Friday, August 16, 2013

Acting is about bringing out the truth and requires hard work--Behn Cervantes

IN A JUST world, theater director Behn Cervantes will see to it that the law requires every congressman and senator to live along the railroad tracks for a month, so that these public officials can get a firsthand experience on how squatters manage to survive.

He still rages against "exploitative politicians who know how to use the system. We don't. It doesn't even cross our minds. The political scene makes me angry. The strongest man would have been a woman-Haydee Yorac. Now she's the kind of President we need."

When not using his "wicked tongue" to lash out at trapos (traditional politicians), Cervantes, who resigned in a huff as a professor at the University of the Philippines in 1988 to protest the bureaucratic move to kick out another theater stalwart, Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero, from the university housing ("where's the humanity?"), goes to different provinces and cities on a personal outreach program. He has been to Tacloban, Cebu and Baguio cities, Masbate and Hong Kong to share his skills.

Recently he trained and directed actors at the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in the Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija, in 14 performances of "Pagbibinyag sa Apoy at Dugo," Dr. Fulgencio Soriano's translation of dramatist Amelia Lapena Bonifacio's "Walking Canes and Fans." This is the story of an ilustrado family during the time of the Katipunan.

Cervantes identified with the son, a secret Katipunero, who is found out during a wedding party when he debates with a friar. The mother's concern later turns to commitment when she offers her jewelry for the revolution's cause.

Even if he is with the board of trustees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, he does not approve of the practice of sending Manila's cultural surplus to the provinces. "I still feel that the CCP is much too big for the country. What we should have built are smaller regional cultural centers," he said.

He continued: "Exporting Manila's culture can give the wrong values. It's here today, gone tomorrow. I've told the board, there are so many of us semi-retired teachers. What's two to three weeks of our lives if we go to hardship posts? This comes out cheaper than bringing in 40 people from Manila and charging the costs to local viewers."

His stint at the CLSU proved his point. Stage performances in the city usually run three days max. This time, the production had 14, proving that Cervantes' time was worth it.
The play would have 16 more reruns at CLSU next month as Gov. Tomas Joson III was reportedly pleased with it and wanted it shown to as many public school children as possible.

Cervantes said: "I believe in long runs. You just become better. The actors learn quickly. They use their bodies and brains to react during performances. I've realized that in an academic setting, those interested, they come. Those who don't have the necessary skills can learn the craft and use it for teaching afterwards. My hope is that I have turned artists out of the performers."

This thinking, feeling, committed director known for his bad temper "will forgive mistakes-that's human. But actors who don't give their all, who are like wet matchsticks who just don't light up, well, they brought it on themselves. I must know that I pulled out everything, that you could bare yourself. I can even joke about my gayness to get them to relax. I show the newcomers, the thespians that art is based on discipline," he said.

Some people's misconception about acting or arte is that it's only playing around. Cervantes corrected this, "It's not pa-drama or kunwari. You're forcing them to bring out the truth. This requires hard work."

He admitted that he throws less chairs and shoes directly at actors. What he hates is when actors don't improve or develop themselves. "It's like a bad reception on the radio. I hate it when I come back the next day after I left you at 75 percent the day before, then I have to coach you again to get to 75 percent. I hate tardiness. If somebody is 20 minutes late, multiply that with 54 other cast members who are late, and I tell them, 'Do not waste my time for me. I could've made my confession, gone to heaven, not hell, or I could've had one more orgasm during all that time.'"

Analyn Vijano, who is taking her masters in languages and literature at CLSU and served as stage manager during the "Pagbibinyag..." performances, said Cervantes intimidated the students in the beginning.

"We were not used to his screaming. We were scared. Later, we all realized that it was his form of motivating us to do better. Now, we miss him," she said.--Elizabeth Lolarga, first published with the head "Behn Cervantes and his inimitable outreach" in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 22, 2003.

Mr. Cervantes went by the name "behnpogi" in his email address. That picture of him reading "Do you not see the Devil" from Mila D. Aguilar's Chronicle of a Life Foretold was taken at Popular Bookstore in 2012. He didn't want to talk about Mila nor sing a song the way the other guests did, but he volunteered to read that particular poem. If his voice trembled with anger, it was because the verse reminded him so much of Juan Ponce Enrile.
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