Apr 25, 2008

“Taga-Baguio lang naman kayo a, ang akala ko piso lang ang ticket niyo.”

Some years ago, a member of our theater group was nervously seated inside the principal’s office of a school in Baguio . Though the principal hasn’t given him the exact number just yet, this particular transaction could be the group’s biggest marketing coup ever, for if having a half-filled Bulwagang Juan Luna of U.P.-Baguio, a theater with a maximum seating capacity of about 350, in the past already meant a successful marketing effort, the principal was counting by the thousands as she scanned the paper listing the school’s entire population.

Finally she looked up, and said to our member/actor/marketing assistant: reserve three thousand tickets for us. That was ten years ago, and tickets to our plays then were priced at P25.00, which apparently came as a shock to the principal. “P25.00 yung ticket? Taga-Baguio lang naman kayo a, ang akala ko piso lang ang ticket niyo,” the principal said before canceling her reservation.

Just a couple of months later, that same school sent their students to watch a play brought up from Manila with tickets priced at P100.00.

Stories of this sort are familiar to most artists in Baguio – when it comes to artistic talent, anyone and anything from Manila must be better than the homegrown variety. I can understand if the discrimination comes from a Manileño: growing up and having learned the craft from institutions in Manila, I have to admit I once harbored the same bias against anything and anyone coming from beyond the toll gates of North and South Expressways. That is until I met and interacted and worked with artists from the regions, and realized how wrong I was. And so I left Manila and moved to Baguio .

The late Santiago Bose, a Baguio-born and raised artist who consistently depicted his native roots in his works, an internationally-acclaimed and multi-awarded artist, was given the outstanding citizen recognition by the city posthumously. And only after a bit of lobbying for as one city hall employee remarked as I was handing her Bose’s curriculum vitae together with a book on him and a catalogue of his works, “sino ba ‘to?”

The Baguio Country Club imports theatrical acts from Manila , the city government awards major event management contracts to groups from Manila , a significant number of the creative outputs we see on local print and television and hear on the radio are done by Manila artists. More often than not, a local talent would only be hired when the budget won’t allow for the much more expensive Manila variety.

Once while performing a concert at the Art Park of Camp John Hay, a tourist asked us after the show which company we belonged to in Manila , and he was really stunned to learn that the performers were all homegrown talents. And so what happens to a lot of local exceptional artists? An extraordinary musical director with a degree in the arts is now back in school for a second course taking up nursing; several gifted performers are out of the spotlight and are instead awake all night facing the glare of a computer screen teaching some technologically-challenged American how to play a CD on his computer. That is, if they do decide to stay in Baguio . Otherwise, we lose them to advertising agencies, theater companies, repertories, publications, production outfits, etc. in Manila and beyond.

And yet, amazingly, and luckily, Baguio continues to produce competitive artistic talents despite the lack (if not complete absence) of support and opportunities in this “haven for artists,” and so the city continues to enjoy having world-class talents in its midst. Though they rarely get the support of the local government and the local corporate community, the city still enjoys the occasional outstanding exhibition or performance, every now and then a local literary effort is published and local compositions get recorded on CD.

And, if you’re still wondering why our local artists either leave their true calling if not the city altogether, wonder no more, for, afterall, “Taga-Baguio lang naman kayo a, ang akala ko piso lang ang ticket niyo.”

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