Sunday, April 27, 2014

Once more with feeling

By the time he got to the highlight of “Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)”, a high note that most actors playing the title role in “Jesus Christ Superstar” dread, Jeff Coronado was totally in the zone – mind, body, soul –and the result was an awe-inspiring rendition that pierced deeply right into the heart of the few hundreds who were there last Saturday at the CAP-John Hay Trade & Cultural Center for “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber – Live in Concert.”

Jeff was one of the nine artists who headlined the one-night only performance and, in my opinion, performed the performance of his life that night. With him was Ian Paolo Acosta, a regular performer at several watering holes in Baguio who conquered the stage and transitioned from one character to another with much ease playing a struggling writer in Sunset Boulevard, painting a portrait of the Magical Mr. Mistoffelees in Cats, Che in Evita and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. Adrian Esplana, coming from a few years’ absence from the theater scene, floated on stage playing the title role in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” while Josef Ventura shone as Raoul in Phantom of the Opera before easing back onto his stool and guiding the band in the rest of the songs as drummer.

It was a struggle to hold back my tears listening to Gemma Gonzalez, vocalist of the band, Gwensi Sante, tell the story of Emma in Tell Me on a Sunday, and I was both elated to see Ryle Danganan mature as an actress right before my eyes and was blown away by her solid performance of that Cats soliloquy, “Memory.”

L-R Ryle Danganan, Adrian Esplana, Gemma Gonzalez, Emerald Ventura, Josef Ventura

Eunice Caburao wore her good heart on her sleeve and was mesmerizing as a cat, refreshing as the narrator of Joseph’s story, and haunting as Pilate’s wife. And there was Emerald Ventura, who delivered every single line, note and thought with aplomb. And Lissa Romero De Guia, back from a few years’ hiatus, a mother who easily transformed into an ingĂ©nue in Phantom of the Opera, an unassuming, humble woman who easily told the story of an ambitious, over-powering Evita and she made I Don’t Know How To Love Him sound so fresh it felt like I was hearing it for the first time.

L-R Lissa Romero De Guia, Ian Paolo Acosta, Eunice Caburao, Jeff Coronado

And these local artists were backed by an amazing band who, despite having limited rehearsals due to limited resources and time, sigh, the story of our life in the theater, breezed through Webber’s complicated musical nuances, under the baton (he actually didn’t have one, so make that fingers) of musical director Ethan Andrew Ventura – Jerrick Afaga (bassist), Josef Ventura (drums), Bryan Bandong (guitar), Patrick James Gines and Jessica Ladines (keyboards) played like a seasoned band – and except for the first three, they were playing together for the very first time that evening.

This isn’t meant as a review of my own work, for if it were I would have talked much about the missed cues here and there or the sound feedback and other technical glitches. What I wanted to share with you today is that these amazing talents are in our midst, you bump into them along Session Road taking their children to school or at the market inching their way through the crowd to get to the tilapia vendor. You sit with them in that jeep on your way to downtown Baguio, or share a shade with them picnicking at the park, and all they need is a venue, a little support from both you and City Hall, and they can help give Baguio a soul and a much more colourful, exciting and inspiring cultural skyline. And how wonderful it was to be given the opportunity, the privilege to work with them.

And performing this revue just once just doesn’t feel right. So watch for the encore when they take Baguio’s center stage in “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” once again with much, much good feeling.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In between days or in today's world of "in betweens" (or turning if off for better conversation)

A short video projected on a huge screen on center stage introduced the night's performance, giving the audience an idea about what to expect for the next couple of hours. The performers enter one by one as the video played before segueing to the opening number: Masquerade from The Phantom of the Opera. Just a few moments before the first line, feedback was heard and the sound technician, with beads of sweat filling up his forehead, couldn't find where it was coming from. They could only come from the nine wireless microphones being used on stage, so with some seconds to spare, he muted all the mics, and the feedback was gone. But when they were turned on again in time for the first line of the first song, something inside that console triggered something that sent some signal that sent full reverb effect to each of the microphone which made that first line sound like it was coming from some empty gymnasium buried deep underground. It took a whole stanza before the sound was normalized.

That's the risk one takes with tech-heavy performances - if you haven't totally enslaved those hi-tech gizmos, they take over, with their mindless minds, and you become the slave, totally helpless and the only thing you can do is turn it on and turn it back on and take it from the top.

We didn't take it from the top, and with all those channels on that impressive sound console connected to some sound gadget on stage: a full microphone set-up for the drumset, an amplifier for each of the five instruments onstage, about a dozen vocal microphones... no, this isn't going to be an article about sound-engineering for dummies, this is more about turning it off and getting rid of all those things we add to the fourth wall between the actors on stage and the people in the audience, and not remembering what it's all about - a conversation between the artist and the audience.

In today's age of wireless fidelity and phones that take pictures with higher resolutions than most dedicated digital cameras and computerized lighting and sound consoles, art has become more virtual and less actual. Photos are rarely printed on paper are more often viewed on an LCD screen, music is downloaded on to a digital player that can hold practically all music that was ever composed, recorded, uploaded and listened to on expensive signature earphones... nobody misses anything, not even live performances as shown by the comments of those who couldn't make it to the one-night-only performance ("hope you guys can upload the video so we too can watch it"). The job of transporting reels of film between theaters is almost obsolete - the material is now played from a hard drive. And as if the divide between the actors and the audience that is created by celluloid isn't enough, we even put on 3D glasses to experience artworks on film. More and more people read e-books.

And as if we've totally lost the ability to experience reality without a go-between, you see people in the audience viewing what's going on onstage on an LCD screen via a phone, a tablet, etc.

We're missing the point of live theater - a conversation between human beings, first and foremost. And the less we put in between, the better we can hear each other.

And that's what we intend to do here in the coming weeks - turn things off for better conversation. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Of predators, scavengers and cancer

They circle right above, keeping an eye out for the deeply injured, or the dying, even. They see someone struggling to stay alive, they swoop down, taking advantage of the helplessness of their prey.

They don’t care if another predator or scavenger has beaten them to the prey, they will wait for scraps for they know there would always be scraps, and every morsel they can have for themselves is worth the indignity of stooping so low.

Some of them have wings, some have law degrees. All through law school they were taught about the laws of the land, the rights of their fellowmen, about justice, that they eventually swore to uphold. They know their responsibility to society, but they see that as power instead, and they abuse that power. Yes, your helplessness is their source of power. Your misery is their opportunity.

They come in all shapes and sizes – some sport badges that are supposed to be symbols of their duty to serve the people, some have stethoscopes around their necks and pins on their clean, white coats that are supposed to represent their vow to do no harm, and we all know about those who prefer to attach the word honourable to their names.

They are the lowest of all life forms in my book – those who take advantage of other people’s misfortunes to feed their greed.

Nobody could have painted a better picture of all that is wrong with our country as Jose Rizal - it is indeed a cancer. A cancer that the host body, the country, should already start recognizing as the enemy, and begin mustering the will, the power to expel and when we do, do all it can to prevent from ever coming back again.

Ang sakit ng kalingkingan, ramdam ng buong katawan. I learned that line from a play long ago. We should start realizing this as a people, as a nation. The cancer may not have spread to every part of this body yet, but we must not wait for it to reach us directly before we react and do something about it.

Malinis at walang bahid-dungis ang kailangang maging buhay na alay upang ang handog ay maging karapat-dapat. This was how playwright Malou Jacob transcribed Jose Rizal’s words, spoken through Padre Florentino in El Filibusterismo. And that’s the first step – living our own lives righteously, and with dignity, and justly. Only then can we begin to rid our nation of these lowlifes that feed the cancer that is slowly eating us all up.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


The past week we’ve been meeting almost every single day – warm-up exercises, vocalization, music rehearsals. In the coming week we will be working on blocking and choreography, then acting. It’s been great to be back doing what I love doing the most – telling stories on stage.

With that, let me write about my first love.

We’re currently working on a musical revue that will feature excerpts from various musicals and as soon as I got confirmation from our co-producers that all systems were a go, I already whom I wanted for certain roles and whom I wanted to take care of other production concerns so I was glad, excited, encouraged, totally fired up when all of them said yes to my invitation to collaborate with me on this one.

My choices weren’t only based on their individual talent, but also, and in this particular case more importantly, their professionalism. We didn’t have the luxury of time, so every rehearsal was very, very important. Sure, some of them would miss some of the rehearsals, but I knew that those who would will also work doubly hard to make up for rehearsals missed. Can’t blame them for theater, as it is here and elsewhere in the country, is not a financially rewarding career.

And so we try to make it as easy for everyone as possible, the least we can do knowing that each and every one of them has committed to this production, and in this world, the commitment of the people involved can make or break a show. And that commitment goes beyond simply agreeing to be part of this. For the performers, it means committing to telling their story on stage with all their heart and soul – spending hours outside the rehearsals understanding and internalizing each stanza, each sub-text, and becoming one with the role they’re playing. For the production staff, it means committing to making it as easy as possible for the cast to do their job, and for the cast to do the same.

But most of all, they will commit to making this collaborative effort an unforgettably pleasant experience. Egos would be set aside, it’s all about one thing: the story, and the best way that story could be told – with utmost sincerity.

First love never dies. ClichĂ© but true. Theater’s mine. And I am so happy to be reunited with her after quite a long absence. Because, see, with all the technological advances in the world of art – high-resolution, full HD cameras, sound and lighting systems that we only dreamed of not too long ago, etc., the magic that happens inside that darkened hall when the house lights go out and the performers go out there, onstage, that energy that travels back and forth between the stage and the audience, that irreplaceable interaction between human beings… no technology can ever substitute for that wonderful experience.

And that’s why I have committed myself to this art form from the day I fell in love with it.