Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Finding Our Roles

(The following episode was triggered by an SMS message from Ricky Abad which I received last night: Tanghalang Ateneo garnered two 2008 Aliw Awards: best production for “The Death Of Memory” by Glenn Mas, and best director for Ricky Abad [for the same production]. Yay, go TA!)

(photos from the official TA website)

* * * * *

Growing up, I needed to step out from under my older brother’s very long and successful shadow. But he always got the higher grades, and he was the more popular one (he was voted student council president when we were in grade school; teachers and fellow students always referred to me as, “Oh, you’re the brother of!”). Theater became my refuge and differentiating point.

During my time (1985-88), TA was still a struggling theater company. We weren’t that organized at marketing and promoting our plays, and I remember one opening night wherein the cast outnumbered the audience. As performers and stagehands we weren’t professional either. Stage managers didn’t even know how to properly mark their scripts with stage directions. And during TA cast parties we’d regale ourselves with hilarious on-set boo-boos: panels that shouldn’t have been onstage; two monks instead of just one monk; lights switching on at the wrong time, catching the stagehands in the middle of setting-up; a supposed “corpse” that farted during the mourning scene. The joke was that no TA production was gaffe-less. But things improved thanks to my friend and batchmate Alice Mendoza. She insisted that I stage-manage a TA production; when I complained that I had no idea what SM-ing was all about, she forced me to borrow a book on stage management in the library.

The first production I stage managed was Antigone. Ricky Abad played Creon and he got mad at us after a particular performance because he saw us giggling at the light booth during his monologue (we were actually laughing at what someone said in the booth). The late Doreen Fernandez, after watching another performance, actually praised us: “This is the very first TA play I saw that had professional polish.” The next production I stage managed was The Importance Of Being Earnest. Marlon Rivera (now the president and executive creative director of Publicis Manila), who was a batch ahead of us, remarked that this was the first TA performance he ever watched that had zero boo-boos.

I actually preferred to be onstage than backstage and left the SM-ing to more junior members. I was often cast as support or a member of the chorus, aka extra. But while we were in TA a couple of us felt disappointed that the lead roles always went to the better looking ones. This is unfair typecasting! we fumed. It was only when I was in advertising and doing casting calls that I realized the value of appropriate casting, and that it also relies a lot on the looks. Nowadays I wouldn’t even cast myself in a romantic lead role (unless the character’s quite quirky and the producer isn’t interested in earning his money back).

When I finally got a chance during fourth year college to essay a co-lead role, it was for Tony Perez’s dramatic two-character weeper, Gabun. And it was directed by no less than former Rep actor Junix Innocian (who later on would join in the grand exodus that was Miss Saigon). As scripted, my character was to break down and cry at the end; I, who had perfected the “boys-don’t-cry” façade (I was resisting my being gay back then), was terrified. I never was able to genuinely summon my tears in any of my performances; in every curtain call I felt like a fake, bowing to the audience’s applause when I knew I failed again.

After graduation I limited my interaction with TA to parties and watching gala night performances. I would become the resident DJ for TA parties for several years. I would attend a party lugging a big suitcase full of CDs. While everyone was enjoying the party, dancing, getting drunk, and falling in or out of love, I was busy making sure everyone had a good time. I loved and resented the role I ended up in. A couple of times I relinquished my throne and ended up getting impatient (along with the others) at the one in charge of the music during the party. So I embraced my being Mister DJ and moved on from CDs to MP3s. Good thing that these days TA parties have enough budget so that they either bring a videoke or hire a professional party DJ.

All this time I would drop by Katipunan area on my way home and catch up with Ricky and the TA kids. In the mid-90s I got antsy and angst-sy, and resigned from advertising to scratch my theater itch. I organized the tour of TA’s Ang Kambal in Janiuay, Iloilo and Roxas City. I was in the cast and crew when Marlon directed Makbet. And I found the courage to direct my first play ever, fearlessly tackling the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Years later I accepted Ron Capinding’s invitation to join the cast of Bayan-bayanan which he directed for TA. He remembered my stories about my Gabun debacle, and he insisted that I would have a crying scene in the play. I guess the added years have been helpful; I had enough experience with loss and disappointment—not to mention a “what the heck, might as well just do it” attitude—to help me turn on the waterworks even during rehearsals.

Recently a blog reader asked me if I could direct a play again, and I realized how much I miss theater. I have difficulty finding the time even just to watch plays. Recently we worked with the Silly People’s Improv Theater (or SPIT); working with them has made me missed acting and the theater even more.

I wonder how my next role will evolve. I realize I work best in a support role with an occasional upstaging here and there, whether in theater or in the corporate world. I’m like Star Trek: Next Generation’s No. 2 without the constant pa-cute head tilt. I’m the Bayani Agbayani beside Cesar Montano or Aga Muhlach. Or the Chris Tucker beside Jackie Chan. Or Tina Fey beside Sarah Palin; no wait, maybe it’s the other way around. Oh what the heck.


palma tayona said...

... or the one who essays what other people say or do inside steaming saunas. :-)

joelmcvie said...

@PALMA: And I'm sure I'm not the only one who can essay such info, hahaha. =)

Tina said...

You know what? I think supporting actors are just as important, if not more, than the leading roles. So you're lucky!

I found a great post on Peterman's Eye that talks about supporting characters...thought you'd enjoy ;)


Ricky Abad said...

Just read this, Joel. Wonderful. Sweet memories strike back. Mind if I share it with the present munchkins?