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Kasambay Hong Butuan: Reminiscing the trailblazing campus theater festival

By Bryan Edulzura

Recently, Evangeline “Vangie”  Pena-Dominese, Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Butuan City Tourism Office and RJS, veteran creative writer and playwright talked and reminisced the pioneering school-based theater festival, Kasambay Hong Butuan, first ever held in 2002 and hailed by the country’s art and culture community. The festival was participated and cheered by leading high-school and college theater groups and patronized by the general public.

Ms Pena-Dominese, then a faculty member of Angelicum Montessori and RJS were active officials of the executive committee of the Butuan Arts Council (BAC) who organized the festival headed by imaginative and visionaries Yolando Arban of the independent arts and culture office and Lilet Veloso-Hidalgo, then Urios College High School theater adviser.

It also got the support of Ms Lillie Esguerra,who was the City Tourism Head that time and served as one of the jurors along with Nestor Horfilla, a respected Mindanaon dramaturg and later commissioner of Dramatic Arts of National Commission of Culture and Arts (NCCA).

“It was a golden year of creativity in the performing, visual arts and music because it inspired and galvanized and gave vibrance to the artistic direction and vision to practicing artists and help elevate the taste and pride of the local audience,” assesses RJS.

On her part, Dominese looked fondly at the experience: “We learned to practice and polish creative bonding and discipline together, my students and I and the artist-colleagues and it helped and molded us to respect and be loyal to the craft.”

Artists and cultural workers and theater enthusiasts today think it is productive to hold the festival back.

“You wonder why it took so long to hold it again, even until now. After all we should restore back Butuan’s reputation and image as the center of progressive community and school-based theater more than any other performing arts like street-dancing turned escapist entertainment,” asserted a group of local artists and a few critical observers in another interview.

Dominese is open to the idea of reviving the much sought festival among parents who were part young audience then knowing Butuanons love substantial theater endeavors.

She believes and estimates the ideal time to hold it again would be on the “Adlaw Hong Butuan” Charter Day Celebration every first week of August to make the event more participative among young people, their families and schools.

RJS suggests the festival once again come up with original plays and musicals on Mindanao landscape focus on Butuan and Caraga Region materials to give its spirit of authenticity that is unique, respectable and a cut above the rest.

If and when a re-imagine “Kasambay” surfaces back as a tribute and celebration to young people’s path to theatrical creativity, then surely Butuan becomes an art mecca, and who knows, as a bonus, we may produce a new world-class caliber Leah Salonga, a national artist Ryan Cayabyab, an intense actor Cesar Montano, an acclaimed writer Nick Joaquin. All coming from our city by the ancient river.

Artwork courtesy of Pinterest

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