Dennis Marasigan – The artistic director’s path to success

No one was surprised when Dennis Marasigan, a big name in Philippine cultural administration, theater, and movies was named Vice President and Artistic Director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines last November 2022.
Through the years, from his student days at the University of the Philippines to his early professional life, he had always proven himself capable in the performing arts.
His fascination for the arts began when he was a child.  In an interview with the Daily Tribune Dennis related, “My parents were public school teachers who later became principals and supervisors and, as a dancing pair, they taught folk dance to their pupils who were performing in mass demonstrations and school convocations. Actually, my parents studied under Cielo Paz Belmonte, the dance exponent of the era. 

“And so, when my siblings and I were growing up and were enrolled in the public school, we learned several folk dances. We even had a family folk dance group composed of my parents, my sister, my brother, and myself. This went on up to my high school years. My parents always took pride in presenting us. Ours was a very artistic family because our parents encouraged us to pursue the arts. My sister and I learned how to play the piano and other musical instruments. We also joined the choir.”

In high school, too, he and his sister joined the dramatic guild run by the Redemptorists. “So, we were producing radio shows and radio dramas. And then we also produced and directed in school,” he shared.

At the same time, he was good in Math and Science and became president of the Science Club.

But when he applied for admission to the University of the Philippines, “which was the only school suggested by my parents not only because it was prestigious, but also affordable, I chose Mass Communication and, following my father’s advice, I ticked off communication research even if I would have much-preferred broadcast communication as my major.”
On the third day of classes, Dennis read a poster announcing an audition for the cast of Ang Pabilog na Guhit ng Tisa, a translation of the Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertol Brecht. He was only 14 then. “I passed and became part of the cast. Tony Mabesa first cast me as governor, and since in Brecht, you do multiple roles, I was given five roles.” It was 1977, the second year of Dulaang UP.

“In time, because I was quite curious about production work, I was appointed as the assistant props master, under Chito Rono. Then, in that first production, I also became fascinated with lights. And since the lighting designer and technical director were in their senior year already, they immediately gave me pliers to start tinkering with the lighting board.”
He turned out to be a good actor and became known as the “Boy Wonder” because I could memorize entire scripts including the lines of the other actors. So, I ended up reciting them when the actors forgot them, and soon, I was playing their parts when they were absent.”  

Tony Mabesa was amazed, although peeved because the stage manager should be reciting the missing lines.
Eventually, he joined productions at the Metropolitan Theater, “where I was assistant manager. I sang and did blocking with Rene Requiestas who was a very good scene partner. So, I was reputed as someone who could take the other parts. They kidded about not wanting to be absent, lest I would end up taking their place.”

Looking back on those years, Dennis said, “I was very eager to learn everything. And I was being trained in lighting. At the same time, kapag atribido ka, they bring you everywhere. And so, I learned how to light. Before the year was over, I was working as a lighting designer already. I worked as a stage manager. By the second year, I got kicked out of UP because I was too busy and not attending my classes.”

Even if no longer officially a UP student, he continued to work in the campus productions. A different kind of break came when the assistant of Director Des Bautista, Danny Evangelista, was looking for an art director. Dennis, having worked earlier with Director Ishmael Bernal in Menor de Edad, qualified for the post and went on to his next gig, this time with Joey Gosengfiao.    

Soon, Dennis became Assistant Director, assigned by no less than Mother Lily, the Regal producer, who later also hired him as her field cashier. “I held the money in the set during shoots,” he explained.

By age 18, he had done two films as a production manager, including “Bata pa si Sabel”.

He then returned to UP and was given “my last chance because by then, I had a 12-page resume outlining all the productions I was involved in.” In two years, he graduated with a degree in Theater Arts. For his thesis, “I directed and did the lighting for Seagull.”

His initial years in theater were fulfilling and fruitful. Dennis even then knew it was in this field he would make a name for himself. But first, he had to persist and build on his initial successes.

A bright future beckoned for the boy from Lipa.