Senakulo: theater in the streets April 2011

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In a few days, it will be this year's Holy Week.  I saw some segments from last night's news shows about people preparing for their annual senakulo and thought, "This is theater in the streets!"  The senakulo and related activities are ripe for discussions on street theater, community theater, spiritual theater/performance, performance/performativity, among others.

The senakulo* is a traditional Filipino dramatization of the life and times of Jesus Christ. Done in song (pasyon) and recitation, it is presented in the public squares (1) town plazas, churchyards or in theaters (2).

Companies and community groups perform the senakulo during Holy Week (3).  The play is in three acts - one act presented each night from Holy Wednesday to Good Friday (1)

Although this other article says: It takes at least eight nights - from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday - to present the play. In urban areas, there are modernized versions of the senakulo that run for only one or two hours. 

I'm not sure if the eight days running time is accurate ... can someone post in the comments section if they have info on this please?

Spectators may range from devotees to the merely curious. For some, it is the time to reflect on the life of Jesus, while others take it as a chance to spend time with family and friends (4chatting and sometimes ogling and cheering their friends and family playing a part (2).

Here are some places that have Senakulos for those of you who are interested in catching one (Please email me if you have info on senakulos and I'll gladly add to this list. You can share photos, too.):
- Makati City (2)
- Mandaluyong City (5)
- Morong, Rizal (1)

Flagellation and nailing to the cross
Then there is how "Philippine devotees re-enact Jesus Christ's suffering ... by pounding their bleeding bare backs with bamboo sticks dangling from ropes in a flagellation rite meant to atone for sins and having themselves nailed to crosses in rites frowned upon by church leaders in Asia's largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation." says this article.
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It goes on to say, "The yearly tradition has become a tourist attraction, especially in San Fernando's San Pedro Cutud village, which sometimes draws thousands of local and foreign tourists"

Panata versus penitensya
If I'm not mistaken, most people who join senakulos do it as a form of panata (pledge of devotion) while the flagellants and crucifants do it as a form of penitensya (penitence).  Is there such a word as "crucifant"?!

For a less dramatic but still performance-related activity, we have the pabasa, where the pasyon (see below) is sung/chanted.  My best friend from college R.E. is usually part of his family's pabasa every year.  I've never seen/heard his family do it, but he tells me they use a karaoke machine for their needs.

According to this Wikipedia article:
The Pasyon is a narrative of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ woven into an epic poem with stanzas of five lines with each line having eight syllables.

The Pasyon is normally heard during Holy Week in the Philippines, where its recitation, known as the Pabása ("Reading") will span several days, extending no later than Black Saturday. Singers will chant the verses of the Pasyon without pause from beginning to end in front of a specially-constructed shrine or altar. This non-stop reading of the Pasyon is facilitated by the chanters working in shifts. Musical accompaniment to its recitation is practised by some though is by no means universal.

I've heard of people using pop-song versions or rap versions for their pabasa to "modernize" the delivery of the pasyon.  But let's dig a little deeper into its past:

The indigenous form of the Pasyon was first set into writing by Gaspar Aquino de Belén in " Ang Mahal na Pasión ni Jesu Christong Panginoon Natin na Tola" ("The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ that is a Poem"), written in 1703 and approved in 1704.

The more popular version of the Pasyon is the "Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa" ("The History of the Passion of Jesus Christ our Lord that will surely Set Afire the Heart of Whosoever Reads it").

I just have to say that the English translation of the title is hilarious!

Jesus Christ Superstar
And while not many people might know of this, some music people and theater people in Manila usually try to come up with a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock-opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" for Holy Week.

From what I understand, it isn't a set thing where it's a done deal every year, but you can occasionally hear news about it if there's going to be one.

I went to one many years ago at Bistro 70s with Cynthia Alexander as Mary Magdalene and Minco Fabregas as Caiaphas.  I don't remember the rest of the cast (alzheimers!).  The bar was crowded and my friend N.Y. and I weaved in and out of the jam-packed bar, trying to get a beer, going to the bathroom and enjoying the show.

The crowd sang along to most of the songs and freaked me out, who knew rocker-types would know the songs to a Broadway musical? A Broadway musical about a religious icon no less!  Hossana-hey!

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Two (or three? I'm bad with math) years ago, I went to one done at Taumbayan Restaurant.  It was done kind of concert-style with the performers in regular clothes, but if I remember correctly, it was supposed to be an all-female cast: Agot Isidro as Jesus Christ, Bituin Escalante as Judas, and Aiza Seguerra as Mary Magdalene.

N.Y. and I decided to catch this one "for old time's sake" since it had been years since we'd gone to the Bistro 70s one.  The restaurant overflowed with people, so N.Y. and I I hung with a few other friends out at the sidewalk, catching up and drinking beer (on the eve of Easter Sunday!).  Then we went home.

*named after Cenacle.
According to this Wikipedia article, the Cenacle (from Latin cenaculum), also known as the "Upper Room", is the term used for the site of The Last Supper. The word is a derivative of the Latin word cena, which means dinner. In Christian tradition, the "Upper Room" was not only the site of the Last Supper (i.e. the Cenacle), but the usual place where the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem.

What do you think of senakulos? Share your comments.

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