The ANNUAL COMPETITION OF ORIGINAL PLAYS of PAREF - SOUTHRIDGE SCHOOL
SEE VIDEOS OF THAT NIGHT by clicking the link: http://plautusawards.multiply.com/video
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A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PLAUTUS PLAYS
Almost two years ago, around the time the Plautus season took a one-year hiatus, I had thought of publishing the best Plautus plays of the first 5 years. The first idea that came to mind was a coffee table book of some sort – the kind with glossy pages and had lots of pictures. I really thought the creative works of the students who started what is arguably now some sort of tradition ought to be immortalized something like that. A good friend told me that the whole project would be too expensive and he was right. When I broached the idea to the school, I was told that there was no budget. I abandoned the project at that time with no specific solution or timeline in mind. Then the solution itself came up to me.
Convergence, the series of anthologies of creative literary works done by Southridge students, one of the many initiatives of Mann Rentoy of the Southridge Institutional Information Office: that was the solution. I was asked if I was willing to have the plays published; of course I said, “Yes!” immediately. The Greeks have a term for the “appointed time”, the “right time”, the “predestined time”, and this is Kairoς (kairos). I believe that the kairos of this anthology has come – in the same way as the kairos of the Plautus plays themselves came in school year 1999 – 2000.
Like any kairos, the Plautus has its own “pre-history”. In school year 1998 – 1999, I had been teaching Cicero to juniors for already 4 years; we were studying his speech, the first oration against Catiline. That year, I was looking for ways to do justice to the exciting life of Cicero which was otherwise reduced to a yawn by a rather staid handout of his biography. I put the students into groups and told them to come up with any sort of presentation to capture the drama of ancient Rome and Cicero’s life.
For some reason, students chose different media. Two groups chose to do a radio play, another chose to do a video, and still another group or two chose to do a stage play. To my recollection, my students and I enjoyed all the presentations tremendously and this was how Latin came to be viewed in a friendlier way, that is, more exciting than it was previously known.
There was, however, one presentation that stood out both for its execution and the prospects it presented for the future. This was the stage play directed and written by Mihk Vergara, entitled “Mob Rule”. He took the life of Cicero from ancient Rome and brought it to present-day Italy plagued by the Italian Mafia. This is a pretty common enough theater technique, of course. However, this particular play made me realize that I might have struck “pedagogic gold”, not only for Latin, but also for Southridge student life itself. To my mind, this was classic serendipity, and this was how the Plautus plays were born.
I knew that the incoming batch of juniors (sophomores then at the time of “Mob Rule”) was generally acknowledged as a batch of actors, one being the grandson of one of Repertory Philippines’ grand dames, Joy Virata. I figured that if I required ALL the presentations to be stage plays and made it into some sort of competition, they would all gobble up the idea.
I was not disappointed. The five plays of the 1st Plautus season – all adaptations of the life of Cicero – were all successes in their own right. Since it was only a competition among the 3rd Year classes, I had not expected the quality and level of the plays that were presented. What I thought would be simple class plays were full blown productions which showcased the students talents in scriptwriting, directing, costume design, art and set design, music direction, and light design. I remember telling students to make sure the productions were not a joke (the usual run-of-the-mill production of amateurs who had very little adult input) and then giving “the look” for which I have been (maybe still am) “notorious”, but what I saw from one play to the next nothing short of floored me.
As with all firsts, the 1st Plautus season was not without its glitches. The most serious complaint about the plays was that the students were spending a lot of money on the costumes and sets; parents weren’t willing to spend such an amount of money. When I told students in the 2nd Plautus season that each person was not to spend more than Php 500 for the plays, one group got the bright idea of tapping what is now almost a staple in every Plautus play: sponsorship. So just when I thought the students were going to downgrade their plays, they even upped it through sheer creativity and more hard work.
By 2nd Plautus season, the pace, level, and standards of the Plautus plays were already well-established. The juniors of the previous year who were now seniors also joined the competition (they presented the life of Augustus). By the 3rd Plautus season, the sophomores were incorporated into the competition as they depicted the life of Julius Caesar, and in the 4th Plautus season, the freshmen became apprentices to the different classes which joined the competition so as to lend a hand to what were becoming more elaborate productions and also to begin to learn the ropes in preparation for their eventual participation in the Plautus the following year. The 5th Plautus season saw the format we generally see nowadays.
Together with the standard of the plays came also the high standards we set for ourselves on the Plautus Awards Night. Each Plautus Awards Night is a “mini-Oscars” night which students always look forward to with excitement. There would be the usual video of snippets from every play that joined the competition followed by a whole show which, in terms of details, I guess, might only be found in Southridge. From best actor to best director, from best light design to best play, students always get a kick out of being called on stage, receive the Plautus (a trophy with a fleur-de-lis design especially made from trees grown in the Mountain Province), and grab the limelight for a few moments as they say, “First of all, I’d like to thank God…”.
Well, theater seems to run in Southridge gentlemen’s veins: enough at least to bring some of them back even after they’ve graduated to judge the next year’s competition. For this is one distinguishing mark of the Plautus: that the judges are themselves former winners of previous Plautus seasons (we call them Plautus Academy). Of course, it wasn’t always that way. In the first two Plautus seasons, I tapped alumni who I knew had some “affection” for theater. We’ve also invited a few teachers (non-Advisers) to beef up the panel of judges.
The Plautus plays used to be called “Latin Plays” simply because they were a project of the Latin classes I handled and, later on, of classes handled by other Latin teachers. Plautus, by the way, was ancient Rome’s best-known playwright. Some critics, however, saw – as I did – that except for some tangential connections, the plays had very little to do with Latin – the Latin language that is.
I was never really insecure about that fact. I saw clearly that the students loved it, and so did their parents. Through some weird but totally predictable fashion, through the Plautus, Latin had become less hateful, better respected – even loved – and that, for me, was enough. And many students did appreciate more the Roman figures of history we were studying. Moreover, I did have one very strong ulterior motive for seeing the Plautus plays through all its difficulties as a nascent tradition: to enrich the culture of theater in Southridge which, at the time of the Plautus’s inception, was at its ebb. The Plautus seasons have also become an opportunity for the alumni to come back to Southridge. Some of them have performed during the Plautus Awards Night. Some simply watch.
Two years ago, when Latin became only an elective in 3rd and 4th years (to the relief of many, to the consternation of some – indeed, Latin has been and will always be a “sign of contradiction”), I thought it better to hand over the “tradition” to the English Department which accepted it very willingly and joyfully. It was then that we decided to drop the “Latin” part and name everything – the season, the plays, and the awards night – after the trophy’s name, Plautus.
We just launched the 7th Plautus season a few days back, a continuation of a new phase of Plautus that started last year: adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. However, my story ends here and I shall leave the rest to someone else who might tell the story better. Suffice it to say that perhaps, as long as Southridge wants to continue to nurture the natural talent of theater that is in our students, the Plautus plays will remain, maintain its tradition of excellence, and even improve in succeeding years.