From Lanao to New York: PH theater pioneer feted | Inquirer Entertainment

From Lanao to New York: PH theater pioneer feted

/ 05:20 AM December 18, 2022

Cecile Guidote-Alvarez (left) with former theater workshop student Potri Ranka Manis. STORY: From Lanao to New York: PH theater pioneer feted

LASTING INFLUENCE | Cecile Guidote-Alvarez (left) with former theater workshop student Potri Ranka Manis —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

We are often reminded of the lesson on humility from Proverbs 27:2, which says: “Let someone else honor you for your accomplishments, for self-praise is never appropriate.”

Cultural caregiver, theater pioneer, and climate justice advocate Cecile Guidote-Alvarez was recently feted in New York at the Remake-A-World Gala organized by the La MaMa Experimental Theater.


She was the only Filipino and Southeast Asian among the seven awardees who were recognized as the world’s transformational theater leaders today.


The award, she said, “belongs to a creative army of artists, teachers, and communicators who joined our movement not by force of arms but through the power of the arts, to form and actualize the sustainable development goals to protect people and planet, promote peace and poverty eradication through partnerships.”

“Because with the grace of God, we have persevered to dynamically apply theater as a mirror of our respective identity and common humanity, as a memory bank of our history and language. An armor against social ills. An anchor to the wealth of our heritage to recharge conscience, generate creative industries and serve as a lighthouse for good governance and responsible citizenship. Theater is public service,’’ she said in her acceptance speech.

Former student remembers

Originally scheduled for May this year, the awarding was moved to Nov. 10 due to pandemic restrictions. And so when Guidote-Alvarez turned 79 on Nov. 13, she was still in New York for the celebration again at La MaMa Theater, where well-wishers again came to thank her for changing their lives through theater.

One of them was Potri Ranka Manis, founding artistic director of the New York-based dance theater Kinding Sindaw Melayu Heritage. She had known Guidote-Alvarez when she was barely a teenager from Borocot village, Maguing town, Lanao del Sur, in Mindanao.

In the early 1970s, during the Marcos dictatorship, Guidote-Alvarez, as founding artistic director of Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta), conducted workshops in the provinces in cooperation with the nongovernmental organization Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.

One of those workshops took place in Davao City and Manis was among the participants. “I first met Cecile when I was 12 years old, while she was giving a theater arts workshop to farmers whose farmlands were taken over by multinational agribusiness corporations,” Manis recalled.


“Since then, the influence of that workshop has been a mainstay in the dance theater production of Kinding Sindaw, asserting the voice of the indigenous people of Southern Philippines,” she added. At the time, Guidote-Alvarez also campaigned for a United Nations Declaration for Indigenous Peoples.

Force of education

Manis described Peta as a “force of education empowering the community to stand up for human rights.”

“Peta energized the urban poor, the farmers, defending freedom and democracy through creative means. People were equipped with the power of the arts to promote sustainable governance and pave a way to break the cycle of poverty,” she added.

In her testimonial given at Guidote-Alvarez’s birthday celebration, Manis called her mentor an “indomitable force of nature who truly embodies the power of the arts and still relentlessly serves the people through cultural education.”

When Manis migrated to the United States and worked as a nurse, she never forgot her theater background and formed Kinding Sindaw in 1992 in New York City. By that time, Guidote-Alvarez had returned to the Philippines from exile together with her family.

Over the years, Manis and Kinding Sindaw performed at La MaMa. Coincidentally, it was where Guidote-Alvarez sought refuge in the 1970s with her husband, environmentalist and freedom fighter Heherson, as political exiles. (Heherson became an agrarian reform and environment secretary, congressman, and senator. He died in 2020 at age 80)

‘Refugee center’

“Ellen Stewart has a very astute intuition of connecting the drumming heartbeats of artists who align for love of freedom, justice and democracy,” Manis added, referring to the late founder of La MaMa.

Founded in 1961, La MaMa is the only original Off-Off-Broadway venue still in operation. Stewart died in 2011 at age 91.

The theater’s sterling list of alumni includes Diane Lane, Bette Midler, Sam Shepard, Philip Glass, Harvey Fierstein and the Blue Man Group, among others. (Guidote-Alvarez once remarked that one of La MaMa’s legacies was serving as the first venue for Tom O’Horgan’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Hair” before these productions moved on to Broadway.)

“Cecile often referred to La MaMa as a refugee center in which artists sought sanctuary from the stressors of sociopolitical conflicts,” Manis noted. “These were (during) tumultuous times when living in the Philippines was not conducive to politically assertive leaders.”

“While (she was) serving as Third World Committee of the International Theater Institute secretary in exile, this ignited the idea of Cecile to build a theater that became invaluable in highlighting the rich heritage of Asia, Africa and Latin America and advancing the cultural rights of ethnic minorities. With Ellen Stewart, Cecile founded Twitas or the Third World Institute of Theater Arts Studies.”

For Pinoy diaspora

As director of Twitas and chair of the International Theater League of Folk Arts for Communication and Education, Guidote-Alvarez initiated cultural programs for the UN’s dedicated years for population, women, habitat, youth, children, communications, technology, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities.

In her years of exile in New York, she acted in landmark La MaMa plays like “Jilsa” which was directed by Duk-hyung Yoo of the Seoul Institute of the Arts, Bertolt Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle” directed by Fritz Bennewitz of the Berliner Ensemble, and “Juana La Loca” by Miguel Sabido of Mexico.

She also directed a Third World version of Ramayana and the Theatrical Liturgy for the Rights of the Child, which drew praise from Robert Patrick of The Villagers for being the work of “a woman master artist.”

Guidote-Alvarez also taught community theater for Filipinos in the diaspora and garnered for Petal (Philippine Educational Theater Arts League) an award for outstanding political theater. Petal serves as an extension of Peta in New York.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Besides Guidote-Alvarez, five other stage luminaries and one theater group were honored at the Remake-A-World Gala: Richard Lanier of Asian Cultural Council in New York, Alvaro Restrepo of Colombia, Beka Vuco of The Balkans, Serhiy Zhadan of Ukraine, Yoo of South Korea and the Belarus Free Theater.



Love and marriage in the time of martial law

Love in the time of martial law: The escape

Undeserved ‘honors’ nullified

TAGS: Cecile Guidote-Alvarez

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.