Ateneo Theater Arts strikes gold in Singapore

While Filipino teams battled for gold at the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore, another Philippine contingent, Ateneo Theater Arts, stood tall at the 8th Asia-Pacific Bureau Festival of Theater Schools held from June 6-11 at the Singapore’s La Salle College of Arts.  Over 200 teachers and students from 23 schools in the region gathered for the yearly festival.   

“It was an amazing performance,” declared Tony Smith of the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, who added “I wanted it to go on and on. “The show reminded me of why we teach and do theater,” said Frances Barbe of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, “which is to connect with others in the most imaginative way possible.”  To which Sarah Miller of the University of Wollongong suggested, “You should take this show to fringe festivals in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and this January 2016, in Singapore.”   

Aubrey Mellors of La Salle College of Arts was more than enthused: “I have enjoyed only four one-man shows in my theater life; this is the fifth.  And this performance is unique because audiences are not passive, like they’re watching a film, but are wholly engaged in what’s taking place on stage.”  Mohammad Israfil Shaheen of Bangladesh was emphatic: “I’m inviting your team to bring this show to Dhaka!”  

The show: Songs of an Electric Soul, a one-person show written, directed, designed, and performed by Christopher Aronson (BFA Theater Arts 2012) who imagines himself as a boy shaman deploying a combination of magical incantations, stories, songs and sounds from electronic gadgets to cast a metaphysical spell on the audience.

Accolades were instantaneous.  Students, drawn into the spirit of the performance, singing and dancing towards the end, praised Aronson for his multiple talents and charismatic presence.  Some students were on the verge of joyous tears. Teachers from other schools also joined in praise, congratulating as well the two Ateneo faculty representatives from, Melissa Maramara and Ricardo Abad, for the kind of training the school gives to its students.  It was Abad who chose to field Songs of an Electric Soul for the Singapore festival after seeing Aronson’s show in a café in Manila last year.


The Ateneo Team representing the Philippines in Singapore
The Ateneo Team representing the Philippines in Singapore

No less than the former and highly esteemed Ateneo Glee Club director, Joel Navarro, who now teaches in Singapore, watched the show and joined the exultation. Posting on Facebook soon after the show, Navarro wrote: “Ingeniously crafted, freeing, imaginative, integrative of who we are as Filipinos, expansive, so in the moment, weaving in and out of one's inner universe and the outer omniverse. Resounding kudos to Chris and your team. The final song still rings in my ears. Mabuhay.” 


And the final song did ring!  After the show, some groups of students were chanting the four-line song, its original lyrics fashioned in gibberish, a song, according to Aronson, that is meant “to lift the spirits but means absolutely nothing.”

But Ateneo’s participation went beyond the show.  Melissa Maramara gave a well-received workshop to over 50 students and teachers on ‘The Somatic Text,’ or ways in which actors can use their bodies to understand and perform a play’s text.  The Ateneo contingent, including Daniel Cortezano and Reamur David who provided immense technical support for the show, also joined their Filipino colleagues from the dynamic MSU-IIT’s Integrated Performing Arts Guild in other workshops where they interacted with festival delegates from the region. Some 30 workshops on different aspects of voice and body training were offered to everyone.

The following day, Maramara teamed up with several faculty members in a panel presentation on “Using the Body and Voice in Training Actors,” where she described the Ateneo regimen in using the body for stage acting. Two days later, Ricardo Abad joined another panel of faculty members who discussed ways that schools dealt with issues of identity and multiculturalism.  Abad, a member of the Asia-Pacific Bureau (APB) Board, was also active in separate Directors’ Meetings where he headed a working group that made recommendations to improve the APB organizational structure.

All these efforts gave Ateneo Theater Arts a strong presence during the Singapore festival.  And Aronson’s show, performed on the second to the last day of the festival, capped this presence with a mighty bang.  The boy shaman blessed us all with his five magic wands, the fifth of which, he claimed, has some power from Robin Williams.

Next year: India!


Festival participants pose for a group shot on the La Salle stage
Festival participants pose for a group shot on the La Salle stage