A Drama Collage on the Soul Journey of Seminarians in their Calling for Priesthood
- A Theatrical Review -
Over a week ago, on the 22nd of August, I had the pleasure of being invited to the celebration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary’s 62nd foundation day. Fr. Ramon Oncog, the school’s rector, belongs to my circle of grown-up friends called the Albasiyan Family that has a culture of having each other over during our lives’ significant days. In his words we were there just as they, “priests, would be at yours and your children’s birthday parties.” He loves the school very much and considers it to be his own child. We, of course, came over very gladly to show our support.
The highlight of the evening was a theatrical presentation called Ang Tawag, which translates to English as “The Call.” Upon reading the title on the program flyer, I was immediately reminded of a song of the same title performed by the Irish singing group, Celtic Woman, written by composer David Downes. I can’t help but notice the parallels of the song to the calling being referred to when a man decides to tell himself, “I am becoming a priest.”
Directed by renowned Boholano director and composer, Maestro Lutgardo L. Labad, Ang Tawag was neither a straight play nor a musical, as I was initially inclined to think. It was a devised theatre collage which explored the hardships and joys of aspiring priests from the time the calling is received to the structured and isolated life lived within the walls of the seminary. Its aim, as I interpreted it, was to convey to the public a message that would tear down collective misconceptions about seminarians and men’s individual journeys towards priesthood.
I have a number of personal friends who get emotional when relating stories of how their fathers left them in the seminary right when they entered adolescence. Ang Tawag tells us that such things don’t happen anymore and the decision to choose a priestly vocation is now always based on a Divine call received inwardly rather than an imposition by other people.
The collage was not your typical theatrical show where a third party writer would lend his material to a production company and actors would interpret it with as much artistic juice as they can muster. It was different because the stories came from the seminarians themselves. They were real experiences recounted by the school’s third year Humanities class as short scenes depicting family life, friendship, community spirit, difficulty, and the immense challenge of self-restraint as the young men train themselves to dedicate their entire existence to serving the Divine Purpose the Roman Catholic way.
In a conversation with three of the boys, Daryl, Lopfer, and Colin, I was told that there was very little difficulty in achieving the production because they did not need to pretend to function in unfamiliar situations as an actor would in a normal play. Daryl, one of four writers who came up with poems and sonnets featured in the collage, said that all they had to do was channel their consciousness as though they were dealing with their family, peers, or classmates in a normal scenario and not much acting would be required except for those who were assigned to take on female roles. It was basically 29 seminarians telling people, “this is our life,” as Lopfer put it. Maestro Labad’s role in it was primarily to train them to drop their inhibitions and allow themselves to be as sharing and open as possible—to remove any propensity to hold back when relating their lives to other people. When that happened, all there was to do was piece the jigsaw pieces together to form a beautiful picture.
Maestro Gardy, as we fondly call him, was not alone in making it all happen. He sought the help of Bohol’s trusty local theatre group, Teatro Bol-anon, where the expert production staff was handpicked from. Assisting Gardy in directing was Mr. Tertuliano Camacho, Jr. Mr. Jay Banquil handled Choreography; Ms. Evelyn C. Silva managed the sound; Ms. Charo Mae Apipe for lights; Mr. Jerameel Decasa was technical director; and Mr. Rodolfo Cuhit was their acting coach. It was a blessing for the boys to have had the opportunity to work with such talented people and, likewise, for the staff for the joy of getting to know the inside tales first hand.
I also had the privilege of speaking with Fr.Val Pinlac, the academic dean and vice rector of the seminary, who, along with Fr. Oncog, was co-producer and co-initiator of the endeavor. He expressed how happy he was of the turnout and audience response. “It would have been harder for the boys because they had very little time to work on it,” he said. “But they did it!”
Ang Tawag was awesome as far as I’m concerned. It began with the smooth sound of a choir and transitioned from chorale singing to individual scenes through a series of sonnets. The first part portrayed the young men’s different social backgrounds and scenes depicting the elements that led them to answer to the call. It mostly showcased the heavily Catholic setting of typical Boholano families known for producing a huge number of the nation’s priests. I paused for a moment and told myself, “that looks like a scene pulled right out of my grandparents’ living room in Dimiao.” The familiarity of it made me chuckle.
The second part showed specific challenges encountered within the seminary. Like I said earlier, I saw a whole lot of self-restraint and head pounding for the boys. From the dilemma of whether or not to have girlfriends, to issues on taking the vocation seriously, to the subject of vices like drinking and smoking, most of the bases were covered, leading to a conclusive dance drama which occurred to Maestro Gardy to include. The boys sang and did an interpretative dance to Basil Valdez’s Lead Me Lord. “Napaiyak ako sa sarili ko,” the Maestro said when he related how the lightbulb moment came to him while listening to the song. It was a deeply moving scene that rendered the audience speechless. I was left in awe and I could hardly move my hands to clap.
However, it was not just pure melodrama as one would expect from a life lived away from family while trying to build a strong bond with a new family and deepening relationships with God. There was a lot of humor in it, too. Most of the seminarians were naturally comical in the way they portrayed their lives, which goes to show how happy they were to begin with. Other than that, because there were no women in the seminary, it was also a laugh gag to see the young men portray their mothers and grandmothers. With heads draped in colorful veils, they tried to act as campily as they could without breaking into laughter themselves. They were very effective and I believe that owes itself to the fact that they bear great respect for the women in their lives and they keep them constantly in their hearts.
I now urge the key people in the seminary to restage the production for a wider audience to experience the same joy my friends and I had. It is important that people get to know the things seminarians go through in their journey—not just when they emerge as priests. Like the boys themselves said, “Mga tao ra usab kami.” (We’re only just people.) It is important that the lay community is given the opportunity to know them that way.
Bishop Leonardo Medroso and Gov. Edgar M. Chatto stood up at the end of it with praises calling the performance a “very rare and moving” one where the young men took their own lives as substance for a drama. It’s about time others are given the chance to say the same.
The author of this review is not himself Roman Catholic though most of his family is.
He greatly respects all faith traditions and religions.