#FEATURE | Centerstage
by Arianna Lajo
It’s the fourth quarter, and you’re walking up the stairs of the SHB to get to the third floor auditorium. You notice students, teachers and even parents crowding to get into the auditorium. Miraculously, you make it inside and find one available seat despite how crowded it was at the entrance.
After Ma’am Melody Hernandez says her opening remarks, the lights around the audience fade into complete darkness. The noisy chatter of the audience slowly fades too until nothing can be heard. With that, music starts playing, and the stage lights turn on revealing indeed the ninth graders that will shine today.
This is that time of the school year when musicals are to be performed by the ninth graders of Philippine Science High School Main Campus (Pisay) for their culminating music project. These musicals seem to be happening for a while in Pisay that it feels like tradition. The truth is it didn’t start that long ago. Just like the musicals on Broadway, this class project can be traced from where it all began to where it has gone since then.
“It’s the start of something new”
“So, that happened in school year 2014 [to] 2015,” explained Ma’am Melody Hernandez, Music teacher for Grades 9 and 10.
The first performers of the Grade 9 musicals were from Batch 2018, the 9th graders during the first year Pisay followed the K-12 curriculum. Music was added to the curriculum of Grades 9 and 10 when K-12 was implemented. Initially, back when the curriculum was not following K-12, Music was not a subject for 3rd and 4th year, or now known as Grades 9 and 10.
“For the 4th quarter… the last is twentieth century music. Part of it is musical theatre. Maraming mga Broadway. Doon ako nag-focus talaga, Broadway Musical theatre,” said Ma’am Hernandez.
The curriculum of Music for Grade 9 revolves around Western Music and the different periods of Western Music. The subject starts out with the medieval period, the renaissance period, the classical period, and the romantic period. Once the students reach the fourth quarter, twentieth century music is discussed, with the highlight of this being Broadway musicals. Ma’am Hernandez, who returned to teaching Music in school year 2014–2015, was the one who proposed the idea to make musicals a class project.
“It was just a thought. Sabi ko, noong fourth quarter na, ‘why don’t we make [musicals] a class project?’ Dito sa Pisay, there were plays by the English classes. There was a teacher here who retired already, and she always had theatre plays in her curriculum. Noong umalis na siya, in her subject, nawala na. So, when I thought of that, sabi ko, ‘why not revive it here back in Pisay?’… I thought of it as a culminating activity of the school year,” Ma’am Hernandez continued.
According to Ma’am Hernandez, the Grade 9 musicals were made regular because the students liked it. She encountered the Grade 10 students at the time saying that they would have wanted to do that project too. Even Alumni, who got to watch the Grade 9 students perform at that time, shared the same thoughts. The reactions of the students kept the musicals alive and moving forward in Pisay, which made a great “start of something new.”
“I have been changed for good”
Ever since the Grade 9 musicals started in Pisay, there has always been a competition between the sections. The musicals of each batch would be ranked from first to last in terms of which performance was the best, and the top three would be awarded.
“Hindi siya intended as a competition,” said Ma’am Hernandez when talking about the Grade 9 musicals as competitions.
The Grade 9 musicals was made as a graded activity, so there will ultimately be a ranking between the sections. It was decided to make this activity a competition and to announce the top of the rankings, not just to encourage the students to do their best, but also to make it more exciting for both the students themselves and the Pisay community.
“Making it a competition just added to its excitement, giving it more color and enthusiasm on the part of the students,” explained Ma’am Hernandez.
Being a competition has been going on from the beginning for the Grade 9 musicals, but some guidelines have changed due to challenges encountered throughout the years. One of these is the practice time that students spend for their musical. Certain issues regarding this led to the addition of new guidelines regarding practicing outside Pisay, and practicing after school hours.
“You devote time for that to have a quality presentation or performance. Juggling between the academics and the practice time, we could say that it’s not a problem. It’s a challenge,” said Ma’am Hernandez.
Balancing time was a challenge in general. Spending time on practice involved balancing academics with the musical. Even the process of making the musical from the beginning involved balancing since different roles had to be distributed between the class. Each person must be put in the right role in order to contribute to the musical.
“Writing the script, choosing the right [people] for the role. It’s a challenge. Siyempre, that’s why we balance it, those who are not really inclined into singing or performing are the ones who do the lights and the props. We need all these kinds of people to come up with a good production,” continued Ma’am Hernandez.
The amount of money spent on the musicals proved to be one of the major challenges encountered throughout the years. The guidelines advised the control of the amount of money spent. It was even encouraged to use recycled materials for the props., although the students usually would end up spending more than they intended to.
“It’s understandable naman… Of course, these are big productions. You could see, in the real world, mahirap mag-put up ng isang musical play,” said Ma’am Hernandez regarding those that spent more money for the musicals.
Recently, a new issue arose for the Grade 9 musicals. A section had a copyright issue for its musical mainly because the video of their performance being posted online. The video had to be taken down from the internet due to this issue.
“We learn from these experiences,” said Ma’am Hernandez after mentioning that issue.
Another challenge faced by the Grade 9 musicals is the time limit. According to Ma’am Hernandez, she initially declared 25 minutes as the time limit, but many students wanted it to be longer. In school year 2017–2018, there was a minimum of 25 minutes and a maximum of 45 minutes for the time limit. As the time passes, the guidelines change and develop in order for the process and experience better for the students.
“Every year, because of these experiences, you get to set some additional rules to govern the guidelines… So, you set new rules for the students to follow,” explained Ma’am Hernandez.
The obstacles that the Grade 9 musicals encountered are what make them change for the better every year. With each year, something new is learned, and is applied to the following year.
It can truly be seen that the musicals, through the years, “have been changed for good.”
“Look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
“As a science high school, being a school that develops the holistic development of the student, we also have our share of doing that to you kasi kahit naman na STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) kayo… we believe that, being a citizen of the global community, we should give opportunities [for] students to discover another part of [themselves]. I could see that Pisay students are [also very] talented and very gifted,” said Ma’am Hernandez.
Pisay students will probably pursue a STEM career, but this does not mean that the Grade 9 musicals are not important to them. Musicals allow the students to showcase their different talents, to know more about themselves, and to even become better people. As part of a science high school, Pisay students need to be exposed to the arts and humanities, where they can develop character.
“Musicals, or theater in general, are a very humanistic and artistic project that can teach values, morals, and direction. A scientist with no values is useless, or worse, dangerous,” explained Sarah Yu, director of Batch 2018 Potassium’s “Rent” which won first place.
Musicals also enable the students to express themselves. They also provide an escape from all the stress of academics. Despite how stressful practicing for musicals can get, they’re still an escape from all that is happening. Additionally, this project challenges one to balance academics with other things, such as the arts.
“At least, meron kayong avenues for expressing yourselves… Enhancing your musical sensibilities [because], as part of a global community [that nurtures students], may balance kayo sa academics ninyo… I think it’s very important to balance, to keep you leveled,” said Ma’am Hernandez.
All students get a chance to express themselves since everyone has to contribute to this project. As a result, it affects each and every student within the class. Even students who were not previously exposed to musicals gained an appreciation for them.
“Anyone, after contributing to a class musical, will appreciate how challenging a musical production can be… Every role in a production is important. A musical will not be complete if even one of these roles were taken away,” said Tocz Laurenio, the director of Batch 2021 Beryllium’s “Hamilton” which won first place.
As one of the major class projects of the school year, everyone gets to appreciate the musicals since the experience becomes one of their most memorable moments in Pisay. There are students who enjoyed the project so much that they want to pursue theatre by joining Sightlines & Kamalayan, the English & Filipino theatre clubs of Pisay.
“For many people, the class musical is an introduction to the wonder that is musical theatre. When they realize that they enjoy acting and singing, or even writing a script or making props, Sightlines is a place they can easily turn to so they can continue doing those things,” explained Nikki Datlangin, the current President of Sightlines.
Musicals are important for Sightlines, but it also goes the other way around. Sightlines has played a role in developing the musicals through the years. Several workshops have been hosted by Sightlines to guide the Grade 9 students, especially directors, with their musicals.
“Exposure to Sightlines’ workshops and performances can really get people out of their shells, and in turn encourage them to step up their game when it comes to the class musical,” said Nikki Datlangin. “Sightlines has just recently started inviting theatre professionals to hold workshops for club members. We intend to re-continue the workshops for class musical heads next year [and] we will ensure that the things we learned from the said professionals will be forwarded [to] the next batches.”
Given how Sightlines has recently helped those who went through the Grade 9 musicals, the value of these musicals in the school itself becomes more prominent. Those who are Grade 9 students in Pisay at this era, where musicals are in the curriculum, should be grateful since the musicals provide an opportunity to build one’s character, to strengthen class unity, and to escape from regular academics.
This does show “how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
“One day more”
According to Ma’am Hernandez, she has considered not to entirely remove the musicals as a requirement, but make it smaller scale, such as choosing one song from a Musical to perform. Because of the students’ insistence and excitement, she continues to retain the 25 to 45 minute Musical performances. With this, the future of the musicals staying in the curriculum seems secure.
“Despite the academic load, the students look forward to [the musicals]. As a teacher, paano ko naman tatanggalin yun sa mga bata? It’s my duty also to let them experience this… My role is to set the opportunities, the stage for students who would like to in a way discover themselves, even as you are going through sciences, mathematics, and technology,” said Ma’am Hernandez.
The future of the musicals in Pisay depends on the students. As long as the students continue to desire working on and performing this project, then the musicals will also continue to live on. More students will get opportunities to see things that were not there before.
There are a lot of hopes for the future of the musicals in Pisay. Some hope for more diverse musicals to be performed. Others hope that the Third Floor Auditorium will be improved to become more suitable for performances.
These hopes for the future are not entirely guaranteed to happen, but change will definitely happen throughout the following years. Based on the history of Grade 9 musicals, the rules are bound to change, but the intentions of the students will always stay the same.
“One day, when we look back at Pisay, the stories we’ll tell won’t really be all about our failed tests or the hell weeks we experienced. They’ll be about experiences like [the musicals] that brought [the class together]. Projects like these remind us that there’s more to life than just [requirements] and studying. These also help us grow holistically and they bring out the creative side in everyone,” explained Florence Agcaoili, the director of Batch 2020’s “The Lion King” which won first place.
To the students, the Musical for each class is more than just a requirement, it becomes a memory or a highlight of their life in Pisay. They will continue to shine light on the stage so that the musicals will not get swallowed up by the darkness.
The students will make sure that the Grade 9 musicals may live on for even at least “one day more.”
Advice for the present and future Grade 9 Students
As of now, four batches (2018 to 2021) have experienced working on the Grade 9 musicals. Some students from these batches gave advice for those that will be going through this experience. One of the most frequent advice relates to working with the class as a whole.
“Everyone in the class has to have the same goal in mind and what matters most is that everyone has a positive and memorable experience,” stated Florence Agcaoili.
“A class musical or production is a fantastic way to practice collaboration and participation. It should be the effort of the entire class, not just a few people, who will bring the production to fruition,” said Sarah Yu.
“For future directors… Remember to take a break once in a while. You will probably, at one point, be so lost in planning, practicing and panicking about schedules that you will find yourself… pushing your classmates beyond their breaking point. Remember that the class’s well-being is more important than any project that is thrown at you,” said Tocz Laurenio.
Involving the whole class in one major project can get challenging because of the many voices speaking at the same time. This can often lead to problems, but that is part of the experience. The class has to be able to solve and get past these problems in order to become better. In a class of at most 30 students, communication with one another is important. It is also important for the class to enjoy the experience itself despite all the obstacles.
“Communication is key. Voice out your ideas but listen to others as well. Be very open to constructive criticism. Be patient with your classmates. Spread good vibes because things can get stressing but you don’t have to be stuck in that negative state… Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!” said Annika Gozum, vice president of Sightlines.
The process of working with the musicals is challenging, especially in the planning stage. Although it gets physically harder as the class goes on further, conceptualizing and planning are the most difficult things to do since everything that comes after, including the performance itself, depends on that. Additionally, when the class starts to feel lost while working on this project, teachers and upper year students may be of help.
“Start early with small steps like cutting down the script of the musical you’re adapting. Then let the process take you where it will, and enjoy it… When in doubt, Sightlines and your upper year friends will be more than willing to help out, or at the very least, offer advice,” said Nikki Datlangin.
Planning involves making goals, which help the class know their progress so far. Sometimes the students may get excited for the musical since it’s one of the biggest class projects to be done in Pisay. This excitement must be controlled in order to properly work on the project.
“Don’t be too excited. Focus muna on the goal, what you need to accomplish, so that mas achievable yung play or story line na gusto [ninyong] i-portray sa audience,” explained Ma’am Hernandez.
The Musical chosen must be one that the class will enjoy together. It must also be able to strengthen the unity of the class. The outcome of the performance depends on the skill of the students, but, the reaction of the students to the outcome ultimately depends on whether or not the students had fun.
“Make sure that most or some aspects of the musical [the students] choose is embodied by [their] class… If they find the musical to be enjoyable then the period of preparing for the performance will be relatively easier. This makes it more possible to produce an output that all the members of the class are satisfied with,” said Sab Libay, the director of Batch 2021 Magnesium’s “Beauty and the Beast” which won third place.
Ma’am Hernandez adds, “Importante yung masaya ka rin sa output mo na hindi laging grades [ang] katapat mo. As one section, you are united in coming up with a common goal of producing a musical that will make you all happy and contented or fulfilled… You became a part of that beautiful endeavor. Even in this life, what is important is what you also do for others… what you can also share, sharing of yourself, sharing of your talent to your friends and classmates.”
DISCLAIMER: This article was written last S.Y. (S.Y. 2018–2019).