Filipina author, educator, and puppeteer. Trained in government schools, Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio graduated from the University of the Philippines in literature with an interest in set design. While in Wisconsin (USA) on a Fulbright grant (MA, Theatre) two of her plays won awards, were produced and later published, followed by forty-five other plays, two-thirds of which were written for children – all for the theatre she founded, Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas. Her research into traditional theatre of the Philippines was supported by the University of the Philippines Office of Research Coordination, Zarzuela Foundation of the Philippines, Inc., and the American Philosophical Society.
Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio (known as Tita Amel) studied Japanese traditional theatre (supported by Office of Asian Pacific Affairs ASPAC), South East Asian traditional theatre (Ford Foundation), and international children’s theatre (Toyota Foundation). Research convinced her of the necessity of a theatre for young audiences using Asian and Filipino folktales and utilizing puppets inspired by Japanese Bunraku and Indonesian wayang (rod puppets and shadow theatre styles). Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas (Aware Theatre of the Philippines) was founded in 1977. It was invited to the International Workshop On Living Children’s Theatre in Asia (1978), where performances in eighteen sites in Japan gained media attention. At the International Puppet Festival in Tashkent, former USSR (1979), Mulat premiered The Trial to acclaim. In 1980, with Tokyo-based Ohanashi Caravan, Mulat toured Metro Manila and provinces, and the group participated in International Workshops On Living Children’s Theatre in the Philippines (1983), Malaysia (1985), Thailand (1987), and Indonesia (1989).
Teatrong Mulat became known for full-length musical plays. Abadeja: Ang Ating Sinderela (Abadeja: Our Own Cinderella, 1977), with music by Professor Felipe de Leon, Jr., was the first Philippine full-length puppet play and a puppet musical. Papet Pasyon (Puppet Passion Play, 1985), with music by Professor Rodolfo de Leon, has been staged annually since 1985, and translates the Filipino tradition of reciting the death and resurrection of Jesus into a puppet version for children. The group presented thirty successful performances in ash-covered sites after the Mt Pinatubo eruptions (1991) when the Department of Psychiatry of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine requested puppets to help ease children’s trauma. Sita & Rama: Papet Ramayana (2004) interpreted the Indian epic Ramayana through shadow and rod puppetry with music by Joey Ayala and Cynthia Alexander and directed by the author’s daughter, Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete.
A house near the University of the Philippines from 1989 served as a 100-seat theatre. With funding from the government, the space was rebuilt into a permanent home and reopened in 2006 as the Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Teatro Papet Museo (Puppet Museum) under a grant from two former presidents (Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph E. Estrada). It is visited by school children, teachers, parents, the general public, and foreign visitors who enjoy the educational and entertaining Mulat shows. Land, Sea and Sky (1991) is a play with environmental concerns which was playing in 2012.
Her daughter, Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete, leads the company in 2012 and her grandchildren continue the tradition with Mulat Theatre. Many professionals in music, dance, and puppetry have worked with the company over the years.
Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio has served as president of UNIMA-Philippines and ASSITEJ-Philippines.
- Bonifacio, Amelia Lapeña. The “Seditious” Tagalog Playwrights: Early American Occupation. Manila: Zarzuela Foundation of the Philippines, Inc., 1972.