Staging ‘taltal’ through street theater

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

COMMUNITY and street theater is alive in the Philippines during Holy Week. Various popular Catholic devotions transform the entire country into a living, interactive theater replete with superstitious beliefs, reunions and parties.

Community theater takes centerstage in the Season of Lent, beginning on Palm Sunday, with the reenactment of the triumphant entry of Christ in Jerusalem and culminating with the sunrise “sugat” procession on Easter Sunday, wherein the image of the grieving Mary called “Dolorosa” meet the image of the Risen Christ in a street intersection amidst the singing of the hosannas.

In Negros Occidental, one of the most popular and most anticipated folk theater performances during Good Friday is the “taltal” which literally means to take down, an act associated with the taking down of Christ’s body from the cross for burial.


This Good Friday, April 18, two groups will stage "taltal" in Bacolod and Murcia. The San Sebastian Parish "taltal" group will hold it in front of the Provincial Capitol starting 7:30 a.m. They will then hold the "Via Crucis (Way of the Cross)" through Lacson St., to Rizal St. and at the Bacolod public plaza for the Crucifixion.

The director of the San Sebastian Parish Taltal is Rodolfo "Bebot" Song.

In Murcia, the Teatro Pangkatilingban will stage "taltal" at the public plaza at 7 p.m., under its director, Jory Abad.

Various towns and cities in the province had staged this theater form in the past years, but so far, the taltal of the Parish of San Sebastian in Bacolod City could be considered as the longest-running.

Many factors contribute to the preservation of the “taltal." One is the “panaad” of the actors and production staff; a vow to offer one’s services in exchange for a favor being asked from God. Another is the “subli," the passing of skills, talents or materials from the grandparents to grandchildren; in this case, a “lolo” who had been playing one of the characters in this biblical tale for decades, would turn over his role to his “anak," who would eventually turn it over to the “apo."

Among the pioneers in this department were the late Boy Robles, Kap Ditchon and Ronnie Tarog. The tenacity of the production staff in sustaining the “taltal” despite the financial setbacks and other impediments is perhaps the most important factor.

The San Sebastian "taltal" group would readily mention Rodolfo Song as one of the pioneer parishioners who had inculcated in them the passion for this Good Friday spectacle. Bebot, as he is popularly known, had been in the helm as director of the San Sebastian “taltal” for decades.

In the 1970s, a grand stage production on the life and passion of Christ was produced by the Diocese of Bacolod at the Paglaum Sports Complex.

Inspired by the passion play of Obbermergau in Germany, the production was titled “Kalbaryo” under the direction of the late Luisa Medel-Reyes (later remarried the American Henry Howard) of La Consolacion College.

One of the actors in the production was Bebot Song. After that production, Bebot and some members of the cast had written and directed radio operas and stage plays in various towns and cities in the province inspired by the “Kalbaryo." The late Rey Adaniel had established it in Murcia town in the late '70s up,to the early '80s.

There were also “taltal” held in Guinhalaran (Silay), Talisay and Cadiz in the '80s and the '90s. In some years that Bebot was not able to direct for San Sebastian Parish, his former actors and production staff took over - Juben Estanislao, Felix Aligayda, Oliver Dondonay, Tina Salazar, and Bobby Benedicto.

Bebot is assured that young directors will take over the "taltal" should he retire in the future. He is proud that until today, the original script of “Kalbaryo” is being used by the San Sebastian "taltal" group with some modifications to suit the sensibilities of today’s audiences.

The late '70s was a period of intense nationalism in the country, especially among the youth. With the declaration of Martial Law in 1972 and the growing interest in liberation theology in the '80s, the traditional “taltal” took a new turn, with Philippine contemporary issues incorporated in the "Via Crucis," the street reenactment of Christ’s carrying of the cross on the way to Golgotha.

One of the controversial "Via Crucis" staged in the streets of Bacolod City in the '80s had the reenactment of the stripping of the clothes of the actor portraying as Christ in front of a cinema popularly known for showing sexy movies during that time.

The crosses that the actors carried (including the two thieves that were supposed to be crucified with Christ) bore posters of multinational products and international financial institutions that were classified as “imperialists." The two thieves, Dismas and Gestas, while dying on the cross, were discussing whether to boycott or vote for the snap elections called by then President Marcos.

It is in this intense scenario that a young Jory Abad from the Tangub Parish developed his passion for theater, and eventually one of the most sought-after directors of “taltal” of this genre.

During that time, the Diocesan Youth Commission was under the directorship of Fr. Allan Abadesco, who trained with the Philppine Educational Theatre Association (PETA).

Together with Samson Doctora, Noel Perez and Gualberto Dajao, Jory represented their parish in the diocesan-wide youth congress, with theater as one of the cultural arm of the Commission in propagating the new evangelism.

Teatro Pangkatilingban was established in several parishes, with Jory as one of its active members. In 1989, he directed "Kasakit ni Kristo, Kasakit sang Banwa sang Dios" in La Carlota City under the supervision of the parish priest, Fr. Greg Patino.

It was restaged in the succeeding years in La Granja. Jory also directed “Kalbaryo” in Cadiz; had a stint in Dumarao, Capiz and last year, staged “El Sacrificio” in Murcia, which will be restaged this Friday at the Murcia Public Plaza.

When asked what was the most memorable experiences he had as director of "taltal" and as a cultural worker so far, Jory cited his one night detention in the military camp together with fellow cultural workers and the joy of knowing that the actors and production staff he had worked with in several communities continue with their passion for theater and for evangelism. (Rudy Reveche)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 16, 2014.


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