Since 2013, I have been staging (with the help of some loyal friends) benefit productions of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”. Last year, I spread my wings a little and co-directed the first HIV Monologues for CDO. “Lima” was staged in December last year at the IFI (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) Diocesan Cathedral along Pabayo and Pacana streets. The play featured monologues based on interviews with Kagay-anons caught in the HIV and AIDS confusion.
This year, I will embark on another journey; a more challenging one. A month from now (hopefully), I will be staging my mom Ma. Soledad “Chic” Nery-Fortich’s Palanca-winning full-length play “Reyna Elena”. It will be the first time since 2005 that I am directing (and staging) a straight play. The last one that I did was back when I was still a teacher at Philippine Southfield School, where we staged our interpretation of Artistophanes’ “Lysistrata”.
“Reyna Elena” won 2nd place in the 1983 Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. I was in 3rd year high school at that time. I can still recall mommy’s excitement when she learned about her win. She went to Manila for the awarding ceremonies and although I wanted to join her, I couldn’t because the school year has just started.
Anyway, “Reyna Elena” was a project for a playwriting workshop that my mom attended. It was facilitated by director and writer Nestor U. Torre. I remember mommy telling me that tito Nestor encouraged her to finish the script. And so, against all odds, she did.
Ma. Soledad Reyes Nery-Fortich was the youngest of six. Her father, Vicente Nery (Papa Titing) was a musician. He died at a young age, so I did not get to meet him. Mommy got her musical genes from Papa Titing.
My matriarchal grandmother, Soledad Reyes Nery or Mama Chata, was well-loved by everyone. She told a lot of stories and taught us how to recite “Mi Ultimo Adios” and pray the Our Father in Spanish. Mommy got her never-say-die attitude from Mama Chata.
My mom suffered from two eye diseases: Retinitis Pigmentosa and Optic Atrophy. RP is a genetic disease, which caused mommy to slowly lose her eyesight. When she died in 2006, ny mom was already 98% blind.
But this didn’t stop her from doing what she wanted.
After resigning from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) under the Disability Act, mommy opened a boutique – two shops, actually – Chic Chat and Chic Chat Jr. It was also around this time that she wrote “Reyna Elena” and joined the Jaycees.
We moved to Metro Manila in 1986 and there, she restarted her writing career. She did crossword puzzles for ISYU Opinion Paper and was later on given a column. Eventually, she began writing for the Lifestyle section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She interviewed local personalities for her articles and I accompanied her most of the time.
Later on, she was given a column at PDI. Outtasight! featured every day stories about her experiences as a blind person. She was able to create a solid following with the articles she wrote.
My mom also wrote Tagalog and English novels. She wrote under different pseudonyms; the only one I can remember is Sol Reyes.
Even when she was already 95% blind, mommy successfully produced (and acted in) a musical play at the Dalubdulaan of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. “Ay Kasing Kasing Ko” featured songs composed by Papa Titing, as well as original compositions by mommy. It was staged here at the XU Little Theater sometime in the summer of 1989.
Here are some of mommy’s other achievements:
-2nd Place, Palanca Awards for Literature, 1983, Reyna Elena, Full-length Play
-Co-organized the Bai Lawanen Play Festival (Interschool) in 1983
-Writer, lyricist, and director of the original Binisaya musical “Ay Kasing Kasing Ko”, staged at the Manila Metropolitan Theater Dalubdulaan in 1987; also staged at the XU Little Theater in 1989
-Wrote several episodes for Loren Legarda’s PEP Talk and The Inside Story on ABS-CBN
-Officer of the Philippine Blind Union and represented the Philippines in several World Blind Union conferences; also conducted seminars and trainings for PBU
-Writer for the Philippine Daily Inquirer Lifestyle section, where she featured personalities and celebrities like Martin Nievera, Regine Velasquez, Basil Valdez, Pops Fernandez, and many others
-Columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer; column title: Outtasight, where she shared stories (funny ones!) about her experiences as a blind person
-Columnist for Isyu opinion paper
-Short story writer for Mr. & Ms. Magazine
-Writer for San Miguel Corporation’s Centennial Year Celebration show
-writer and director for “Salangsang”, which was staged at SM City CDO in the early 2000s
-co-writer for “Labaw sa Bulawan: A Musical Tribute to Visayan Songs and Songwriters”, a musical variety show staged at the City Tourism Hall and Grand Caprice back in the early 1990s; it was directed by Nestor U. Torre
-wrote for Sun Star CDO
-Escape! Charito Planas: Her Story
-A Cagayan de Oro Ethnohistory Reader: Prehistory to 1950 by Antonio J. Montalvan II (as EDITOR)
-one of the featured authors of a book about menstruation (I cannot recall the title as I can’t find my copy of the book)
-Various Tagalog novels (under different publishing companies), some titles:
* Ano Ang Kulay ng Pag-Ibig, 1993
* Lukso ng Puso, 1993
* Ang Nagagawa ng Pag-Ibig, 1994
* Ang Himala ni Dickey, 1993
* Babaguhin ko ang Kapalaran, 1993
* Sa Susunod na Pagkakataon…Aaminin ko Na!, 1992
* Turuan Mo Akong Umibig, 1992
* Ano Ang Kulay ng Pag-Ibig?, 1993
* Kahit ang Kamatayan: Isang Kwento ng Walang Kamatayang Pag-Ibig, 1992
* Ang Nagagawa ng Pag-Ibig, 1994
-Various articles for the Philippine Daily Inquirer
-Various short stories for Mr. & Ms. Magazine
-Various articles for Sun Star CDO
I consider mommy as my mentor in writing and theater arts. She was the one who encouraged me to do what I want. She was also my biggest critic. She knew my strongest and weakest points.
But the reason why I admired/admire my mom is because she didn’t let her disability stop her from fulfilling her goals. She kept writing even when she couldn’t see the typewriter or the keyboard anymore. She always found a way to make things work. She was quite aggressive, but this only helped her do her tasks better.
The staging of “Reyna Elena” is my tribute to mommy. It is my way of thanking her for everything she taught my sister and I. It is the best way to acknowledge the person that she was; not only to me, my sister, my husband, my niece, and my dad; but to the many others who she helped in one way or another as well.
The story of “Reyna Elena” is something that anyone can relate with. It may have been written in the early 80s, but the themes it tackles are still very much in the spotlight nowadays. Allow me to give you a brief description of the story.
Elenita is a 30-something single mom who works as a manager’s assistant in a small company. Her best friend Karen is the executive secretary. The two of them are the only ones who know about Elenita’s relationship with their married boss, Teodoro. As the story progresses, Elenita’s delicate condition is revealed and this is where the problems begin.
At some point in the story, Elenita goes away to weigh things and recover from a traumatic incident. When she goes back to the office, she becomes a totally new person. That’s when she transforms into Elena and starts a new chapter in her life.
More than extramarital affairs and single parenthood, “Reyna Elena” talks about the importance of relationships. Relationships with the family, with friends, with colleagues, and with members of the community. It also tackles decades old issues like graft and corruption.
It is also the story of a woman struggling to survive against all the challenges she faces.
After mommy won the Palanca, she devoted more time to writing and theater arts. She was then a member of the Bai Lawanen Jaycees and one of the projects she did was the interschool playfestival.
I remember the playfestival because it formally introduced me to theater arts. I was in 3rd year high school when it was established. Our school, Liceo de Cagayan, was one of the participants in the playfest. We competed against other high schools in CDO in all the categories of the event. Our lead actress, Happy Ballesteros-Raagas was named best actress.
The following year, we joined the playfest again and staged a Binisaya adaptation of “New Yorker in Tondo”. It was a fun, fun, fun experience that I will never forget!
I was in 1st year college at Xavier University when the last playfestival was held. Our organization, Xavier Theater Association, staged an original play. We won several awards including best actress (Deborah Jones Roa-Uy).
This playfestival is one of the reasons why I am staging “Reyna Elena”. I am hoping that it will inspire local theater groups to stage more original plays. I believe that CDO is overflowing with talents; in fact, I know some of them. All that we need is someone or something to start the ball rolling. My hope is that “Reyna Elena” will be able to do that.
Where We Are Right Now
We have just started rehearsals for “Reyna Elena”. We’re not even 50% into the script yet, but we know we can do it. I, we, have great faith in the material. Even when we do not have a venue yet; even when we still need to look for sponsors, I am pushing through with this. I know mommy will want me to. I know she’s rooting for me and the team. Because that’s just the kind of person she is; always believing in the people she loves.
Thank you for everything, mommy. I hope I’ll do justice to “Reyna Elena”. This one is for you. I love you!