MANILA -- With the opening of Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Anak Datu,” the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez (TIG) or the new Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) black box theater has been officially baptized.
TIG had a ceremonial launch on September 8, just about more than a week before “Anak Datu” had its gala opening show on September 16 to rave reviews from critics and viewers alike.
But who is the man behind the name?
During TIG’s unboxing, current CCP president and acting artistic director Margie Moran-Floirendo described Ignacio B. Gimenez as “a white knight whose love for the arts remains strong.”
Fondly called Chony, Gimenez was a member of the University of the Philippines (UP) Dramatics Club and the UP Mobile Theater under National Artist for Theater Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero during his college years at UP Diliman.
In a recorded testimonial, Repertory Philippines stalwart Joy Virata said she and Gimenez didn’t cross paths at UP because she was ahead of him by many years but she thanked Gimenez for the new theater.
Virata’s golden words: “You need theater to grow, to have a kind of citizenry. Arts should not be a last priority. It should be up there, it’s a necessity for a civilized country. That’s where our roots are.”
Theater in the countryside
Bing Licuanan was a classmate and contemporary of Gimenez at the UP Dramatics Club and UP Mobile Theater.
“We performed in many places, all over the Philippines, from Laoag City to Mindanao. We’ve been to Zamboanga, Butuan, Malaybalay (Bukidnon),” Licuanan said in a recorded testimonial, adding that Guerrero got them because the director needed some stagehands.
“Later, we became actors,” he said, showing a souvenir program of a 1950s comedy play “My Three Angels” by Samuel and Bella Spewack, which was directed by Guerrero for UP Dramatic Club in the mid-1960s. In the souvenir program, Licuanan had an acting role while “Chony Gimenez” was part of the backstage crew.
“Aside from acting, we had extra money for tuition. We got allowance from Guerrero after a performance,” Licuanan said.
He remembered Gimenez was a prankster and he was a favorite target. In Guerrero’s “Wanted: A Chaperon,” Gimenez played Don Francisco and Licuanan was the young applicant also named Francisco.
“Imagine naka-coat-and-tie ako tapos before the play would start, lalagyan nya ng kamatis ang sapatos ko” Licuanan said. He knew it was only Gimenez who could do such thing. But they were good friends.
In 1965, they parted ways because Licuanan left for De La Salle University to finish his mechanical engineering degree.
“Chony finished his pre-med but he went to Asian Institute of Management instead to pursue graduate studies. He was among the first batch of students who took up masters in management,” he said.
“We didn’t see each other for a long time. When I was already working, I just met him in the lobby of Peninsula Hotel and when he saw me, he asked me to join him in his business. Ang dami nyang businesses eh. Lahat pinapasukan niya.”
Licuanan said despite his wealth, Gimenez was stingy. “Sobrang kuripot. Ang buhok niya puti. Siya ang nagkukulay ng buhok nya. Ganoon siya kakuripot. Eh, kung magpapakulay ka ano ba naman 'yung P200 to P300.”
At some point, Licuanan said Gimenez wanted to revive the long-dormant UP Mobile Theater.
“Pero it didn’t push through. Saka malapit na rin ang buhay namin, di ba? What’s important is to give back what society gave to him. And what is rare is what he did today, on September 8. So thank you Chony for what you did today, for the new generation to come,” Licuanan said.
Chony the music lover
Emily Abrera was CCP chairman of the board when TIG had its groundbreaking in 2016. She knew Gimenez from way back.
She said only a few may know it but when she was in high school and living in a house on Marcelo H. Del Pilar Street in Malate, Manila, Gimenez and his family were her neighbors. She and Gimenez weren’t actually friends but “he knew what I looked like and I knew what he looked like.”
She remembered Gimenez was a music lover because she heard extensive collection of vinyl records being played most time of the day from Gimenez’s house.
In UP Diliman, they didn’t cross paths because when she was a freshman, Gimenez was graduating although they have the same circle of friends and watched the same plays. She said it probably was her late husband Caloy who may have acted with Gimenez in UP Dramatic Club and the UP Mobile Theater.
“It was the ‘60s, life happens for young people and it’s amazing that years later, I’d meet Chony again. For a while I wasn’t sure if the Ignacio Gimenez was the same Chony I knew from many years back and am glad they’re the same person.”
Honed in theater
In his response, Gimenez delightfully recounted how he started in theater.
“My romance in theater started when I was in first year high school. I was around 12 years old. It started with beautiful words from my English teacher. She started it like this: ‘Gimenez, stop talking, you go and join the theater club!’,” he said, breaking the ice and making everyone laugh.
“So, I did and that’s how I started as an actor. Wonderful words.”
His career in theater was further nurtured when he went to college in UP. With the UP Dramatic Club, they would have a formal play that would fill up the venue with audiences. “The costumes, backdrops were complete. We would do very well. Every year, we would have a new play.”
“In UP Mobile Theater, it’s totally different. Every summer and whenever the weather would permit, we would gather in UP every weekend to travel to a town or barrio or city and produce street plays. Most often, there would be no stage so any makeshift stage would do.
“We had no props, so we would borrow a sofa, an armchair, a small table, all very basic. For a back drop, we would have a blanket and hopefully not too colorful. All the other props, wherever we could be, we would bring ourselves. Each also brought his own costumes,” Gimenez said.
He said for a day, like a Saturday, they would stage three plays and then go to the next town on Sunday. “We would stage another three plays. If there’s a matinee, we would do six plays. Very taxing, very hard but if someone would ask me, I’d say I’d do it again.”
“Why? Because I saw the power of the theater. Here we are, all young students with no props, no costumes and yet we were able to move people, we could make them cry, laugh, experience several emotions.
“Each town has a little plaza and we would fill up the plaza, [lots of] people shoulder-to-shoulder standing on dirt ground. It was overpowering if you see people cry and laugh, experience several emotions. Only because we came and presented something to them,” Gimenez said.
“I had a wonderful experience when I was a student at UP. I learned. I toured the whole Philippines. I saw my country. It was a moving, learning experience.
“I was with wonderful people, theater people and we presented to [audiences] who I could see would fall in love with theater. So, this is why we have this now. We’re here at this Tanghalan because it’s give-back time,” he added, as everyone stood up, clapped and gave him a long standing ovation, about 20 minutes or more with photo-ops.
“I think I said the right words to make you clap more so let me repeat that, ‘it’s give-back time,” he said.