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National Artist for Theater Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, 90

Best known for her work with puppets and children’s theater, National Artist for Theater Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio died on Dec. 29. This was announced by Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas, the theater group she had founded, through a Facebook post.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of National Artist Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, University of the Philippines Professor Emeritus and Founding Artistic Director of Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas at 7 a.m. today, Dec. 29, 2020 at the age of 90,” said the post. Lapeña-Bonifacio founded Teatrong Mulat in 1977 as a children’s theater and puppet theater company.

According to her profile on UP Diliman’s website, she was born on April 4, 1930 in Binondo, Manila, and she graduated from UP Diliman in 1953 with a degree in English. She then earned an MA (Speech-Theater Arts) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1958, where, through a Fulbright-Smith Mundt Scholarship, she enrolled in the Beloit College Graduate Summer Theater Scholarship (1957-1958).

She helped establish the Speech and Drama Department in the UP in 1957.

At the time of her death, she was a University Professor Emerita at the Department of English and Comparative Literature of the College of Arts and Letters. “The lifetime title was bestowed by the University of the Philippines for her exceptional achievements and outstanding service upon her retirement in 1995,” said the same profile.

She was named a National Artist for Theater, in 2018.

While Lapeña-Bonifacio is known for her work in theater (the same UP profile hails her as the Grand Dame of Southeast Asian Children’s Theater), she was also a prolific writer, with 10 books, and many short stories (130 of them for children), poems, and essays. This was on top of the 46 plays she had written, 30 of those for children. Among her most notable works, were 6 na Dulang Filipino Para Sa Mga Bata, 1976; Tat-lu-han (Three Plays), 1975; Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa: Isang Noh Sa Laguna, 1998; Isang Kyogen sa Pritil, 1977; Sepang Loca, 1957; and Abadeja: Ang Ating Sinderela, 1977.

One of her best known works is Papet Pasyon, a puppet passion play for children which tackles the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has been staged annually during Holy Week since it was first shown in 1985.

A Facebook post from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts said, “All in all, what she has achieved is an indigenous fusion of puppetry, children’s literature, folklore, and theater.”

Paalam, Gng. Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio! Salamat sa iyong buhay at ambag sa kultura at lipunang Pilipino! Mananatili ka sa aming mga puso! (Goodbye, Mrs. Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio! Thank you for your life and contribution to Philippine culture and society! You will remain in our hearts!),” said Cultural Center of the Philippines Vice-President and Artistic Director Chris Millado in a Facebook post.

She is survived by her daughter, Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete, who has headed Teatrong Mulat since 2012.

Her wake will be held at the Imperial Classic, Ground Floor, Funeraria Paz, Araneta Ave., Quezon City from Dec. 30 to 31. Viewing hours will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. only. — Joseph L. Garcia

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