He wore the green shirt in Four Play, a quartet distinguished by the sharp primary colors of their collared shirts—yellow, blue, red, and green—for every gig they were invited to perform in those early years of the 2000s. I remember this very well. Four Play, when it made its debut in 2004, was Dumaguete’s answer to the boy band phenomenon that briefly captured the interest and attention of so many. When they sang—a selection of heart-fluttering covers of All4One’s “So in Love,” 3 PM’s “Sukiyaki,” and Boys II Men’s “Four Seasons of Loneliness”—they sang to much screaming and adulation in auditoriums and makeshift performance spaces everywhere. I remember that.
Hope doesn’t want me to remember that. “This is so embarrassing,” he tells me now, twelve years later. Today, in his longish hair and blue tank top and plaid porontong, lounging with his cup of mint tea and open laptop at our table here in El Amigo, he is playfully aghast at my recollections. But one does not readily shake off the first memories of someone who ultimately becomes one of your closest friends. Longtime friends have been invented, I believe, to torment you with memories of youthful shenanigans—but also, I think, as a ready chronicler for the voyages our lives become.
In 2001, transplanted in Dumaguete from Oroquieta for his college education in Silliman University, Hope readily stood out for his height and his very lanky frame. Later, he stood out for the uncanny bass his singing voice promised as a member of the Men’s Glee Club. Much later, he stood out again for being a boy-bander, a clean-cut crooner. In the years since those precocious 2000s, Earnest Hope Tinambacan would stand out again for a variety of reasons—inventive music man, theatre boy, cultural worker with a social bite. Hope would also become more known as Hopia, like the delicacy, and with that, a persona has been sculpted from the bohemian type with a Bisaya sensibility. His life, young as it is, is an illustration of constant evolution, but always one with a heart beating for the arts. One never forgets this.
There is another journey ahead for Hopia, another turning point in his evolution—and it is a pursuit for higher academic studies, in particular a Professional Diploma in Intercultural Theatre (with a concentration on acting) at the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) in Singapore. It is all part and parcel of his life’s evolution: “If you have followed my work and advocacies,” he wrote me once, “whether through theatre or music, you would have noticed that it has always been my vision to help raise the status of the culture and arts in the community. This has always been my driving force, and it is from this same urgency that I am going to ITI.”
It is a fitting new journey for him. He has always fully embodied for me an intuitive and creative spirit in the various worlds he circles in—be it in cultural activism, in creative writing (he writes poetry, or balak, in Cebuano); in theatre (he directs, he acts, and he writes plays, and is notably a senior member and mentor in Youth Advocates Through Theate Arts of YATTA, Dumaguete’s premiere community theatre group); and in music (he composes, he is the lead singer of HOPIA, a popular multi-genre band that he founded, and he directs The Belltower Project, an organization of local independent musicians, through which they have successful launched four anthology albums in four years, essentially mapping the development of local music, of the so-called “Dumaguete sound).
He has worn all these hats with the fire of a committed creative, and he has constantly astonished me with how he does all these things with an energy and creativity anybody would rightfully envy. In other words, he delivers.
It is in theatre, however, that we have become colleagues, and thus this field is my ready arsenal for an assessment of Hope’s legacy thus far. We have worked together on various occasions—we have acted together (he played my brother Franco in Elsa Martinez Coscolluela’s In My Father’s House, directed by the great Amiel Leonardia), and he has directed me (for The V Manologues)—all of these a way for me to witness how committed he is to the development of local theatre, and how he has shown a willingness to learn almost every facet of the craft just to be able to be truly professional in it.
As an actor, he has essayed with finesse roles in The King and I (2003), Man of La Mancha (2005), New Yorker in Tondo (2011), Ang Tiririt ng Ibong Adarna (2011), In My Father’s House (2013), among others, including various YATTA’s productions of Kikay Kalaykay, Salmo ni Kikay, Leon Kilat, Hoy Mata Na!, Taytayan ni Fabian, Kaluwasan sa Damgo ni Greta, Popoy Boknoy, Lawig, Adventures of Kuya Bogs, and Aah Bakus. He took part in ARMmut in Stuttgart, Germany, an international production that gathered performers from all over the world in 2010.
As a director, he has shown great ability in commanding compelling performances in various iterations of The Vagina Monologues (2013, 2014, and 2016) and Alkanseng Alkansya (2014 and 2015), as well as other productions such as Pepe and Me (2011) and Scharon Mani (2016).
As a playwright, he has shown great authorial voice in various one-act plays including Adventures of Kuya Bog, We Accept Boarders, Sa Pulang Tulay, and Alkanseng Alkansya.
He has been an active member of YATTA from 2008 until the present, and has functioned in various capacities for that community theatre group—as actor, director, playwright, and mentor. He has participated in an assortment of theatre workshops in the Philippines and elsewhere.
And he has facilitated just as many, especially in terms of using theatre arts as a tool for community development—using drama as an aid for stemming criminality among youths, for advocating for better health care, for stirring awareness for environmental issues, and for disseminating proper reproductive health information.
On weekends, he is a rock star.
He is excited about Singapore and three-year stay it entails to complete his studies at ITI. But Hope very much takes all of that in bigger perspective: “The knowledge and skills I will learn from ITI will certainly ripple through the communities that YATTA is serving, and will continue to serve,” he tells me. “YATTA has taught me that theatre is not only an art form but also a way of life. We are dedicated to helping young people discover and utilize their full potentials as community leaders through the different art forms, and my further studies with ITI will help in that regard. The dramatic arts program of ITI, as well as its prestige, will certainly equip me with the necessary training and experience that will be very helpful in my pursuit of professional theatre, which I have seen in the works of ITI’s Filipino graduates.”
Still, this new road in his journey is not without its challenges. Upon the completion of his audition, ITI readily offered him a slot in the very competitive international program—but there is still the matter of tuition, and board, and lodging. “I am a freelance artist, and I know for certain that studying abroad will be very difficult—and my personal savings will not be enough to sustain myself through the entire three-year duration of the program,” Hope says. “I have committed myself to community theatre and cultural and development work for almost ten years now. I also do not come from a well-off family. My parents are both church workers and community organizers who have dedicated their lives to serving the poor people, and it is from them where I got the passion for community service.”
Still, Hopia is ready to embrace the opportunity, come what may. Somebody bought him his plane ticket to Singapore, and many others came to his gig last December 19 at the Harold’s Mansion Rooftop for the release of his EP Mao Na Ni, a fundraiser for his new journey.
It is all investment, I think, for the promise of his eventual return—and how much more he can give our community through theatre and music that help society in the long run of things. Culture is a powerful tool for social engagement, and Hopia is an agent, a drama king for our times.
We bid Hopia all the best in this journey.
If you want to help Hopia Tinambacan in funding his studies, please email him at e.hopetinambacan(at)gmail(dot)com. His bank details are as follows: Earnest Hope Tinambacan, Account No. 1089-3215-96, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Dumaguete City Perdices Branch. You can also buy copies of Mao Na Ni at El Amigo. He will be keeping everyone—friends, family, and supporters—updated on the progress of his studies through a blog that he means to use as documentation and chronicle for this grand new adventure.