Those were the days of Ted’s intense involvement in the theater. He loved the theater…at Fort Santiago where so much history had taken place, with its thick old walls and dungeons underground…for the opportunities and the people it brought him, the creative energy, being part of something that was bigger than he was. He loved, as always, the challenge. There was the problem, first of all, of keeping track of everything. With so much going on, they used up a tremendous amount of material and the more material they used the more they had to create. And one day he realized that because of it all he was growing artistically, growth that he could see even if no one else could.
The plays there grew out of the Filipino experience. He knew very little about what they were about. But there were Philippine writers and there were Philippine directors. They drew on their experiences and their history to create those plays, from simple love stories to gory depictions of war with real cannon fire and actors falling off walls. Sonja had said that she needed him, and he knew without being told that she was using him to reinforce her status as director of the theater. He was “the visiting artist,” and not everyone could attract “a visiting artist.” He knew that people around the theater showed him great respect because “he had been brought over as a ‘visiting artist’.” So it all worked out for everyone. He began to learn what he could and what he couldn’t do. It pleased him to be in that position.
He used to worry how his connection with Nick could possibly derail his position with the theater at Fort Santiago. The two worlds did seem to collide. Nick taught speech, some of his former students worked in the theater, and they acted in plays at Fort Santiago. Only the plays at Fort Santiago didn’t call for rebellion like Nick did. The struggle between the all-powerful landowners and their poor tenant farmers was often portrayed, the poor tenant farmers always portrayed with dignity. But the landowners weren’t the primary villains. These different classes lived, really, on stage. The tenant farmers had no choice other than revolt. Ted used to try to put himself in all of their shoes, be more Filipino than they were, and if it hadn’t been for him the theater at Fort Santiago would’ve shied away from revolt in Central Luzon and elsewhere. There was Emelda Marcos’ patronage to consider. It meant the theater had to be cautious, but it was hard to reign in so many writers and directors. It was particularly hard to be cautious and relevant at the same time. Unfortunately to portray the rebellion was to live the rebellion, and there were many different ways of portraying it. But, however, however the movement/rebellion was depicted, it was bound to upset a large segment of the population, whether it was the elite or the peasantry.
One day when he was driving around with Alfred looking for a cache of good rifles for a play, he began talking about rabbit hunting in Texas. Back home in Texas they would drive around in an old jeep; and they would take off across a pasture and would go almost anywhere in it with their shotguns ready. The point Ted wanted to drive home was that almost everybody in his family owned guns and knew how to shoot. He was expecting to hear Alfred say something against guns, his take on violence in America, and expected to catch it from him. Ted had seen more firearms in Wild Wild Manila than he had ever, outside of hunting, seen at home. He actually believed the world would be better off without firearms, but he wasn’t about to say so. But no criticism came from Alfred. Ted considered himself lucky. They tried Alfred’s movie friends; Alfred’s movie friends suggested the Army; they went back to plan A. They would have to convince Sonja to use mock rifles. Alfred said, “We can’t do anything else.” When Ted asked why, he said, “We don’t want a massacre. This is Manila.” Okay, so Alfred had a better grasp of his city than he did; his willingness to give in came down to that. Still Ted felt vindicated, but he would’ve been willing to continue the search if they couldn’t convince Sonja. When audiences saw the play, fake rifles worked remarkably well and actually put people at ease. So by trial and error, they learned. Not only about props, but also about audiences.