Peque Gallaga’s Last Speech
On Gallaga Theater
Make Your Garden Grow
In 1962, when I permanently moved back to Bacolod, this structure was already standing. It was called the Language Arts Building. It was used to teach Lasallians and Negrosanons how to talk in English, how to pronounce, and how to enunciate. It didn’t take long for a Brother Alexis to take over this part of the building to stage plays and happenings, many of which were hilarious, wonderful, mind-mending, and even silly. This is where Rene Hinojales and Peque Gallaga learned the basics of theater.
Many years afterwards, I left for Manila – learned more about the basics of theater, television, and cinema. But all this time (having imbibed from the Masters in Bacolod, from Brother Alexis to Jess Aiko) I bore the conviction that it is almost impossible to directly and immediately change the world, or a country, or a people. At this point, I was fortunate to come across Voltaire and his proposition: “Make your garden grow.” I was transformed… here was somebody who was encouraging you to make a difference starting in your own backyard. That your own backyard can make a difference in the entire world.
By this time, I had made a debatable mark in Manila, the big city, and I was convinced that it was time to go home and begin to tend to my garden. And so I returned to the Language Arts Center and it was here where my class and I began experimenting with a technique in acting created by Eric Morris which was known as the Being Technique. We only had a slim book and a lot of lucky breaks and heart-breaking failures until we became adept at Being.
From this very wooden stage you see before you, the effects of Being were so dramatic that in the 1980’s we were invited to come to Manila to spread that technique there. From this very garden we ended up teaching Being to more than 85% of all the professional actors in Philippine Cinema. With the help of Laurice Guillen and Johnny Delgado – through the Actors Workshop Foundation – we enhanced the acting ability of superstars, lead actors, character actors, groups of extras, and stuntmen. The professionalization of acting of Filipino actors started right here. And spread out from right here.
(When Eric Morris was invited to come to the Philippines to watch the Being revolution, he couldn’t believe his eyes.)
In 1966 a lot of movies, especially the comedies, were being shot with barely a script and depending heavily on the actor’s ability to improvise. The scenes were only as good as the actor’s ability for making up lines and situations as they arose. Many good actors couldn’t improvise. That’s when I came across a book called Improvisations for the Theater. I believe I was one of the few, if not the very first to attack improvisations as a learned skill. I experimented with this with the aid of DLSU students where we discovered the craft, procedures, the techniques and artistry of improvisation and how it enriched the performance of actors.
So I brought it home to my garden in Bacolod and we started to codify and deconstruct it, producing works, both classic and original, that grew out of experimentation and improvisation. Right here. Right in this space. Right on these floorboards. Long, long before Manila took improvisation up as a rigid exercise we were doing stand-up and acts that depended on situations that audiences were throwing at us. No rehearsals. No preparations. Only improvisational skills.
Our garden was growing.
This theater has been the home of many amazing work. Some spectacular, some solid, some amateurish, and like so many experiments, plays that were downright dreadful and bad. Around this point, this building stopped becoming the Language Arts Building when Brother Gus Boquer honored me by naming this structure after me. For the people who came after all the groups involved in this activity, this place stopped becoming the Language Arts Building and became the Gallaga Theater. It was a recognition that came totally unexpectedly and deeply cherished in my heart of hearts.
There is much to be desired of this building, of course, in terms of available physical space and availability of budget. We badly need a tower for flies, a wide backstage, dressing rooms, electronic sophistications, comfortable theater seats, and other countless theater amenities, but these improvements right here and now underscore that this administration under Brother Kenneth Martinez is finally taking the Gallaga Theater seriously for the first time in 30 years. That La Salle Bacolod as a University is seriously cognizant of the contributions a professional theater makes to its scholars.
And why shouldn’t it? In all this time of its existence we have had talents that took this building seriously and invested their trust and belief in it by performing right here under this roof. Talents of national renown. For starters there is Helen Hayes, the Helen Hayes of Broadway fame under this roof performing with a Bacolod talent Ann Marie Ledesma in The Glass Menagerie, and with Subas Herrero and Leo Martinez in A Death of a Salesman. Lino Brocka in Hanggang Dito At Maraming Salamat Po, Mario O’Hara, Bembol Rocco, Mark Gil, Tessie Tomas, Jon Santos, Ian Veneracion, Cherie Gil and many more. The homegrown talents we have here in Bacolod from Tanya Lopez to Charito Ferrer Motus, from Rene Hinojales, John Arceo to Jack Triño and even the homegrown talents that have won national recognition from Dwight Gaston, through Roy Lachica, Ronnie Lazaro to Joel Torre and all those who came in between – we have toiled, pruned, fertilized, and taken and given pleasure in this garden.
Make your garden grow. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think our garden seems to still be growing and attracting young gardeners to work with us; learn with us; teach with us; play with us; create with us; grow with us because that’s what gardens do and what we do alongside of them. And that is something to be proud of.
15 August 2019
Gallaga Theatre, University of St. La Salle