The Ateneo Theatre Tradition
The salon de actos of the Ateneo in old Intramuros was a simple hall but it was historic. It was the scene of the earliest milestones in the development of the Ateneo Theatre, a tradition as old as the school itself. It showed the importance of dramatics in Jesuit pedagogy. No year passed without one or two major presentations there since the Ateneo first opened its doors to the public in 1859. Even after the revolution against Spain and the Vnited States, the productions went unabated.
In his book entitled Dramatics at the Ateneo de Manila which is probably the only existing publication in this country that delves into the role of the theatre in the academe, Fr. Miguel Bemad, S.J. pictures the hall as having rudimentary facilities, a stage that allowed only the hanging of paper scenery and a floor where several hundred rattan-chairs for the audience were crammed.
"It was in that salon de actos that Rizal's musical play Junto al Pasig was first produced in 1880, and it was there that the social and literary elite were wont to gather to hear a lecture or to celebrate an important anniversary. And it was there that Shakespeare's plays were performed in English for the first time in the Philippines, the Merchant of Venice in 1910 and Richard III in 1917," he writes.
The Grade School Pupils on the stage
The year 1932 (eleven years after the arrival of 12 American Jesuits who took over the administration of the Ateneo from the Spaniards) saw a group of graders being recruited to play "pirates" in Stevenson's Treasure Island under the direction of Fr. James Buckley, S.J. The boys were so fired up as they uttered blood curdling yells, their main part, that the cast decided to have one grand time during rehearsals, with everyone shouting at the top of his voice, the (juidon reported.
Disaster Strikes in the Darkness
Artistic and attractive posters made by student artist (jabriel Formoso of the high school graduating class announced in the school corridors that the play was slated for September.
The salon was abuzz with eager beavers: stage crew wrestling with furniture and every kind of stage property and painters as well as designers stretching their imagination to the limit in fashioning a wharf and a ship and then a cave and a stockade. They created an atmosphere of expectancy.
But Fate took a hand in August. One night a shifting wind threw the flames that started somewhere in the Walled City to the 3-storey Ateneo building. In a flash the old edifice was ablaze.
There was just enough time for the fire drill-trained boarders to dash for safety and to be transported to Padre Faura, their unexpected campus. As they fled their school was being reduced to rubble.
On With the Show
Defying the odds, the Ateneo reopened classes in Padre Faura within a month. And nothing could dent the resolve of the director and the cast to go on with the play come what may. After a hectic search for a venue, Treasure Island was mounted in St. Scholastica's College Auditorium within four weeks of the devastating fire.