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Stage plays see action during Holy Week

Passion play is part of community life and tradition

Actors during a stage performance of the cenaculo Actors during a stage performance of the cenaculo
  • Bernardino Balabo, Malolos City
  • Philippines
  • April 25, 2011
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Filipinos, especially in rural areas, flocked to makeshift community theaters during Holy Week to watch actors reenact the Passion of Christ live on stage.

It is the only time of the year when the people forget Hollywood and local films in cinemas across the country and reflect on the life and passion of Jesus Christ.

The stage play is popularly known as “cenaculo,”  which is derived from “cenacle” or “upper room,” where the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his apostles was held nearly 2,000 years ago.

Isagani Giron, a local historian and cenaculo director and producer himself, said one of the earliest stage plays on the passion of Christ was played in a Bavarian village of Oberammergau in Germany in 1634.

The play remained, he said, performed by around 2,000 villagers every 10 years, most recently last year.

In the Philippines, the earliest stage play on the passion of Christ was performed in 1888, followed by the staging of cenaculo somewhere in Bulacan province in 1920 and in Malolos City, some 40 kilometers north of Manila, in 1925.

“It is part of our community life and annual tradition since the last century,” Giron said.

The traditional cenaculo, he said, is played on stage with actors reciting verses, with only two types of beats for musical background, the funebre (funeral) and march.

But in the modern way, he said, actors usually lip-synch as producers and directors learned to record dialogues ahead.

The manner of delivering dialogues between actors is also different as they now use the dramatic way rather than recitation of poetry.

Even musical background has changed, which Giron and other producers claimed as part of the influence of the radical musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

Giron said many cenaculo actors perform for free as part of a personal vow to serve God or as a way of showing gratitude to God for answering their prayers.

“But they still have to listen to the director on how to perform on stage,” Giron said.

He said the traditional cenaculo will live on despite advances in movie-making.
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