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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

entry arrow11:06 PM | Boredom is For Birds

I live comfortably with the truism of my own invention that to be in Dumaguete—and to be in Silliman more particularly—is to be right at the center of the Philippine cultural world. (Here, you can cough and clear your throat.) Trust me, believing this makes my often very sloooooow Dumaguete days a little bit more bearable, and in many ways it provides me with the perfect illustration that reality is what you make of it.

When I was in college a little more than a decade ago, my barkada—we called ourselves The Midnight Society (and yes, we have an ongoing photography exhibit in the Luce Auditorium Foyer)—subscribed to one notion that defined how we went about our daily lives in campus: boredom was for birds or for the truly unimaginative, and that if you had half a mind, you could always find things that would occupy whatever sense of fascination you have.

It just so happened that even back then, boredom was something you could choose not to have, if you would just decide to do a little bit of something: but the Silliman community back then had a tremendous capacity for cultural appreciation. That capacity ebbs and flows, but there are years when the campus totally goes cuckoo over things cultural. Every single week back in the late 1990s, there always was an exhibit opening, or a film festival, or a poetry reading. Société de Cinéphiles, the film club (now defunct), had monthly screenings that drew in crowds. The Order of the Golden Palette, the artists’ club (now defunct), had bi-annual exhibits that pushed the edge of local art. The Sands & Coral was an annual certainty. And every year, there was a musical or play that showcased local talents. We dared to have nude sketching sessions at the rooftop of Bethel, and staged risqué performance art at the Boulevard that confounded the hoi polloi. We staged one-act plays in the basement of Silliman Church or the rickety ambience of Woodward Little Theater. One time, we had an ambitious all-musical version of Miss Silliman, with tunes from Broadway filling the rafters of the school gym. There used to be a tradition called Renaissance Month held every February, sponsored by the SUSG, that filled our calendars with assorted tributes to all the arts. You simply could not get bored. But the long hangover after Silliman’s all-consuming Centennial celebration in 2001, and then September 11 right after that, kind of gave pause to all that.

Seven years later, one can truly say that culture has made a comeback—big time—in campus, and Dumaguete has certainly regained its old title of, ehem, “Cultural Center of the South.” True, Manila is where most things start their buzz, where mainstream cultural fare gets the most mileage and recognition. Everything is headquartered in the capital after all. But there is already an “industry of culture” in the metropolis, and it is a fact that the appreciation of things like the ballet or the opera requires patronage capable of letting go of disposable income. The provinces—that hated word that has become an umbrella term for the rest of us—do not usually have that kind of audiences who take in cultural education as de facto requirement for the sociable. Even in Dumaguete, a skewed sense of “practicality” demands that one looks at a P150 ticket for a Ballet Manila show as something exorbitant than, say, spending the same amount on a round of beer in some barong-barong in town. How does one then explain to a typical Dumagueteño the wonderful fact that in Silliman we get subsidized prices for the most sought-after (and expensive) cultural acts in the country, where a show that goes for P500 to P1,000 in Manila can be had for only as much as P300 in Dumaguete? And you don’t even have to pay for a roundtrip plane fare?

The truth of the matter is, being in Silliman means that you have the choice most students from other schools don’t have: the chance to see Lisa Macuja dance, or Cecille Licad play the piano, or Bart Guingona act up a storm, or Lea Salonga sing, for something close to a bargain. I always tell my students that their time in college is their rare chance to soak in all these, because after graduation they will be too busy running the rat race to be able to have the time to appreciate things like these.

When I became part of the Cultural Affairs Committee, I learned that part of the challenge of local cultural advocacy is audience development. Which not only means teaching people about the proper appreciation of assorted art forms, but to educate them that art has a profound ability to make us better human beings—and even studies have shown that children exposed to the fine arts show a higher affinity for academic accomplishments. Imagine then, to our surprise, when a local principal recently dismissed our invitation (for his pupils to see one particular show in Luce) by telling us, “Ayaw ra, kay makit-an ra ma nà nila sa TV.” (And parents wonder why their kids are doing badly in school….)

The first half of the current cultural season is now drawing to a close, and it amazes me still that Dumaguete, small town that it is, never lacks for an astonishing capacity to be right there where all things happen. It is a kind of miracle—but what other small city in the whole country could bring in the Cinemalaya Film Festival, Bayanihan Folk Dance Company, the Philippine Madrigal Singers, Repertory Philippines, PETA, Actors’ Actors, New Voice Company, the Loboc Children’s Choir, Douglas Nierras Powerdance, the Manila Symphony Orchestra, the Philippine Philharmonic, and assorted musicians, singers, artists, dancers, writers, and what-not, all in the span of a single year? Only Dumaguete can, it seems.

Now, if only we can all learn to appreciate that.

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