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LIKE all members of our family, she was quick to anger that just as quickly waned. Once I carped in print about what I felt was Repertory’s failure to contribute to the Centennial celebrations. This drew a “volcanic” phone call from her. My father called me to his room, and with a naughty smile, handed me the receiver. I immediately got a 12-gauge blast of curses from Bibot. The more I gurgled “I see,” and “Of course, I’ll correct what I wrote,” the naughtier became my father’s smile. It turned out Repertory was doing its thing, and Bibot herself was directing the reenactment of Rizal’s execution. It was my first encounter with an angry reader, and just as well. Since then, other angry readers have always paled in comparison to Bibot–but at least she never threw a chair at me, as she once did to a friend of mine in Repertory. My father’s mischievous delight, it turned out, came from family pride in the genetically programmed temper of his clan.
With her passing, it is inevitable that stories of her temper abound. It is wrong, however, to think of her as yet another martinet in a profession famous for the petty tyrannies of its practitioners. People undoubtedly feared her, but Bibot’s legendary professionalism was as much about nurturing talent as it was about terrorizing the lazy, the weak-willed, and the timid. For a generation, hers was the only show in town, performing before audiences that had seen the best that the world’s stages could offer, and keeping them coming back, performance after performance. In the cramped cultural confines of martial law, her Repertory was both an emotional escape hatch and a means of liberation for the imagination.
The pre-Edsa Repertory was the incubator in which talents were hatched, and in which a seemingly endless progression of fledgling talents cut their teeth on the stage. Certainly, the incompetent and the irredeemably flighty were weeded out due to the exacting standards demanded by Bibot. But the list of talents developed by the troika of Amador, Barredo, Virata is long; and these are talents who have become famous in their own right: Guingona, Wilson, Salonga, to name just a few. A game of six degrees of thespian separation leads always to Zeneida “Bibot” Amador.
Quick to anger, and just as quick to laugh: the other side of her was her humor, her wit–and her compassion. What separates a director of note from a tyrant of the stage is the positive direction that all genuinely creative expression eventually attains. A selfish, despotic director will destroy talents and their lives for fleeting successes in specific productions; a director, to be truly great, nurtures talents, who in turn demonstrate sustained excellence in every production they become involved in.
Acting is a profession both gregarious and lonely. The actor, director, the playwright, the stagehand all bring the imagination to life and connect it with the audience. For each one involved in the professional side of producing a play, however, there are elements of lonely, painful isolation, of doubt, exhaustion, and fear. Memory must be conditioned to remember lines; movements must be perfected, emotions must both be reined in and let loose. There must be cooperation, and there must be the individual display of virtuosity, of talent. Above all, there must be discipline and pride, which we all know can often be mutually exclusive. Somehow, Bibot mastered all the things required of the stage, season after season, production after production.
When I took a stab at playing impresario–coming up with a production that required dramatic performances not on stage but in the recording studio–there came a point when I needed someone with the right gravitas and the necessary prestige to introduce each of the performances in “Twenty Speeches That Moved a Nation.” Bibot’s name came instantly to mind, and she just as instantly agreed to help. The Bibot that came to the recording studio to briskly record her introductory spiels was the laughing, supportive Bibot who is remembered just as much as the stormy Bibot of rehearsals. Some years later, I pestered her about an idea of enlisting Repertory to teach elocution classes, using “20 Speeches” as an aid; she was just as supportive then, though the idea died a natural death. She was always an innovator.
Creative genius, Rizal said, knows no country. Or, as the Bard put it, all the world’s a stage. Zeneida Amador was a creative genius, and she most certainly loved her country deeply. She loved it so much she wanted it enriched by the prose, the lyrics, performed in the great stages of the world. And it is because of her, that the whole world, today, is a stage for Filipino actors–just as Repertory’s stage brought the world to us, the audience. The history of Philippine theater will always accord to Bibot a standing ovation: audiences and actors united in acclaiming genius, integrity and dedication. In a life dedicated to communication, I will never forget one moment when, by a single look and with an uncharacteristic whisper, “It’s all right, cousin,” she helped wipe away the grief that engulfed me when my father–who delighted in her temper–died. He would have glowed over her kindness then.
Manuel L. Quezon Jr.
The Long View
Twenty Speeches That Moved A Nation