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March 17, 2011

The Musical - Ako Si Ninoy

Heroes on stage
February 25, 2011

The ‘Ako si Ninoy’ musical presents the life and times of Ninoy and the EDSA Revolution intertwined with the stories of the country’s modern-day heroes.

MANILA, Philippines — Twenty-five years after, the spirit of the first People Power Revolution continues to inspire other nations today.

Indeed, that historic and incredible show of bravery and unity in toppling the dictatorship has inspired the Tunisians, Egyptians, and now Libyans to launch their own people power revolts to claim freedom from their own dictatorial leaders.

But while the EDSA legacy in the country has given birth to more people power uprisings, its true meaning, purpose and spirit seems to have been lost in the hearts of many Filipinos today.

A growing community theater in Balic-Balic, Sta. Mesa, Manila, however, is trying to revive that love for country, especially among the youth, and urge them at the same time to be heroes in their own little ways.

Truly Filipino
For ten years now, The Philippine Stagers Foundation (PSF), an award-winning community theater group composed of students and young professionals, has been coming up with all-original Filipino musical productions about the Philippines' history, culture and its heroes.

In fact, the PSF was established primarily to provide an ideal all-Filipino alternative to the kind of fare that was being served to the theater-going public at the time.

“Back then, we felt the need to revive the state of Philippine theater because the productions being shown are not good, and were just adaptations of Broadway musicals. They didn't showcase our own culture and history. It seemed to me that theater had become a money-making venture because the quality of the shows was being sacrificed,” recalls Atty. Vincent Tanada, president and artistic director of PSF.

Tanada founded the PSF along with his actor friends Chris Lim and Jeffrey Ambrosio from Dulaang Bedista of San Beda College.

The quest to take on a different and lonely path in theater proved to be difficult at first for the trio because they had no audience, and they practically dragged their own families and friends to watch their plays. They also had to hire the services of celebrities and theater actors from various theater organizations to act for them.

A few years later, PSF finally formed its own talented pool of budding actors to breathe life into the musical productions that they themselves had written.
Today, the PSF regularly performs four sold-out shows in a day to thousands of students in public and private schools all over the country as well as to employees of various corporations.

It is particularly devoted to producing curriculum plays that bring to life the lessons only learned in textbooks. It has linkages with the Department of Education and various schools for this purpose. PSF also regularly conducts campus tours to promote their latest plays and invite students to participate in their workshops.

Ninoy and the modern-day heroes
One of PSF’s best and most watched productions is “Ako si Ninoy”.

The musical earned for PSF not only a Best Musical and Best Director award in the 2009 Aliw Awards, but also helped them to be chosen as one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) of 2010.

Atty. Tanada says the “I Am Ninoy” campaign of the Benigno S. Aquino Foundation (BSAF) inspired him to write the play.

“Some youths only know Ninoy as the person on the P500 bill but they don’t really know about his or President Cory’s heroism. So I was inspired to write the play to help rekindle that spirit of nationalism and the spirit of EDSA through the story of Ninoy and Cory,” says Atty. Tanada.

Unlike other plays on the EDSA Revolution and the famous couple, “Ako si Ninoy” presents the story of the former Senator and his wife Cory intertwined with the life stories of 11 ordinary individuals who have become modern-day heroes in their struggles to fight for their own causes.

Narrating the musical is the character of Ninoy himself who correlates the events in his life to those of the 11 individuals, namely Noli, a hardworking overseas Filipino worker; Ivy, the ideal housewife of Noli; Ms. Nunez, a dedicated teacher; Oscar, an honest and brave reporter; Yosef, a teen actor who wants to quit showbiz to continue his schooling; Andeng, a labor leader; Quentin, a farmer activitist; Dr. Ungria, a doctor to the barrios; Ingrid, an outstanding student; Nanding, a war veteran; and Osborne, a child hero who will eventually become president of the Philippines.

“What is good about this particular play is that it is not shown in chronological order. Magugulat ka nga kasi 'yung second scene will be Ninoy’s death already. We are also showing the ills of society through the villains who are making the lives of these ordinary people difficult. Through their simple but noble deeds, we hope the people can relate and realize that they don’t need to die or do another EDSA in order to be a hero,” he explains.

Overwhelming feedback
Before coming out with their first performance, Atty. Tanada says he submitted the manuscript of “Ako si Ninoy” to the BSAF for verification of facts in the hero’s life.

To their surprise, the manuscript was sent by BSAF to former President Cory. She and everyone else appeared to be very happy with it. When they performed for the BSAF officials, the Cojuangcos and the Aquino children, their reaction was overwhelming and it moved them to tears. The partnership with BSAF began and many of the Ako si Ninoy shows were eventually produced by them. Unfortunately, President Cory passed away without being able to watch the show.

That untimely passing however, made the musical more famous and attracted a lot of audiences from all over the country.

“Hindi namin plinano na President Cory will die during the run of the play. I guess pinagsadya ng panahon na mangyari itong lahat. At that time, we had 300 performances all over the country in just a year and more than half a million people watched us. Tinalo namin 'yung Miss Saigon na naka 100 performances lang in a year. But apart from these, people who watched the play were moved to act and make a difference in their own ways. Some formed their own organizations to help people in need. Some registered for the 2010 elections. Some organized outreach activities. And some even pushed me to run for senator!” reveals Atty. Tanada.

PSF is staging “Ako si Ninoy” once again on Feb. 27 in Manila and on March 2 in Palawan. Its international debut will be held in Guam in June.

Tanada says they are now in the process of producing a play on the life and times of President Cory and how she has emerged to become a revered global icon and mother of democracy. It is expected to open PSF’s second season in July.

Giving back
Even before the play “Ako si Ninoy” was produced though, the PSF had already been making a difference, especially in the lives of its actors.

For one, it has been conducting free acting workshops to students and young professionals, including the less fortunate. Those who pass its rigid, two-month workshops are absorbed by PSF and given the chance to fulfill their dream of acting. But while they are required to work full-time in the organization, PSF also encourages them to continue their studies. Of its 60 members, half are scholars of PSF. These stagers also get honorariums for their performances.

The continuous growth of the members is also among main thrusts of PSF so every year it holds workshops on voice, dance and writing to further hone their skills.

When not acting, PSF engages in their outreach activities for the underprivileged. Its members come from diverse backgrounds and have even tried to practice their professions. But all of them still end up at PSF doing what they love most.

(Philippine Stagers Foundation marks its 10th anniversary with shows and free summer workshops from April to May. Auditions will be held on March 24, 25, and 26 at its studio in Sta. Mesa, Quezon City. Interested parties may call 781-6727 or visit

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