Since 1991, the DLSU Culture and Arts Office (CAO) has centered their mission around developing the Lasallian community’s appreciation of culture and arts. The office currently hosts several organizations under its wings—Green Media Group, DLSU Chorale, Lasallian Youth Orchestra (LYO), De La Salle Innersoul, La Salle Dance Company-Contemporary, La Salle Dance Company-Street, La Salle Dance Company-Folk, and the Harlequin Theatre Guild (HTG) are home to a diverse number of students dedicated to different craft.
But for these young artists, long hours of production work, overstays, and excused absences are often part of their routine. Between lengthy preparations and rehearsals demanded of them as performers, and the academic requirements demanded of them as students, these individuals tread a very fine line as they try to balance these competing obligations.
Long hours on campus
CAO groups often require their members to commit to hours of stage production ahead of their performance. More often than not, these become overnight stays on campus, often among members of HTG, whose elaborate stage set-ups prove time-consuming. “Mas malala sa kanila, [HTG] eh. Kasi sa kanila, they hold a number of shows in a weekend,” CAO director Glorife Samodio shares.
(HTG has it worse. Because for them, they hold a number of shows in a weekend.)
The sophisticated stage designs that the organization adopts in each of their productions is a reflection of theater’s growing standards. HTG Artistic Director Raffy Tejada recalls a production for their performance of Fish-Hair Woman, which called for a makeshift pool within the set. To support the structures they wanted to have in the production, the stage had to be covered with boards.
“Hindi kami ina-allow na magpasok kunwari scaffolding lalagay mo doon, hindi, kailangan mong i-overlay iyon. Kailangan takpan mo siya ng tabla para gawin mo ‘yung kailangan tatakpan mo siya then imamasking tape mo then pipinturahan mo and then papatayuin mo siya bago mo ipatong,” he explains.
(We are not allowed to simply place scaffolding on the stage, you have to overlay it first. You have to cover it with boards, put masking tape, apply paint, then place the scaffolding on top of the boards after letting them dry.)
The complexity of the production design often necessitates the help of industry experts. It is not uncommon for members of the Philippine Theater Educational Association, for example, to help students with carpentry work.
The stage set-up usually take hours to complete, and this in turn forces students to file for an extended stay or overnight. For students to be allowed inside the campus past 9 pm, they need to secure a Special Permit for Campus Access along with a parent’s consent form. Tejada details that members who often stay for production set-ups are the project heads, their assistants, and members of the props and technical subgroups.
Ana Declaro (II, AB-ISE), the company manager for LYO, is aware of the hectic paperwork process. She emphasizes the importance of considering the parent’s approval, which they obtained by having the Executive Board (EB) write letters to the parents detailing the logistics of the stay. “We first talk about the details if we plan to do an overnight activity. We usually have to confirm the availability of the chosen venue, as well as the rates, accommodation, etc. We also plan and discuss the itinerary. Once everything is settled, that’s when we relay all details to our members,” she elaborates.
Absence with leave
When students first join any of the CAO groups, one of the things they are initially briefed on is how to use excused absences, Samodio explains. “‘Di ba five [excused] absences [are allowed]? [Once they have] three, we already give a red flag. Hanggang tatlong absences lang ang okay sa akin kasi all the others, inerereserve ko kung mawawala sila ng hindi excused,” she says.
(So five excused absences are allowed right? Once they have three, we already give a red flag. I can only allow them to have three because all the others, I reserve them in cases that they would have unexcused absences.)
Tejada emphasizes that HTG members involved in the production of a certain play should anticipate when they will be needing excused absences, but he admits that it is still their discretion if they would still go through with it. “Kontrol ng [students] kung gagamitin nila ang [excused absence form], pero minsan hindi naman nila ginagamit yun ng one week kasi priority nila mag-aral,” he says.
(It is within the students’ control whether to use the excused absence form, but sometimes they choose not to for one week because they would want to prioritize studying.)
Tejada also cites inconsistent student involvement in productions as another concern. “Ang problema naming mga professional na nagme-mentor sa [students] ay hindi talaga namin hawak ang oras nila. Kung minsan nagru-run kami, wala kaming artista kasi nagfa-finals or nagthe-thesis [so] substitute lang muna papalit doon, wala kaming magagawa doon eh,” Tejada expresses.
(The problem for us professionals mentoring students is that we have no control over their time. Sometimes, if we do a production run, we do not have an artist because they are busy with [final examinations] or with their thesis, so a substitute will replace them. We cannot do anything about that.)
Despite Tejada’s concerns, Samodio assures that trainers and professionals hired outside the campus are amenable to adjusting their schedule to accommodate the student artists.
Student and artist
As a reminder for CAO members to balance academic their artistic responsibilities, the phrase “student first, artist always” has become a maxim within the organizations. Despite their best efforts, however, a clash between the two is sometimes inevitable.
Declaro also admits that being a member of the EB for a CAO group is no easy feat, “especially when it comes to organizing major events such as concerts, performances outside of the campus, etc.”
Although her organization is not fond of overnight stays, Declaro shares that the members of the organization volunteer to stay up late to finish work. “All of us sacrifice so much of our time and effort just to be able to process documents and paperwork on time,” she expresses.
Meanwhile Angelica*, a CAO group officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, shares her struggle in balancing the demands of her organization alongside her academics. “Our workload goes beyond weekdays. Some people work even on Sundays and in the early morning. Sometimes nga walang tulugan. Sometimes we forget or compromise our academics because the workload in the org is too much.”
(Sometimes we even pull all-nighters.)
Taking on the responsibility of being a student and an artist can lead to compromises on one or the other, but despite the difficulties, student artists have learned to adapt to this lifestyle in pursuit of their passion.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.