Kairos. In all the time I was working on this production, I would think of the word kairos and I would think of everything as following God’s perfect time.
The idea of staging the life of Augustine of Hippo came sometime before the end of the second semester, school year 2010-2011. The idea came from the school chaplain or the Campus Minister, Fr. Renie Villalino. The initial plan was to stage it in August of last year.
With that, I began my plunge deep into knowing the life of Saint Augustine.
The first, and perhaps the most obvious source of information was the voluminous work, The Confessions, which I read for about two months, giving me many sleepless nights. During all those days, the play already seemed to be unfolding in my head. As I read the Confessions, the play already seemed to be staged in some auditorium in my imagination.
Also became a source of information was the first biography of Augustine written by his friend of many years, Possidius (who also became a bishop, and a saint).
I also found it necessary to do further readings about the history and culture of the times Augustine lived. There also was a necessity to get to know other very significant people in Augustine’s life: Monica, Adeodatus, the woman with whom Augustine lived for thirteen (or fourteen) years, Empress Justina, Emperor Valentinian, Symmachus, and of course, Ambrose.
During those months, my heart turned restless as if on fire; the fire could not be exhumed unless the script has finally been written. The libretto was written for two straight days, with only a few hours of sleep. That was sometime in June last year.
From then, begun the long process of planning, looking for probable cast and crew, among others.
The play date was moved from August to February. Nine months. Like a child undergoing stages of conception and gestation, it took us nine months to gradually mold this child that is the Late Have I Loved You.
I also then begun creating my directorial concept.
Though subtle, perhaps even to the point of not being noticed at all, the staging of the play was inspired by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Although for this staging of the first part of the life of Saint Augustine, the inspiration was only until the concept of the Easter Vigil, during the baptism of Augustine, with the Te Deum being sung. We must remember that Augustine was baptized during the celebration of Easter, year 387. Sacred Music history actually credits the creation of the Te Deum to bishop Ambrose, who supposedly composed it especially for this baptism.
The actors were trained mostly with the techniques following naturalism and realism. They were, therefore, introduced to some basic concepts of the Constantin Stanislavski System and the Lee Strasberg Method of Acting. Since I employed the theatrical device of using the chorus, most of the actors were also trained with the use and the role of the masks; thus also the introduction of classical Greek school of acting.
Considering that the concept of kenosis also highly inspired me in the process of understanding Augustine’s life, and capturing it in the libretto and on stage, the actors were also made to undergo a similar process of emptying. Augustine was looking for the Truth. The actors were also led to reach the threshold of the subconscious so as to be truthful onstage. To come to this point, the actors were guided to shun themselves of their self-centeredness and pride, and come to the point of sincerity onstage, essaying the role, not performing it. This is very similar to the concept of verisimilitude discussed by Aristotle, Stanislavski, Jerzy Grotowski, and other theorists.
The process of training the actors were rather difficult yet very challenging. There were actors who stopped going to the rehearsals and who stopped communicating; thus, I had to keep on looking for replacements and begin training again. The difficulty also was seemingly due to the fact that the students do not have theatrical backgrounds and standards. The process also involved a lot of unlearning, as some actors seemed to have acquired a particular habit or manner of acting that was contrary to the vision set for the play.
The actors were guided to understand the need for character analysis and scene studies, among others such as the establishment of a culture of discipline.
Lessons about the life of Augustine were also presented to the cast, and some other aspects of the Christian life. In order for the play to succeed in evangelizing, it was necessary that the cast be evangelized somehow.
The students also learned much about this particular type of acting from the guest-actors Oscar Laborem A. Garcia (Stage Manager/Old Augustine/Patricius), Angel Tudtud (Monica), and Gian Carlo Layson (Symmachus), all of whom are BA Communication Arts graduates trained with theater theories and practice.
The music was created coming from the point of view of naturalism and considering the period and culture from which Augustine came. There was, of course, a consideration that the music must speak to the young people of this generation and of this culture; thus, the inclusion of sounds that may seem medieval combined with contemporary rhythmic patterns.
Mele Yamomo created the music for the play. He is a friend from UP. We were classmates in some MA Theater Arts classes. Now, he is based in Germany taking his PhD in music theater, and is very much involved in researches about music and theater. He felt thrilled about the idea of coming up with a musical. He felt thrilled with the idea that it would be a first in San Sebastian College. I sent him the libretto. Just a few days after I did, the musical scores began to appear in my Yahoomail account. Our correspondence was limited to the internet. We would talk about all aspects of the music through email. I would discuss with him my vision through email. I would like to say that I am both awed and humbled by the fact that Mele did not alter any of the words I have written when he created the music. That respect for my work is much appreciated.
I found it important that the costumes of the chorus be made in such a way that they may be transformed, and make the members of the chorus be able to appear as various characters in various parts of the play. Sometimes, they serve as narrators, movers, brothers of Augustine in the congregation he founded, or Roman-looking men talking with Augustine in one of the scenes.
The chorus also wore masks.
This particular group of actors is inspired by the concept of the ancient Greek theater. Augustine would write about the dangers of attending said theater events, focusing on how the spectators would find joy in seeing grief, sorrow in others; perhaps even, in glorifying sin. Thus, my attempt was to make use of theater also as a reflection of how men wear masks to conceal the truth that they need God. The masks shall symbolize this. The etymology of the word person in Latin means masks. I theorize that every person would wear a particular mask in dealing with other people. Sometimes even, the number of people we deal with could be the number of masks we put on. Somehow, therefore, I’d like to look at Augustine’s life as a mirror for us. Not different from us, he too put on these masks, yet he found the courage [in God’s grace] to strip himself off these masks in order to see his own nakedness and weakness, allowing God to clothe him and to strengthen him with His own mercy and glory.
Kulay Labitigan ably designed the costumes (including the masks), even also considering the culture of Augustine’s time, and also the significant colors in relation to the overlying and underlying themes.
The lights design was inspired by the concept of light after the darkness. I wanted the audience to be led to an experience of darkness, leading towards light. This shall encapsulate the process of conversion that Augustine experienced, and the same conversion to which everyone is called. The experience at the final scene must be similar to the celebration of Lucernarium, when there shall be an explosion of light. Interestingly, and deliberately, this explosion of light shall commence a more significant and essential manifestation of embracing the light, i.e., through baptism. The play ended with Augustine’s baptism officiated by bishop Ambrose, which happened during the Easter Vigil of year 387. The Paschal Vigil starts with the Lucernarium.
With his silent practice of faith, praying while a production is going on, I found it as part of this experience of Kairos that Luther Gumia should design the lights.
I made use of boxes of various sizes for this particular staging. I decided on this considering its practicality and creativity. Throughout the play, these boxes shall be moved and shall establish the various scenes. At the last scene, the audience must see seven steps on each side leading to a higher platform. The seven steps on both sides shall symbolize the Christian initiation. A catechumen must be freed from the clutches of the seven capital sins, before he is baptized, then shall he receive the seven graces of the Holy Spirit. The platform at the middle shall be the place where Augustine will receive his baptism.
LIBRETTO, among other decisions
I wanted to write about the many significant parts in the life of Augustine, but to include all of them shall probably produce a 5- to 6-hour musical, which we could not afford to do at this point. I then had to decide to just limit it to his conversion, leading to his baptism in Milan.
Similar to the irony I found about staging a theater production on Augustine’s life in spite of the truth that he spoke against the dangers posed by the theater to the human soul, I worked with memory in the writing of his life. I’d say this is a bit ironic because Augustine also would speak about the bondage that is one’s memory as one of the hindrances for someone’s ascent towards holiness or perfection. Sometime before the end of the play, the character of Augustine – much torn between the Christian life and a life lorded over by desire, joy, fear, and sorrow — would exclaim: Memory! How does one forget? How does one completely forget the pains? How does one forget remembering? How to rip off one’s sorrows from one’s recollections, one’s thoughts?
In this said aspect, though, I was conscious that I should place the persona at that point when he may already go back to narrating significant points in his life without burdening his soul with said memories; thus also guided by the concept of the catharsis. The persona must have already passed through stages of purgation and must already have had experiences of relief.
The play then begins with an old Augustine contemplating about writing his monumental work, the Confessions. As subtle clues to other parts of his life, I chose to include Alypius and Possidius. In my research, I would find these two individuals (among the many brothers who gathered to form Augustine’s disciples or followers) seemingly very important to the saint. Alypius was that friend who was with Augustine during his sinful life and who was there when he was converted. Possidius was the first to have written Augustine’s biography. Both became bishops. If I am not mistaken, or if my memory serves me right, they actually became bishops first before Augustine was declared the bishop of Hippo. Both also were staunch defenders of the church who would, at countless times, make use of Augustine’s arguments in the many debates they attended.
Subtle also, though deliberate, was the inclusion of the circumstance that the old Augustine would talk to Alypius and Possidius about writing his Confessions at a time of war, or at that time when the cities and towns they were staying in were under siege.
With the old Augustine narrating, the audience was led to go back to his life in Thagaste, then in Carthage where he studied and became famous for his prolific speeches, and then in Italy where his conversion happened.
During the prologue, the play opened with the chorus summing up the life of a man lost in his own questions and confusions:
What is a man but, with fears, an unquenchable fire!
What is a man but waters raging with desires!
What is a man but one who wears thousands of masks, yet not be any of them!
What is a man but a mere mass of passions defying the truth!
We question our existence!
We ask whether we exist.
We ask whether the air that we breathe exists.
We ask whether the heart really beats.
We question the things we perceive
and those we do not.
We question even
the very act of questioning.
We have filled our thoughts, our memories
with these many questions:
[Each member of the chorus throws a question: what is love? What is life? Do I exist? Is there life after death? Why is there pain in the world? Why is there suffering? Why is there evil? Where is God? Is there a God? The questioning gradually becomes louder seemingly confusing until they all center on that one question: is there a God?! There is brief silence.]
We filled our hearts, our lives
with these many questions.
But where do we find the answers?
Can we ever find the answers?
The play presented that – similar to us – Augustine also surrounded his life with many questions that confused him, that blinded him. But similar to him, we also have that hope for conversion no matter how late we think this is. Augustine writes:
Too late have I loved you,
O Beauty so ancient,
O Beauty so new.
Too late have I loved you!
You were within me and I was not with you,
and there I sought you!
In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made.
You were with me,
and I was not with you.
The things you have made kept me from you,
the things which would have no being
unless they existed in you!
You have called,
you have cried,
and you have pierced my deafness.
You have radiated forth,
you have shined out brightly,
and you have dispelled my blindness.
You have sent forth your fragrance,
and I have breathed it in,
and I long for you.
I have tasted you,
and I hunger and thirst for you.
You have touched me,
and I ardently desire your peace.
After the staging of the play, Kairos continues.
God’s perfect time is every time. Every time is time to do God’s work.
(Thank you Fr. Ren for the great shots. For more photos please click here…)