Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

A night with friends and their mentor

Posted on March 03, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 3, 2019 – 12:00am

It was a Viber message from out of the blue. Totally unexpected, an old friend Eric Ingles contacted people he shared a stage with in high school for a cast reunion of Doon Po Sa Amin, a play by Onofre Pagsanjan. It was a theater presentation of the very first batch of Dulaang Sibol, Ateneo de Manila’s well-known high school drama group. Eric wanted to organize a reunion.

The play, a “transplantation” of American playwright Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, was our first real experience with performance and acting. It ran for many shows and it was reviewed quite well. It had been 50 years since we performed it in high school.

This play was special to us. We were just teenagers then. Writer, director and mentor Onofre Pagsanjan opened our eyes to things we did not know we were capable of doing. It was as if he made us discover the creative powers that were inside us. He taught us how to express ourselves beyond our shyness and angst that we suffered from as teens.

Mr. Pagsi, as almost every Atenean fondly calls him, was a big influence on the lives of many, including our own. To us, he was an inspirational teacher, a role model of what a good adult should be. He knew how to listen and he understood where we were coming from. He was kind and patient, but firm. He made learning a fascinating, exciting endeavor. He believed in us and drew from us the best we could do. He made us believe in ourselves.

Many great things happened because of Doon Po Sa Amin that affected how we, the members of the cast, all turned out as adults. Six members of the cast actually met there and married each other, and are very happy to this day. From the cast came some members of the original Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society, and we know how that turned out. Life-long friendships were also formed and are being nurtured to this day.

So when we got Eric’s Viber message calling for a reunion, we were all excited. One by one, cast members responded to the invitation, using their characters’ names in the play. Some took awhile to respond because we had lost contact with them. But thanks to social media, a majority were found. Except for those who had passed on and some who were living in the US, we were almost complete.

Mr. Pagsi and his wife Florin were there early. He was 41 years old when he mentored us. Now he is 91. I sat with him and he told me how much he enjoyed watching the Eto Na! MusicalnAPO presentation at Maybank Theater. He was proud of us. With a twinkle in his eye, he said he was amazed at how many songs we had written for APO, which, in his opinion, had defined OPM in a big way. I felt proud.

Soon after dinner, I started playing the guitar and everyone started to sing the songs we used to sing in the play. We went through many ’70s songs and even older ones. We sang with glee and with full hearts. With every song, Pagsi and his wife sang with us. Sometimes he had his eyes closed as he reminisced on the memories that must have flooded over him. When we sang the song, I Believe, I saw him close his eyes, move his hands and sing with such great feeling that all of us noticed it. He was lost in the moment. It was something we will remember forever.

Amid the singing he was expressing to me how he was “drunk with song” and how happy he was to be with us. Eric asked him what their theme song was. It was the song, I’ll Be Loving You. We sang it while they held hands. Actually, they were holding hands all night.

To see old friends and people you spent some of your formative years with was quite special. Here we were, 50 years later, away from our early teens, enjoying like we were young again. We had built careers, had partners, families and lived our own individual lives. Alben Bartolome who played the role of the storyteller in the play brought a copy of the old script. Instantly, we were back in high school reciting lines from the play and reliving memories. I swear, 50 years seemed to have passed by in a blink.

After more than three hours of singing, laughing, joking around and just having a great time, Gus Cosio stood up and thanked Pagsi for not only teaching us a lot of things but also raising us with the values we live by today. He spoke for all of us. Pagsi expressed gratitude for the dinner, the great camaraderie and the music. He hugged each one of us.

We went home happy and nostalgic but mostly thankful that we all had shared a brief moment 50 years ago that affected our lives positively to this day.

It was great to see our old teacher, director and mentor again. He had affected our lives in very positive ways, more than he will ever know. As I said goodbye, I hugged him and said a quiet prayer. I tried to imagine what life would have been like if we did not audition for Doon Po Sa Amin 50 years ago.

Unimaginable! I can only say thank you to God for the breaks he gave me early on.

Present that evening were Lito De Joya, Chito and Dianne Kintanar, Sonny and Ruthie Santiago, Gus Cosio, Alben Bartolome, Gigi Escalante, Boboy and Bong Garrovillo, Tato and Edna Garcia, Claudine Zialcita, Butch and Betta Dans, Eric and Doga Ingles, Aton Atilano, Tito and Sabrina Panlilio, Greg and Paulette Cancio, Junjun and Cecil Dayrit, Lory Paredes Tangonan, Lydia and myself.

* * *

P.S.: On March 9, Class ‘69 of Ateneo de Manila High School will have a Golden Jubilee grand reunion at the Mariano Singson Hall at the Grade School. Days before that, each classroom will have their own get-togethers. There will also be an out-of-town excursion planned for everyone who can come.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2019/03/03/1898082/night-friends-and-their-mentor#KrXJg78pL8SvSwJX.99

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