You see, theater is like an arranged marriage. From the perspective of someone who chose Theater Arts without much knowledge of the said art form, of someone who’s never done a play back in high school, of someone who was never in a mile close to being in theater before college, of someone who has never watched theater plays and musicals in her free time (except Hollywood’s Les Miserable), I was kind of forced to love theater.
Last year, when people heard the words “theater arts” stumble upon my lips, and they replied with “Are you sure?”, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why the others were so afraid of our “theater practicum” class. But now, I do.
You see, there’s a reason why we have the phrase “break a leg”. A theater play is like one big magic trick, wherein the magician is willing to break his own wrists every time just to please the audience with every show. Just like a newly-wed couple that is still adjusting to the domestic life of cleaning houses and paying bills, being in theater makes you wonder: is this worth it? Is the audience really worth all the tears we have shed, all the money we have spent, all the effort we have given? Is s/he worth all my sacrifices, all my patience, all my love?
The theater is selfish. Well, people would retort that every course in college is selfish. But I disagree. Theater is even more so. And like with an arranged marriage, it doesn’t always work out. There are moments when you wonder what you have done to upset God so much to pair you with such a demanding bitch. Why can’t Fate pair you with someone kinder, someone more gentle?
It’s at this point that we forget that we, too, are becoming selfish. Arranged marriages are used as a peace treaty or as a way to strengthen business between two families. Being in the theater is a selfless act of forgetting yourself – your physical health, your money, your alone time, your academics, your social life – all in exchange of pleasing others.
It’s difficult at first. Why put so much effort into people when you’re not sure they would even appreciate it? The injustice will weigh you down. You’ll think that you deserve so much better. You’ll get mad at your high school friends and family relatives who won’t be able to watch what you’ve worked so hard for. You’ll look at the loud guests with distaste. You’ll see the theater as a hell that you have to put up with every goddamn day. Every action you make becomes a live performance that you have to fake.
And how can you not look at it in such a bad image? When you see the people you’re working with sacrificing so much, and receiving so little in return, how can you not hate the people they’re sacrificing so much for?
There will come a time when you will be so close to filing a divorce case with the course you have married; a time when you will feel that you’re better off somewhere else – free of obligations and commitment, where you will worry about achieving your own happiness, where you will think about nothing but yourself.
When I was at this point, at this terrifying edge of my figurative cliff, teetering between staying and leaving, I did the bravest thing I could ever have done so far – I waited. I waited for a miracle. Something that can make me genuinely love what I was doing. I waited for the storm to pass. I waited for the sun to rise. I waited for the smoke to fade. I used whatever I had as a shield against the temptation of an easier life.
And then… it came.
The sound of genuine laughter after a line that I’ve heard of a thousand times reached the ears of virgin minds. The high squeaks of fear from high school students as we shocked them with the magic tricks we’ve all lost slept for to perfect. The tear-strained cheeks of children and adults alike. The buzz of wonder as they walked out of the theater, discussing their ephemeral experience before it fades from their memory forever.
It’s the little things that make you stay in a marriage. The little things that turn duty into dedication.
From then on, every sweep of the floor was accompanied with a wave of fondness. Every step I took along the aisle of the audience seats reminded me of why I haven’t left, of why I shouldn’t.
So what’s it like being a theater arts student?
It’s faking a smile, and receiving a genuine one. It’s repeatedly saying “thank you for watching”, with the hopes that someone will reply with a “Congrats!”. It’s about living for the little things. It’s about living for others. It’s knowing that if you want to witness a beautiful sunrise, then first you have to go through the blackest night.
It’s offering your limbs to ideals, people, stories, places – content with the fact that, from nothingness you were born, and from nothingness you shall return. That does not mean however, that your life was worth nothing. Your worth is seen through the people you have influenced. And as a theater arts student? You will influence a lot.
It is the last day of my first month as a freshman in the University of the Philippines Diliman, and I cannot help but honor such a day with an essay about the infamous Academic Oval.
It was the 7th of July, 2015, when I enrolled to UP Diliman. I experienced what every freshie from UP experienced – the utterly exhausting, sloth-like line. Nonetheless, I managed to survive. My mom had errands to do, and due to the traffic in EDSA, she wasn’t going to return in an hour. So I did what many of our predecessors did when they had nothing to do in a foreign land – I explored.
I walked around the infamous Academic Oval.
As I walked silently, I reminisced the first time we went to UP. It was third year High School, and we were visiting our relatives, and my parents decided, “Why don’t we show them the state university?” And so we drove our car around that Acad Oval.
I had 0 knowledge about UP, or its culture, then. All I knew was that it was hard to get in that college compared to others. Back then, I had no idea what “college life” consisted of. All I had were the western films about college, and that was it.
So you can imagine my enthusiasm and surprise, as a jogger and a tree-lover, when I saw the Acad Oval. I fell in love with a 2.2km slab of asphalt. Of all the things you can love about UP, am I right? But it was the Acad Oval that won my heart when I had to choose between the three top campuses I passed in. So, yes, friends. I’m not kidding. When I passed in Ateneo, La Salle and UP, I chose UP.
“Well, of course she’d choose UP. It’s cheaper! It’s the state university! And all her friends are there pfft-”
No, friends. I chose UP, because I knew I’d get to walk around the Acad Oval.
So why do I love it so much? Do I have a fetish for roads now? Haha, very funny, but no.
“Through the years, the oval has stood as a silent witness to the various marches of students, faculty and staff, in exercise of their cherished freedom of oppression.” [x]
It has felt its students put their feet down against tyranny and abuse, and the calm footsteps of both old and young couples in love. It has been a witness to hundreds of amateur joggers turn into avid marathon runners. It has comforted the feet of depressed students as they dragged their body around trying to forget their careless mistakes, and encouraged the soles of scholars trying to think of a new idea.
It is where people can literally run away from their heartbreaks, and exhale the negativity brought by stress. It is where students and teachers alike reflect on their academic life, and mentally organize their priorities. It is where people get to appreciate the life they were given, by repeating the mantra of “I am here. I am studying. In UP Diliman. And these acacia trees growing at the sidewalks are a proof of that. I am blessed.”
It is where people are reminded that mankind was made for one basic responsibility: to take care of other species, and of their environment. It is where people learn to be humble, and to forget selfish cravings, because you know what?
The Academic Oval has witnessed millions of isko and iska come and go. It will witness a million more. We are but a speck in its timeline. Our one mistake as human beings is believing that anything that we have is truly ours. Everything that we have will soon be scattered to our children or grandchildren (if we will be lucky enough to have any), or our relatives, close friends, or sold off to junkyard sales or bookstores or antique shops. To know that life goes on with or without you is terrifying – it makes you slowly let go of the materialistic things you have fought so hard to hold on tight to.
It is where people forget their troubles, because when you are reminded of how small you are, and how much smaller your problems are, you will learn to crush your worries into small crumbs, and scatter the remains into the wind.
It is where people think bigger than themselves and their own wants and desires. It’s when people see the beggars and actually stop to think how they are faring. It’s where people go when they need to let off a little steam. It’s where people go to have picnics. It’s where people laugh, and cry, and fall in love, and release their pain and anger and hurt and bliss and it’s also where people learn to know each other and grow into each other’s skins.
That is why I love the Academic Oval. That is why I love UP – in all its vastness and variety, all its big events and small memories.
Such is what goes on in the mind of a fellow wanderer of an ancient elliptical campus road.