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More Questions about Octavio Series

I should write about them. “Them” would refer to the two iconic Bikol plays – Pororopot and Octavio Series – in the late 60s and early 70s. This impulse to talk about these two theater pieces was prompted by the many messages sent and the numerous comments posted online about them. What could have been just a private reminiscence turned into an occasion for others to remember that period.

Serendipity helps: I was soon responding to other people’s memories as they triggered more recollection of those years, which the essay aptly called “The Ages of Innocence.”

The people behind Pororopot and Octavio Series were young amateurs. They were not professional actors and directors. But they were veterans in “taga,” the slang for rebuke or stinging critique, as recalled by Benito Oira.

More than the innocence of the ages was the ethos of that period. It was right to comment on the foibles and frailties of human societies as it was correct to prick the egos of those who felt they were mighty. All these acts required were humor and the language to deliver the punch.

If ever you meet the surviving actors of Pororopot and Octavio, you would, I assure you, find individuals who are impudent but fun. Those two qualities combined are not easy to take, and not certainly easy to develop.

But let me talk more about Octavio Series. I was the musical director for the play. My brother, [Manong] Pempe, knew that I was fond of old, obscure songs and melodies.

The music used were taken from vinyl discs. We did not have recording booths then. Every night I would lug around these LPs or long-playing records and 45rpms, the smaller vinyl containing a song on one side and another song on the other. Woe to the performance if the record player conked out!

The actors of Octavio Series had acted before in formal plays. That was their training. In those years, theatre still made use of classical blocking – 45 degree angle when standing, with the head bent always toward the audience, the hands not blocking the face, the body not covering another actor. A simple crossing of the stage from left to right, from upstage to downstage must have motivations.

Then there was the voice projection. There were no sensitive microphones then to catch one’s voice. One did not shout; one projected one’s voice. We learned how to use our diaphragm.

But the core of Octavio Series was not theatre but cinema. Many important scenes were inspired by films like Enter the Dragon, Earthquake, and the James Bond caper called Live and Let Live.

The fight scenes honored Bruce Lee by doing them in slow motion. This was done by slowing the movement of the fight, with the quick on-and-off operation of the lights. You had therefore a counterpoint of speed: very fast versus very slow.

Imagine the stage of the gym, its floors thundering and the chairs heaving, because an earthquake was part of the stage design. Indeed, the “sensurround” technology, which caused the floors of cinemas to tremble and squeak when the film Earthquake was screened, was appropriated by Octavio Series. Crude but hilarious.

Octavio Series was performed in a proscenium theatre. But we ignored the fourth wall. The actions went out of the stage and into the audience and even beyond it. It joined a fight.

These fights were called “Rambol” or brawls. They were common then along Ateneo Avenue, usually during or after a basketball game between a visiting team and the Ateneo boys. Octavio Series had a “rambol.” This was one of the most applauded scenes in the play. It began with a long speech from Octavio. From the darkened, upper bleacher came the heckling and boisterous laughter. This was ignored by the actors. The scene continued. Octavio, visibly distracted, picked up from where he ended. Then a louder boo boomed from the bleacher again. All the actors on stage froze and looked at the dark parts of the gym. By this time, the tension among the audience was palpable. As Octavio resumed his dialogue, a voice from the darkness screeched: “Pumundo ka nang hayop ka!” By this time, Octavio had rushed closer to the footlights, his face yellowed and reddened by the bulbs, and shouted: Baba igdi Dep _ta ka! But the voices from the bleacher would not cease. The screaming was all over the place. Then, very quickly bottles were smashed against the walls and pavement.

From the audience, some people were already moving to the three exits of the gym. But then the houselights were turned on. From the microphone a voice also nervous from the gimmick announced that these were all part of the play. As people ran back to claim their seats, the applause and hoots were deafening.

I searched for Herminio “Minio” Brazal, the director of the play He was standing at the wings, ever the cool dude, unfazed.

That night, a new theater form was born. It was the kind of theater that would attract even the stone-throwers of Santa Cruz.

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