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Ventriloquy isn’t only for kids

Nick Lizaso, Kulas and Ony Carcamo

When I was in my elementary grades in Lopez town in Quezon Province, I enjoyed watching and listening to Kiko, a puppet who talked and reacted to a conversation with the person beside him on shoulder-level. Kiko was just a small, male doll-like creation usually held inside his shirt by the person’s (the puppeteer) hand.


            Kiko was a marketing tool of a commercial product being promoted and peddled especially in the countryside. If my memory serves me right, Kiko was part of the grassroots advertising and selling of a brand of cooking oil.


            I would always wait for Kiko who went to the town plaza anytime of the year to stage his and his puppeteer’s show. I would wonder how an image like him (a small wooden figure cut or carve out from a human form often dressed in the tiniest shirt and pants with eyes widely and steadily open) could talk like a human person. Of course, as a kid, I would submit to the illusion of the show created by Kiko and his puppeteer although even as a child I already knew what was real from the unreal on that particular tableau.

(Seated, Xian Lim, Nick Lizaso, Kulas and Ony Carcamo) Standing are the MALA "Ibong Adarna" creative team

In the adprom show, the duo would banter with each other like the puppeteer asking Kiko how he was enjoying the stay in the locality. Kiko would answer questions or simply state his feelings and thoughts from the motivation of the one who pulled his strings although I would just presume it was the way things were done, the only thing was I didn’t know how the cookie crumbled.


Of course, the end-goal of the puppet show was to sell the product Kiko endorsed. He was indeed an added attraction or simply, the main star of the business.


I would later discover that what Kiko and his puppeteer had done was called ventriloquy or ventriloquism. C’mon, look it up in the dictionary and you’ll the two words mean exactly the same.


Because during shows of Kiko in Lopez were free, they were full-packed, young and old, ladies and gentlemen, all people from all walks of life which make ventriloquy not only for children.


I would also learn that Kiko as the puppet was a generic name. “Kiko ang pangalan ng puppet no’n kasi, galing siya sa pangalan ni Botong Francisco (Kiko was the name of the puppet because it came from the name of Botong Francisco),” informed Ony Carcamo in our online talk recently.


Francisco, a visual artist and a National Artist for Visual Arts, was a celebrated painter and artisan even during the American occupation of the Philippines. In Filipino name calling, Francisco is nicknamed Kiko.


Botong had a best friend, Manuel Conde, a popular filmmaker, particularly in LVN Pictures in the pre and post-war periods. Manuel is now a National Artist for Film.


According to Ony, Conde was a ventriloquist in his time. “Kaya Kiko ang pangalan ng kanyang puppet na galing kay Botong Francisco at in-adapt naman ng iba pang ventriloquist pagkalipas ng maraming taon (That’s why Kiko was the name of his puppet alluded from Botong Francisco and was adapted by other ventriloquist after many years),” recalled Carcamo, a Palanca Memorial Award for Literature winner.


Aside from educating himself on Conde and his ventriloquism, Ony learned and shared a lot of knowledge on the arts from Jun Urbano, the actor son of Conde. “Marami akong natuklasan kay Jun at sa kanyang tatay (I discovered a lot from Jun and his dad),” said Carcamo.  


The conversation was a lead to the announcement of the showing of MALA “Ibong Adarna” which Ony was essentially part of. MALA as an acronym means Movies Adapted from Literary Arts. It was meant to be part of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) project, “Sining Sigla,” an online show which was conceptualized by CCP President Arsenio J. Lizaso, also known as Nick Lizaso, theater, film and television actor, director writer and producer.

Ony Carcamo and the image of Ibong Adarna

“Sining Sigla” started in September to give the audience a taste of Filipino heritage in literature and other art forms. “I want that even if it is COVID-19 pandemic, the Filipino people will have time to watch Filipino classics to sustain my advocacy of bringing the Filipino culture and tradition to the ordinary people.


“In these times we are not encouraged to go out and gather in mass as what the shows in CCP before the pandemic were doing. So in order that we don’t lose touch of our culture and tradition, ‘Sining Sigla’ was born to stream Filipino art forms online,” said Nick.


Ony was assigned by Lizaso to still explore the world of ventriloquy to be translated into film. From the medium, it would later be shown on social media such as the CCP President and CCP Facebook pages. Nick has been a follower and admirer of Carcamo’s art that he always invited him to perform his puppetry in art gatherings in many parts of the country the latest of which was when Lizaso was installed as the Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).


Carcamo has been doing ventriloquy for the longest time after he quit advertising and newspapering in the 1990s.


As an expert, Ony was tasked to conceptualize and to put together a puppet show online. “Alam ko na intresado si Xian Lim sa ventriloquy dahil gumagawa na siya nito noon pa (I knew Xian Lim was into vetriloquy because he has been doing this years ago),” recounted Carcamo.


In no time at all, he got Xian to direct his script of MALA “Ibong Adarna” which premiered last October 30, 200. It was an interesting story altogether for Lim. Ony was also the main actor of the film with his puppet Kulas.             


“Masaya ako at dahil sa ‘MALA Ibong Adarna’ ay napag-uusapan ngayon ang Pinoy puppetry. May ilang nagtanong, live voice daw ba 'yung ginamit sa pelikula during the shoot (I am happy because in ‘MALA Ibong Adarna Filipino puppetry is being talked about now. There were some questions, though, like did we use live voice during the shoot of the film?)


Sagot...Lahat ng boses ng mga papet ay recorded po, EXCEPT sa mga eksena namin ni Kulas. Dahil nais naming itampok ang sining ng ventriloquism sa pelikula, live at real time ang boses ko at ni Kulas. Walang voice overdub (kumbaga, walang daya hehe). Kahit 'yung eksenang magkahiwalay kami ni Kulas, ako pa rin ang nagboboses kay Kulas in real time habang si Ruther Urquia (na nakatago sa ilalim) ang nagma-manipulate sa kanya (Answer...All the voices of the puppets were recorded except my scenes with Kulas but because we wanted to present the art of ventriloquism in film, mine and Kulas’ voices were live and real time. There was no voice overdub (like no tricks). Even the scene where Kulas and I were separated, I was still the one voicing Kulas in real time while Ruther Urquia (who was hidden underneath) manipulated him),” described Ony.

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