THE DAME of Philippine stage took her final bow from the theater of life as National Artist Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana passed away last May 12 due to a lingering illness. She was 96.

Born on January 26, 1917 in the town of Roxas, Capiz, Avellana grew up in a family of theater enthusiasts. She took up a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy at the University of the Philippines and eventually a master’s degree in Literature at UST, where she became the first graduate of the program.

Known to be the “First Lady of Philippine theater, Hontiveros-Avellana was a prominent stage and film director, author, actor and screenwriter. She was a master of the performing arts, whether on stage or on screen.

Avellana has been a luminary in Philippine theater, exuding brilliance to her craft and setting the bar of excellence in the dramatic arts.

She gained much acclaim for her role as Candida Marasigan in Nick Joaquin’s Portrait of An Artist as Filipino. Joaquin’s most important dramatic work, the play portrays Old Manila in its twilight. It centers on the struggles of the Marasigan family, namely the sisters Candida and Paula, and their painter-father, Don Lorenzo. Despite the need to make ends meet, Don Lorenzo refuses to sell his self-portrait which sets the movement of the story and begins the conflicts in the family.

The play first premiered in 1955 at the Aurora Gardens in Intramuros. In 1965, Avellana’s husband, Lamberto Avellana, the stage and film director who was also to become national artist, directed the black-and-white film adaptation of the play, with Avellana reprising her role as Candida and fellow alumna Naty Crame-Rogers as Paula. Avellana also provided the screenplay for the film.

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Avellana would also be remembered for her portrayal of several iconic female roles such as Medea, Lady Macbeth, Joan of Arc and Hecuba. Her memorable performances were seen in “Othello, “Casa de Bernarda Alba and in another Nick Joaquin play, “Tatarin, where she played the role of Lupe.

Aside from performing on stage, Avellana also tried her hand on writing screenplays and directing. She wrote the screenplay for her husband’s 1939 film “Sakay and directed “Diego Silang and “Walang Sugat for the stage.

In 1939, Avellana founded the Barangay Theater Guild together with Lamberto and 48 other friends. The guild promoted and popularized drama and theater in the country through the use of radio and television.

The University recognized Avellana’s achievements when she was given the Graduate School’s Permanent Roll of Honor for Outstanding Work in the Arts in 1989. She was also conferred Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa, in 1999.

On the same year, she was declared a National Artist in the field of theater and film.

Avellana published her autobiography, “The Drama of It: A Life on Film and Theater, in 2009, where she recounted her experiences as a theater performer.

The following year, the Varsitarian awarded Avellana the Parangal Hagbong, which honors the lifetime achievement of Thomasian writers, during the 26th Gawad Ustetika, the Varsitarian’s annual literary derby.


The Cultural Center of the Philippines held a necrological service for Avellana last May 17 at the Main Theater. A state funeral was also held in her honor.

A master in perpetual bloom

Family, close friends and former co-workers shared their fond memories of the “First Lady.”

Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature, said Avellana was a pioneer and helped establish “Philippine theater at a time when there was hardly any Philippine theater.”

Meanwhile, Bart Guingona, one of the performers in the very last production of the Barangay Theater Guild in 2008 titled “The Veil,” remembered Avellana as “decisive and firm but never lost her sense of humor and equanimity.”

“The most invaluable legacy that Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana may yet be credited for is the marriage of civility, humor, erudition and discipline in a craft that is all too often practiced thoughtlessly today,” he wrote in an article. John Joseph G. Basijan and Romina Louise C. Cunanan


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