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Finding – and pushing for – LGBTQIA acceptance through theater

Meet Angelo Arroyo, who helms Bahay ng Sining Theatre, the official theater group of Balayan, Batangas. Forget the usual performances, as it eyes to be a platform to educate Balayeños about social issues, including SOGIESC and other concerns of the LGBTQIA community.

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Angelo Arroyo was around five years old when he started to realize his sexuality. But around that time, he was also always fascinated with what he saw on TV. So much so that “I told myself that one day, I’m going to be like (those actors); aarte ako at ipapakita ko kung anong meron ako, at ikukwento ko kung anong nangyayari sa paligid ko.

(“I will perform and show them what I can do, and I will tell stories about where I am.”)

In retrospect, “I was a gay boy na fascinated sa mga palabas sa TV,” he said.

(“I was a gay boy who was fascinated with what was shown on TV.”)

It was, therefore, providential that he eventually founded and now serves as the artistic director of Bahay ng Sining Theatre, the official theater group of Balayan, Batangas, where he is able to tell “unseen stories of society, including issues of the LGBTQIA community” through performance art.

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME 

Angelo really only came out in his 3rd year in high school. 

Naalala ko noon, that was during a camping activity, nagsigawan kami kasi umamin na ako. That moment was the purest! Ang sarap lumaya. Ang sarap tanggapin ng mga taong mahal mo.”

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(“I remember that it was during a camping activity, we all shouted for joy after I finally came out to them. That moment was the purest! It felt good to be free. It felt good to be accepted by those you love.”)

It was also around that time when his potential for theater was discovered by a teacher who recruited him to join the Metro Manila-based Fourth Wall theater company. That was, according to Angelo, his first professional theater affiliation.

Eventually, he also joined Sining-Lahi Polyrepertory of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).

According to Angelo, he saw that both theater companies were “very welcoming of members of the LGBTQIA community”. It was eye-opening for him as these contexts afforded him “a slightly different environment from the town where I came from.”

Though he already dipped his toes in theater, it was the establishment of Bahay ng Sining Theatre that Angelo Arroyo considered as the pinnacle of his childhood dream, particularly as it allowed him to “recruit interested individuals with the passion for the art, and developing them into thespians who value everyone.”

ACTING BUG

Unfortunately for Angelo, his stints at both theater companies affected his grades. This, in turn, forced him to return to Balayan, where he continued his studies at the Immaculate Concepcion College (ICC). 

The dream to continue performing persisted even when he was already at ICC.

Sabi ko, I need to pursue theater arts pa rin kahit nandun ako sa ICC. So nakita ko yung theater club doon na walang nangyayari, and so I decided na kausapin yung madre, yung pinaka-dean ng college, na bubuhayin ko ang teatro ng ICC.”

(“I said to myself that I still need to pursue my passion for theater even if I transferred to ICC. So when I saw that their theater club was not functional, I decided to talk to the dean of the college, a nun, and asked permission to bring it back to life.”)

The dean of the college was receptive to the idea. And this led to the revival of the Dulaang Augustino Recoletos ICC Repertory Company. 

One of their early projects was “Metamorposis ni Tonyo Gonzaga”, an LGBTQIA-centric short film that revolved around the topic of coming out and gender transitioning. Considering ICC is a Catholic school, it was surprising that “(I) did not feel any restrictions nor any form of censorship from the (authorities),” Angelo recalled. “Actually, natutuwa pa sila lagi sa moves ng organization namin kasi laging bago, lagi naming pinamumukha sa isang Catholic school yung mga bagay na ginagawa at nangyayari talaga in reality.”

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(“Actually, they were always happy with the movements of our organization as they were always fresh, and we managed to show to a Catholic school truths that really happened in reality.”)

After finishing college, Angelo transformed Dulaang Augustino Recoletos ICC Repertory Company into the Bahay ng Sining Theatre, which was no longer confined within the borders of his alma mater.

PLATFORM FOR CHANGE

Though he already dipped his toes in theater, it was the establishment of Bahay ng Sining Theatre that Angelo considered as the pinnacle of his childhood dream, particularly as it allowed him to “recruit interested individuals with the passion for the art, and developing them into thespians who value everyone.”

Also, by sharing his dream to other people, “hindi lang yung pangarap ko yung matupad, gusto ko kasama sila, gusto ko naibabahagi ko sa ibang tao pangarap ko para sabay-sabay kaming maabot pangarap namin.”

(“I didn’t just achieve my dream; I achieved it with them by my side as I want to share this dream to others and we can reach this together.”)

He has also been teaching what he learned from the Fourth Wall and Sining-Lahi Polyrepertory, including the openness to all no matter their SOGIESC.

With theater, Angelo said, no one cares about one’s SOGIESC. “What really matters is how passionate one is for their craft.”

By 2018, Bahay ng Sining was recognized as the official theater group of Balayan in Batangas, following its performance of “TAKIPSILIM: Isang Musikal” that was witnessed by local government officials.

Other performances – e.g.“Ito ang BALAYAN: Babalik sa Nakaraan”, and a musical version of the “Senakulo, HIMIG NI HESUS” – followed.

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COMING FULL CIRCLE

Angelo now has the platform to educate his fellow Balayeños about SOGIESC and other issues of the LGBTQIA community. And in a way, this is like coming full circle for him, when – at the age of five – he realized he’s a gay boy who wanted to be in performance art.

Gusto ko baguhin sa culture ng Balayan yung pagtingin ng tao sa bakla at sa tomboy. Kasi ang hilig ng mga tao sa Balayan na mag-stereotypewithout knowing na iba-iba ang SOGIESC ng bawat isa. Yun yung gusto ko alisin, yung pag-stereotype, [at ipamulat] na malalim ang LGBTQIA community, na malalim ang SOGIESC.”

(“I want to change the culture that people of Balayan has, particularly with how they stereotypically view gays and lesbians. They are very fond of stereotyping without knowing that SOGIESC can differ for every person. That’s what I want to do, to get rid of the stereotyping, and to make them realize that the LGBTQIA community and SOGIESC and are not one-dimensional.”)

Angelo is the first to admit that Balayan continues to be conservative. 

Ang mga tao… sa Balayan ay masyadong sensitive when it comes to their religion, and they still believe na kasalanan ang pagiging isang bakla at tomboy, ang ikasal sa kaparehong kasarian,” he said. But “respeto at pagiging makatao ang kailangan para gisingin ang kamalayan ng bawat isa. Wala na dapat tao ang makukutya, ang maiisantabi, ang mamamatay ng dahil lamang parte kami ng LGBTQIA.”

(“The people of Balayan are still religious and conservative when it comes to topics that go against their religion. They still believe that it is a sin to be a gay or lesbian, to marry the same gender,” he said. But “respect and compassion are needed to awaken the awareness of everyone. There should be no more persons harassed, ignored, or killed just because they belong to the LGBTQIA community.”)

Angelo Arroyo now has the platform to educate his fellow Balayeños about SOGIESC and other issues of the LGBTQIA community. And in a way, this is like coming full circle for him, when – at the age of five – he realized he’s a gay boy who wanted to be in performance art.

In the end, even as Bahay ng Sining Theatre already eyes to develop more LGBTQIA-centered projects, Angelo stressed what theater taught him – i.e. “That LGBTQIA people are creative, intelligent, kapaki-pakinabang. Na-build na namin ang image na hindi lang para pagtawanan ang mga bakla; may silbi ang mga bakla, malaki ang silbi ng mga bakla.

(“LGBTQIA people are creative, intelligent, useful. We are not just a laughingstock anymore; we have a purpose, and society benefits from us.”)

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