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, March 29, 2012

Of Ducks And Revolutions

It was around December of 1985, and for the first time in my life, I was cast in a lead role. I was to play Prince Simon in A. A. Milne’s one-act comedy, “The Ugly Duckling.” I personally made a big deal out of it. Although I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that my face and height didn’t make me “leading man material,” I wished that more directors would cast against type. I was so happy to have made lead, until I read the synopsis (like the following from Good

Arrangements have been made for Prince Simon to marry Princess Camilla. The King and Queen are nervous because—let’s face it—Camilla is plain. It is decided that the Princess’ beautiful maid will impersonate Camilla until the wedding. The Prince hears of Camilla’s beauty and, considering himself rather plain, has his extremely handsome manservant Carlo impersonate him. Simon and Camilla meet by chance and fall in love. Each is beautiful to the other and they live happily ever after.

So much for casting against type, I thought. Still, it is a lead role.

“The Ugly Duckling” was one of three one-act plays for our year-end production. We rehearsed all throughout Christmas break, and by the end of January we were almost ready for our opening night scheduled around the last week of February. But then Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos withdrew their support for President Marcos and holed themselves up in Camp Aguinaldo. Thus began the People Power Revolution of 1986.

At the start, no one knew just how long the standoff between the Pro-Cory and Pro-Marcos forces would last. We couldn’t reschedule the dates because of the venue’s availability. We were in a quandary. Should we push through with the performances or not? Some members of the cast and crew preferred to drop the plays and instead join the gathering crowd in EDSA. Others felt that we should continue with the performances, lack of audience be damned. The compromise? We had one invitational performance for the families and friends of the cast and crew.

After that one and only performance, I went with the school contingent to EDSA and helped man our outpost near Greenhills. The rest is history.

Cut to 26 years later.

D was proudly telling me of the time when his class won over-all best production in their high school theater competition. Each class interpreted the same one-act piece; D directed, designed, and acted in their production.

He described his role and the play in general: a plain but witty princess, a plain but smart prince, and switched identities. Wait a minute. Could it be? Is it she? Sacrébleu!

“Hon, was your play entitled ‘The Ugly Duckling’?” I asked.

“Yeah! ‘The Ugly Duckling’ or ‘Princess’ or something like that,” he replied, excited. “You know that play?”

“Not only do I know the play,” I replied, “I also played the same role you played!”

D’s eyes widened. “OMG! You also played the prince?!” (“Hindi, yung prinsesa!” sana ang sinagot ko sa kanya.)

That night, D was so kilig.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

R.I.P., Ony de Leon

There is something intrinsically sad about receiving news that someone you personally know has died. But hearing that Ony de Leon passed away, I felt a palpable melancholy pall drape over me today.

I met Ony in college. He was a few years ahead of me, but he was already an overstaying student back then. We’d ask him for his age, but he’d smile sheepishly and dodge the question. It’s as if he was embarrassed to still be in college when his contemporaries were already working by then.

We were both in the college theater group. When I joined, he already had a reputation as one of Tanghalang Ateneo’s best actors. I never saw him act in any of TA’s plays before I joined the company. But I had the privilege of sharing the stage with him in several productions.

He was intense as an actor, taking his responsibilities seriously, way too seriously if you asked me. We were only college actors, I thought back then. But as serious as he was, he strove very hard not to let it show. He was easy to get along, he kept mostly to himself, and he was extremely polite and self-effacing whenever he was working on his character or his blocking. He never complained, and whenever he’d expressed his opinion on something, he’d always preface them with a polite disclaimer.

Yet during rehearsals, even when he was still struggling to figure his character out, he would always be acting at performance level. It was as if he was in a hurry to capture the character he was playing. Sometimes I wonder if he just wanted to escape into someone else’s life. He had this way of delivering his lines, akin to huffing and puffing the words out. If his character were angry or excited, he’d rat-tat-tat his lines with his eyes closed. Some may say it’s an acting affectation, but part of me wonders if it’s Ony’s way of willing his character to come out of him, by force if necessary.

He smoked non-stop back in college. After a while, the actresses in the company would complain among themselves about his smoker’s breath. He also drank heavily back then. I never witnessed him in his drunken state, but years later I heard that sometimes Ony would go on a drinking binge all by his lonesome. I never got to verify if it was true or false, but for me it was a distillation of how much of a loner and a haunted soul he was.

Haunted. I prefer to use that term rather than “tortured.” If he was tortured, he refused to show it to us. But try as he might to hide his struggle, it was clear to all of us that he was battling inner demons. He was evasive of inquiries on his personal life, and when we would tease him about his crushes, he would grimace sheepishly then laugh. But we were never really sure if, indeed, they were his crushes, or he was just embarrassed of the whole teasing bit. I remember he admitted to admiring one or two girls, but part of me still wonders to this day if he just named them because he wanted us off his back. We were all intrigued, but none of us had the courage or the patience to chip through his defenses and get to know him. Or maybe we just feared that he would merely pull away from us.

After I graduated from college, I worked at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I was elated when I found out Ony joined Tanghalang Pilipino’s Actors’ Company. Whenever I’d see him in rehearsals or bump into him in one of CCP’s halls, he was still very much the same Ony I knew in college. Now that he was on the professional stage, I realized that as an actor he didn’t have the widest of repertoires, given his physicality and way of delivery. But he was a director and co-actor’s dream collaborator. Many have noted how Ony was one of those who’d be the first to drop his script. He would efficiently deliver what is expected of him, and he would quietly disappear into himself at the wings, waiting for his next cue. I bet even stage managers loved him for that.

I left the CCP in 1990, and in the following years I would only see Ony onstage. He gained a bit of weight, and he grew his hair longer, but he was still the same Ony, frozen in time. Then he left the Actors’ Company and seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.

There is something intrinsically sad about receiving news that someone you personally know has died. But hearing that Ony de Leon passed away, I felt a palpable melancholy pall drape over me today. It was like going back in time, but not really. It was like the past came back to haunt me. For whatever haunted Ony now haunts me, because I may never really know what they were.

The Phantom Never Dies

When I first heard of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera, I was with my fellow college theater mates, and someone had bought the original cast recording to our backstage. It was in a double cassette bought from the U.S.; at that time, there were no digital downloads nor the Internet. At that time, there was a mini-competition between Phantom and another worldwide musical hit, Les Miserables. Most of my theater mates loved the musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic; I, however, feel deeply enthralled by the mysterious figure of the Phantom. I related to his tale of unrequited love and being misunderstood by everyone. I guess when you’re young and confused and terrified at the dawning sexual and romantic feelings towards your fellow men, you can immediately identify with the Phantom’s tragic yet talented character.

Many years and musicals later, I heard of the worldwide screening of The Phantom Of The Opera At the Royal Albert Hall in movie theaters. For one reason or another I ended up not watching it on the big screen. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the DVD for sale. And whoa! What’s this? Its companion in the boxed set was a DVD of another Webber musical, Love Never Dies, billed as the sequel to Phantom. To be honest, it was the first time I heard of the sequel, so I snapped up the boxed set immediately.

Phantom is astounding, both visually and musically (the 5.1 surround sound puts you in the middle of the orchestra). Because the production was mounted at the Royal Albert Hall, they had to re-adjust the production design. One of the biggest concession was the loss of the falling chandelier; in its place, they made do with a light fixture that bursts with fireworks.

Another huge change was the huge LED screen that served as backdrop. It’s impressive yet at the same time a letdown; yes, the over-all effect can be magnificent (see “Masquerade”), but it also feels like a cop-out. But given the context of the over-all production (it only had 3 performances in the venue), I can justify the use of the screen.

The 25th Anniversary performance is not just a concert staging of the songs; instead, it was a full-blown production, lavish and lush in its operatic scale.

But the unexpected pleasure for me was in the second DVD.

Gibbs, the Fabcasters’ resident Mr.-“Are you into chether?” Culture and Arts Expert, felt that the sequel is “visually lavish, but musically second-rate” compared to the mother musical. It was poorly received a when it first previewed. Eventually its West End run was cut short, and its Broadway debut cancelled. The original plan of opening in Shanghai was scrapped; instead, it was moved to Australia.

So it was with reduced expectations that I watched the musical. I ended up pleasantly surprised.

Yes, on the whole the music of Love is more uneven than Phantom. A lot of the former’s melodies are not as quickly catchy as the latter’s “Think Of Me,” “All I Ask Of You,” and the title track. The more solid songs are fewer and far in between. The start of the musical felt clunky. The musical opens in fits and starts, until the melody of the first song, “‘Til I Hear You Sing” asserts itself. And “The Coney Island Waltz” is supposed to establish the setting—Coney Island, 1905, a glittering and glorious carnival that masks a mysterious and menacing underbelly. The song has a melancholy undertone, but the arrangement could have been more grandiose and cheerful when the whole carnival is revealed. (Or maybe it’s just me quibbling about the sound design. How come there were no natural carnival sounds to augment the action onstage? Or was that taken out for the purpose of the movie?)

But this I have to say with Webber’s melodies and arrangements: when it works, it soars. And in the hands of a talented Australian cast, some of the songs approach the grandeur of the production’s visuals.

Ah, the production design! As the show went on, the sets became more and more intriguing. But I was really impressed in the scene when the Phantom shows Christine Daae’s son Gustave his world. The towering, twirling prisms acted as both cruel mirrors that reflected the freakiness of the Phantom’s world, and as prisons that contained actual freaks. (The child actor playing Gustave had a pristine voice, but his performance is sadly wooden.)

But the climax of the musical is also the showstopper title song, and here, I gave a small gasp when the set was revealed. The whole proscenium and backdrop were dressed like a peacock’s feathers in full display, with Christine standing in the middle. No complicated set changes, no elaborate set movements. And yet the visual impact is dazzling. 

Had the musical displayed more wit and not taken itself too seriously, then truly Love Never Dies, instead of suffering an early cancellation.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Honesty is the best policy. But some things are better left unsaid. So when in doubt, discretion is the better part of valor.

When it comes to a person’s romantic track record, it is good to know his past when assessing his present, but one must allow for the possibility of change in order for a coupling to have a future. This is a little trickier when it concerns friends, especially those with not-so-sterling reputations. You know them enough such that you can tell if your friend has indeed changed or is still up to his old tricks.

If anyone will do a demolition job of one’s romantic reputation, I prefer that it be the person himself and not some other. Warning a friend’s potential partner is more acceptable if it’s tempered by conditional phrases like, “But that is his track record. Whether you’ll be part of the statistics or break the mold, I can’t tell.” Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

And when worse come to worst, just drop the line: Oops, he did it again. Waaaaaaah!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Four Six

Last Monday I turned 46 years old.

For me, my angst on aging first surfaced when I was 28 years old. Turning 30 was a scary thought, and youth was something I had to hold on to for dear life because the big 3-0 was just two years away.

But then a funny thing happened. When I hit 29, the inevitability of 30 was so palpable I had no choice but to confront it head-on. And when I finally learned to accept the inevitable, the fear and anxiety and shame of aging quietly slipped off my shoulders.

But how did I find it in me to accept the reality of age? I guess it was when I saw how the 30s was a fantastic decade to be in—not too young to be scoffed at, but not too old to be deemed a killjoy. It was the best of both worlds. And along with that, I found a new appreciation for the gifts that age can bring: experience and wisdom. I couldn’t wait what the 40s could bring.

Little did I realize that the best of times also means the worst of times wasn’t far behind. The most dramatic changes when hitting the big 4-0 happen with your body. It again reminds you, in no uncertain terms, that you are not invincible. Your eyesight starts to deteriorate, and you’re not as limber. Recovery from injuries takes longer. The changes are most obvious when it comes to sex. Whereas before it only takes a few minutes for your body to rev up for round two (or three or four), now it takes longer (and round three begins to look iffy; forget round four entirely). Sometimes you find a night in bed with a hot stranger a more tedious prospect versus a night in bed with the cast of “The Good Wife” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

I had to remind myself that it’s all quid pro quo. You win some; you lose some. But what you gain in experience more than makes up for the sagging of the skin and the stubbornness of the flabs. It’s just physical beauty, you say to yourself. That, and your discovery that there are boys—from twinks to chubs to athletic types—who like daddies will make you realize that a change in marketing strategy solves the problem.

So here’s to 46. They say 50 is the new 40. If so, then the next decade looks pretty exciting still. (I better stock up on Viagara.)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Why I Have A Problem With Kony, The Campaign

Warning: The following video is 30 minutes long. If you don’t have the bandwidth or the time to watch it, then proceed to read the rest.

So I’ll assume you couldn’t watch the video in full, so let me summarize: Joseph Kony is from Uganda, he kidnaps children and forces them to become part of his army, he turns the boys into killers and the girls into sex slaves. American filmmaker Jason Russell heard about Kony’s atrocities from an Ugandan boy first-hand, and started an Invisible Children movement that culminated in making the Obama gov’t send military advisers to Uganda to help the military capture Kony. But because there’s a threat to pull out the advisers because people forget, the Invisible Children peeps are now trying to make Kony “famous” by April 2012 so that the US gov’t will continue to assist the Uganda military to capture Kony. Their call to action: [1] On April 20, 2012 they’ll be posting and hanging Kony 2012 campaign materials in every street corner of the US; [2] Buy a Kony Action Kit (which has stickers, pins, and bracelets to help spread the word); [3] Donate money to the cause. [4] Share the 30-minute video. 

The video starts with the words, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” then the last two words are replaced by, “is now.”

It’s interesting that Invisible Children’s idea is to use the power of the masses in order to effect change, specifically, keep the American military advisers in Uganda in order to help the Ugandan army bring Joseph Kony to justice and release the kidnapped children. Because their cause is on YouTube and Facebook, their call is addressed to everyone who’s connected to the two sites. That’s a lot of people worldwide.

However, while I was watching the video and finding out about Kony for the first time, my initial reaction was to ask several questions.
  • Is what they say about Kony in the video all true? 
  • Agreed, Kony seems to be one hell of a human rights violator, given that he is the most wanted criminal by the International Criminal Court. But isn’t Kony an internal problem, best left for the Uganda people and government to solve?
  • Why should the US government step in, given that the Uganda government isn’t even asking the US for help?
  • Who died and made these ordinary American citizens judge and jury? And who are they to push their government to meddle in the affairs of another country?
Sure, the bleeding hearts of this world can and should be allowed to publicly condemn Kony for the atrocities he has done. But to actually force their own government to meddle in the affairs of another country? Nothing is more awful than a power tripper who thinks he’s right.

I don’t care how noble your cause is. Dear Americans, your USA for Africa was wrong; you are not the world. Know your boundaries, and respect the boundary of others. In your eyes Kony’s a “bad guy,” and the way you portray him in your video is similar to the way Hollywood portrays villains. But reality is rarely that black-and-white. Capturing Kony may actually be the easy part. How do you deal with the kidnapped children, those children who’ve been trained to wield guns and kill arbitrarily? How will you address the very problems of Uganda that allowed a Kony to thrive?

One of these days you’ll encounter a leader who murders the children of his political opponents ruthlessly yet supplies the US with all the oil your country needs. Let’s see you encapsulate that problem in a 30-minute video.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The 2012 New Year Fabcast, Parts 3 & 4

We sincerely apologize for the uber-delay. While parts 3 and 4 have not yet been uploaded to iTunes, I am posting them here.

After answering the questions thrown our way, the Fabcasters and the peanut gallery wrap up the recording session by tackling one last question from Migs: “What was the one thing that affect you the most in 2011?”

We asked the peanut gallery to go first. So listen in as Madame, Jojo, Dan and London Boy give their personal reflections on the year that just passed.

*Note: I used as background music this intriguing piece of music which I stumbled upon on Soundcloud. Someone named birdfeeder took John Williams’ theme from the movie “Jurassic Park” and slowed it down 1000%, such that the original music was transformed into a mesmerizing ambient rumbling.

Music credits:
“Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac
Theme from “Jurassic Park” by John Williams (slowed down 1000% by birdfeeder)

And now it’s the Fabcasters’ turn, talking about our insights and learning from 2011. 2011 was a significant year for us as individuals and as a group, and here we share them with you.

Music credits:
“For Good” from the musical Wicked, performed by Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel
“Water From A Vine Leaf (Underwater Mix Part One)” by William Orbit
“Thank You For Being A Friend” by Andrew Gold

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Lived To Tell

Time and again I hear of guys who fall for another guy but keep their feelings to themselves. Then they bemoan the fact that their object of affection doesn’t see them the way they do. But they justify loving from afar even if they get hurt, because they say to love is to risk.

Well! I say to love is to risk, so tell him how you feel. The sooner you do that the better, while you still haven’t emotionally invested a lot on him. Keeping your feelings to yourself isn’t love; it’s selfishness and stupidity.

If he doesn’t share the same feelings, move on. If he doesn’t reciprocate, move on. Martyrdom for unrequited love was burned at the stake a long time ago.

Monday, March 05, 2012

I. Am. Sorry. Sorry.

The video spoof is sheer genius, I must say. I first saw it months ago, thanks to my younger brother who alerted me to a similar spoof: Get a K-Pop music video, put Filipino “sounds like” translations as subtitles, post on YouTube, and let it rip. Today I don’t remember the spoof video my brother recommended to me. But I remember the spoof of Super Junior’s “Sorry Sorry,” and if you watch it, you may understand why.

Is it the silliness of the “Tense? Pants? Hands? Mens?” opening salvo? Is it the creative use of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and other jokey video inserts? Or the straightforwardness of the question, “Di ka ba sanay sa ten inches?” Is it the sight of an overweight child shoveling food in his mouth as the fake translation reads, “Di na bale malusog baby”? Is it the silliness of Larry Bird’s cameo? Whatever it is, the sheer wit of the translation is exhilarating. To be able to choose the right sound-alike Filipino words that, when strung together, are hilarious and yet make some sort of silly sense—now that’s sheer genius. And while all that’s happening, the androgynous looks of the boy band plus their effete choreography adds a layer of WTF?! irony to the whole thing.

And they even throw in a “Kill mo Melai” for good measure.

Whatever. I think this should have been nominated Video of the Year for 2011.

Tantantantarantantaran done!

Cause And Effect

When one is older, the changes are subtler. They also take a little more time to take effect, since there are years of habit to break. But just because one doesn’t see or feel the changes doesn’t mean they’re not happening. Oh yes, they’re there underneath layers of skin toughened by time and cynicism.

Because you do make a mark, and it is more than skin-deep; rather, it is heartfelt.