Thursday, April 12, 2007

525,600 minutes with Ogie Juliano

They said goodbye to Ogie Juliano yesterday, at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater in UP Diliman. As far as necrological services went, it was the most joyous I'd ever attended. It couldn't be helped, I guess. The whole theater community was remembering an actor, director, costume designer and teacher who lived large, whose presence stamped itself on any space, whose wide girth was matched only by the apparent stoutness of his heart.

That, at least, was the impression you came away with after seeing practically the creme de la creme of Philippine theater come to pay their respects to a colleague felled by kidney disease at 46 years old.

Mr. Juliano died last April 7, Black Saturday. In four days, his many friends in the academe and the industry managed to put together a tribute that only theater people could really pull off: a memorial service that was by turns stirring, touching, unconventional, campy, zany and exuberant--qualities that Mr. Juliano himself, quite a showman in his prime ("No one beat you as a drag queen," Dulaang UP's Tony Mabesa recalled), summoned with minimal effort.

As an associate professor at UP's Dept. of Speech Communication and Theater Arts, Mr. Juliano worked alongside theater luminaries like Mr. Mabesa, Anton Juan, Behn Cervantes, Soxy Topacio, Chris Millado, and the late National Artist for Theater Rolando Tinio, as well as numerous students and theater workers who learned their stage bearings from him. His directorial works included "Angel Street/Lampara," "Merry Wives of Manila," "Tanikalang Guinto," "The Braggart Soldier," and the Severino Montano trilogy I was fortunate enough to catch in January last year. (Read review here.)

As an actor, he appeared with PETA, Teatro Pilipino, Tanghalang Pilipino, Dramatis Personae, Gantimpala Theater, even Ballet Philippines. He was Figaro in "The Barber of Seville," Creon in "Antigone," The Duke in "Othello," Friar Lawrence in "Romeo and Juliet," Tiger Brown in "The Threepenny Opera," Lord Buckingham in "Richard III," Peter Stockman in "An Enemy of the People" --roles that his larger-than-life silhouette inhabited with fire and passion, as his colleagues would remember with much fondness.

But it was as a costume designer that Mr. Juliano received the greatest plaudits from his co-workers. He loved the swish and flutter of fabric, the endless possibilities of color and cut draped on an actor's form to spotlight character and setting.

Eugene Domingo, dressed in resplendent baro't saya, sent up in a skit not only Mr. Juliano's temperamental penchant for throwing coffee mugs at stubborn actors, but also his exasperation at performers who failed to carry the national dress with proper dignity. "Magagalit si Tita Conching!," he'd admonish them, referring to the legendary Conching Sunico, the late doyenne of the Metropolitan Theater.

His first acting job with PETA, as Soxy Topacio remembered it, was "The Threepenny Opera," where he played a prince astride a horse.

"Sabi niya sa akin, di siya happy sa costume niya, so kung pwede daw niya gawan ng paraan. Sabi ko, o sige. Tapos, sabi niya pati na rin ang kabayo. In the end, di na yata kabayo ang lumabas, carroza na! At di na rin siya prinsipe, emperatriz na!"

Behn Cervantes noted, in his own remembrance: "I suspect that seraphims and cherubims in heaven, and even St. Peter himself, are dressed differently now that Ogie has joined their celestial ranks!" And despite Mr. Juliano's girth, he said, "Ogie was light on his feet and graceful as a person."

From America came a sublime eulogy by Anton Juan, read--nay, acted--by Bart Guingona, Irma Adlawan and Frances Makil Ignacio. "Look how we in the theater mark our lives," said Mr. Juan. "We don't ask the date or the year, we say, 'Sa 'Merry Wives' nangyari 'yan." Of Mr. Juliano, he pronounced, by way of Mr. Guingona's ringing cry, "I cannot think of you as smaller than life!" Before ending with, "Thank you, thank you. See you at the watermelon moon."

Mr. Juliano's thesis production for costume design with Dulaang UP was an Ibsen twinbill: "Hedda Gabler" and "A Doll's House." That was 24 years ago, with Mr. Mabesa as both director and thesis adviser. Now Mr. Mabesa spoke gravely, affectionately, of Mr. Juliano's strapping spirit, capping his elegy by standing before the urn that held his ashes and symbolically scattering the spirit of Mr. Juliano on the stage of the Guerrero Theater, his home for a quarter of a century. "Goodnight, sweet prince," he said, quoting "Hamlet." "And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Then, to the strains of Betty Buckley singing a medley of "If Ever I Would Leave You" and "My Funny Valentine," Mr. Juliano appeared on screen in pointe shoes and a dainty tutu, defying the laws of gravity as he pirouetted, floated and launched into a breathtaking split. Free Willy, no less, leaping to his freedom.

The crowd hooted, laughed, applauded, then rose as one to shout "Bravo!" at Mr. Juliano's silent urn. The raucous ovation went on for minutes, until Stevie Wonder blared from the speakers, chanting the haunting numbers of "Seasons of Love" ("Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear...") The whole auditorium rocked with tear-stained cheers as Mr. Juliano's urn was carried by his family out of the theater.

"Measure your life, measure your life in love," so went the anthem from "Rent." Yesterday, Mr. Juliano literally went out in a blaze of love, courtesy of the grateful theater community he had loved to bits.

PLUS: More pics of the memorial service in The Bachelor Girl.

Update: Published in the Inquirer's April 16, 2007 issue.


Micaela said...

sad to hear about juliano (ooops, that's what we used to call him when I was in UP). :(

TheBachelorGirl said...

Beautifully written! I attempted another approach by posting pics of Ogie's necrological service

Anonymous said...

were u able to get pix of the people attending ogie's memorial? thanks for the article, it was as if i was really there...


Anonymous said...

gibbs,thank you for that write-up of sir ogie's farewell parangal.though i wasn't able to witness it,how you wrote about it was touching,and i felt like i was there celebrating with the rest of the theater community as well. godspeed!


Anonymous said...

Your article somehow reached me and for that I am eternally grateful. Sir Ogie was presence to reckon with. He is part of the good times I remember from UP.


Ralph Pena said...

Thanks for marking the occasion in print. Ogie was a dear friend and a big part of my coming-of-age. It helped to read your coverage of his last bow at the Guerrero theater.

TheBachelorGirl said...

Thank you very much for the unexpected but definitely appreciated link and addition to your blog roll.

decorator said...

as ralph said... "thank you for marking the occasion in print."

salamat sa pagbigay espasyo para kay 'inay'

gibbs cadiz said...

hi MICA, you knew mr. juliano, too? :)

thanks, BACHELORGIRL! and i linked up your pics. :)

hi SAM, MOONSHINE, MATIT, thank you for the kind words. :)

hello MR. RALPH PENA, it's an honor to have you here. thank you very much for your comment, and my sympathies on the passing of a dear friend. more power to ma-yi theater company. :)

hi DECORATOR, u're welcome. :)

amateur misanthrope said...

Sad. I wasn't from DSCTA but I would see him almost everyday at UP CAL. His mother taught at the College of Science, right? Sana she predeceased him. It's always sadder when children go ahead of the parents.

Dennis N. Marasigan said...

for amateur misanthrope,

yes, ma'm j predeceased ogie (2004).


ma'am j also stood as one of our wedding sponsor.


gibbs cadiz said...

hi AMATEUR MISANTHROPE, thanks. see dennis m.'s comment below yours. :)

hi DENNIS, my sympathies to you and Irma and the kids. :)

Thumper Art said...

i know this is somewhat extremely late but it is only now did i get to know, through your article here, that juliano is already dead.(i too was in one of his classes then and we called him as such)

he is such a great loos to the up community and to theater. he was bigger than life.

i salute you sir juliano! :-)

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