor, something they had never done before. Expression and sharing were vital elements of the transformation. Now they were proud of and believed in themselves.
Now, even in the absence of the Ateneo drama team, they can perform. Professor Abad assigned and trained an inmate director. The group was supplied with a high-quality sound track, around which the play revolved. Now, they can perform for the whole world, fellow inmates, visitors, and prison officials.