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The Final curtain call

Farewell DULAANG BAYAN MELBOURNE (Filipino Community Development Theatre)1987- 23-October 2016

By Adrian Prophet
November 6, 2016


It is with regret that after 29 years, the President, Manny G Asuncion and members of Dulaang Bayan Melbourne (Filipino Community Theatre), in  Australia, have taken the decision to “lower the curtain” on DBM Inc.

DBMI was the longest running incorporated and organised Filipino Community theatre group in Australia that produced specially written live stage productions based on the real experiences of Filipino migrants in Australia.  With the closure of DBM Inc. this authentic showcasing will cease to exist, unless another enterprising organisation arises and takes on the tasks associated with live productions, and social consciousness aspirations.

 At the time of its birth, the founders conducted work-shops, and encouraged people to participate and finally join the newly founded organisation.  As time passed, the founding members went their own way, and the current President and founder, Manny G Asuncion ensured the continuation of DBM Inc. with a number of duly elected officers over the years.

In the 1980s, the curtain rose when fledgling members of DBM Inc. performed at the Philippine Fiesta of Victoria at Albert Park in Melbourne. The performance was “Kayumangging Ibon’ (Brown Bird).

Other performances in its early day included ‘Kapit-Bisig’ and ‘Kuwento ni Auring’ (the tale of Auring) which tackled the everyday life, hope and aspirations for migrant Filipinos.

DBM also conducted a number of drama workshops in cooperation with other Filipino and multicultural organisations in order to develop the artistic and creative skills of migrant Filipinos and other ethnic groups

In order to achieve the fundamental principles, DBM established five areas of focus:

(a) Orientation- encourages community development, group participation and coordination among its members.
(b) Creative and Technical- provides a venue for creative and artistic expression
(c) Training and education – upgrades the artistic and technical skills of its members and other interested parties through theatre workshops.
(d) Research and documentation-collates and systematizes material to be used for information, training and education and
(e) Linkages-develops resource exchanges with other Australian based cultural groups and those based abroad.

Full stage productions by DBM Inc. were written by Manny G Asuncion and included, “Autumn Sonata” (Tag-Lagas) (2000), “Kesehoda!” (Who Cares), 2001. “Mga Eksena sa Airport at iba pa.” (2004). “Summer Butterflies”(2006), “Ang ikalawang tag-sibol ni Mang Florante” (The second Spring of Mr Florante”),”Miting sa Makiling” (Isang maikling satirikong dula) (2010).

Professional make-up was provided by two Mary Kay Directors, and their staff who supported the theatre throughout the 29 years. The two Directors were Ms Lena Obien and Ms Norma Serrano.

Dulaang Bayan Melbourne Inc. participated in other community activities, and members were the backbone to stage management for many public functions held by other organisations.

It provided many opportunities for Filipino-Australians to undertake drama workshops, which built on their skills of voice projection and characterisation, including movements that would appear authentic from the audience perspective. For many actors, DBM gave them a sense of achievement and helped some become more comfortable in their own decision making and assertiveness.

Many of the actors had done so in school productions when they were younger, but sometimes were uncertain as to their ability to act as adults. After training and rehearsals, they came onto the stage and gave credible performances, saying afterwards that they were scared at first but then the ‘love of acting’ kicked in.

Actors ranged in ages from a 4 year old who played “spider” in one production to our most senior persons of the stage who were 86 to 90 years of age. The largest group of actors were in the 30 and 50 age group, and from all walks of life and experiences.

During the first years of its existence DBM was ‘homeless’ and had to use church or local government halls to rehearse. At one stage a stable which had been converted to artistic use was used. This meant that members needed to travel from venue to venue for rehearsals. Because of their dedication, no one complained.  A more permanent base was established when we rented a room at the Philippine Fiesta of Victoria building in Laverton.

Members of DBM Inc. have enjoyed working with each other, and many hours were spent learning lines, rehearsing and in some instances attending extra reading sessions to help them memorise their lines. Some characters had very long scripts to memorise, so it was the organisations responsibility to ensure individual needs were met.

Funding for DBM Inc. was purely through the efforts of members who worked tirelessly to encourage friends, families and acquaintances to attend their performances. Members also approached the Filipino business people in Melbourne, and their support was vital to the staging of the plays. Many of the donors and sponsors remained loyal ‘followers’ and supporters of Dulaang Bayan Melbourne.
Visits were made to Mildura, a city 5 hour 58 minutes drive from Melbourne to gain an appreciation of what it was like to be a labourer in a vineyard. From this two day visit came the concept for Summer Butterflies, a play depicting a family and workers in the harsh reality of Australia. A land of opportunity but also where non-recognition of overseas qualifications caused difficulty for professionals who were now having to adapt to significant life changes.

All the productions were written by Manny G Asuncion, and he directed all except “Kesehoda” which was directed by Tekya Atwell, one of the trainers and an actor member.

Over the years the Filipino community in Melbourne has changed, and the needs and aspirations of the members of that community changed too. DBM Inc. found itself in the situation where it had  difficulty recruiting new members – youths are interested in their own activities including concerts with overseas performers and have no interest in performing or working on a production without remuneration.

Members of DBMI are ageing, most of its members being in their senior years, and there were several years in which activities were planned but actors failed to perform for various reasons.

Attendance at meetings was difficult, as other organisations know only too well, and often there were not enough members present to form a quorum.

Costs for venues for meetings, and the hire of theatres along with insurance to comply with legal requirements exceed the financial resources of DBM Inc. and other not-for-profit organisations have found themselves in the same or a similar situation.

At the annual general meeting on 23 October, 2016, the members present at that meeting made a decision to close the association.

On 1 November, 2016, President Manny G Asuncion and Secretary, Adrian Prophet presented The Philippine Fiesta of Victoria Inc. with a cheque that transferred DBM’s financial assets to an organisation with similar objectives, as is required under Victorian legislation.

The final curtain has fallen on Dulaang Bayan Melbourne Incorporated, but the spirit and camaraderie will remain with its members, who shared the experience of performing live before public audiences, who clapped, laughed or cried in the roller-coaster of emotions that DBM Inc. evoked in its plays.

Related articles:
DULAANG BAYAN ARENA THEATRE: The People’s Development Theatre
Manny G Asuncion’s SEASONS, An anthology of Filipino-Australian Plays Down-Under
DBMI PARANGAL - an evening of artistry and recognition 

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