Friday, August 26, 2005

Act One

Less than two weeks before opening night, and I’m excited and anxious at the same time. On the one hand, I have a better fix on my character plus my lines and cues are more or less memorized (a couple of more run-throughs and I’ll have the words and cues down pat). On the other hand, I still stumble on certain lines and I still have to work on delineating my longer character arch (the transformation of my character from my first scene to my last). What’s making me anxious is that I’m pushing myself as an actor. You see, I’ve never really viewed myself as a “serious” actor; I’m more of a comedian or a company party host. I banter well, and I’m quick with the quips. But give me drama and I get all jittery.

I can trace back my dramallergy to my very first lead role in a drama. It was back in my third year in college, and we were lucky to get Junix Innocian, a well-respected actor from Repertory Philippines (this was before he auditioned and got into the first run of Miss Saigon), to direct the play Gabun by Tony Perez for TA. The play’s a great acting piece for two actors: it’s about two half-brothers meeting for the very first time, set a few weeks after their father died. I played the older and poorer of the two brothers, the one whom the father chose to leave behind (along with my mother, his first wife). Junix decided to cast alternates for both roles, so that he can work with more actors. My alternate was Noni Buencamino—yes, the Noni whom you see everywhere on TV and in the movies, usually playing a strong support role (if not for the lack of matinee looks, he could easily have made it as a premiere lead actor). I was also to perform against RJ Leyran, another talented thespian (unfortunately he died unexpectedly last year). With such great co-actors and a well-written script, Gabun promised to be a great theater experience for me. Unfortunately, Mr. Perez’s script also specified that my character breaks down into tears towards the end of the play.

At this point you have to understand something about me: growing up, I learned to keep my emotions in check. I learned to use my mind over my heart, and humor was my prime tool. So when Direk Junix asked me to let go of my emotions and just let it all out, my gut instinct was to go, “Ngyek.” My mind rebelled against the playwright and the director; not a good sign for an actor. (Worse than an actor who’s difficult is an actor who’s incapable; the worst is an incapable actor who’s also difficult, but usually they end up being theater critics.)

During rehearsals, Junix was very patient and encouraging. “Don’t cry if you don’t feel like it,” he told me. Thing was I never felt like crying ever. On the other hand, Noni tore through his character with gusto and bawled for real in the crying scene. I felt like crawling under the stage every time I watched him perform with RJ. And when I’m onstage, all I could think of was, “Oh my god, my crying scene’s coming up, my crying scene’s coming up.” It was one of my worst moments on stage ever.

(My ultimate worst moment was in Subic, when we were touring Twelfth Night. I completely blanked out onstage and forgot my next line. I spent the next 30 excruciating seconds stammering and groping for the words. I retraced my steps, hoping that my body would remember what my mind couldn’t—fortunately that did the trick. But that was the longest 30 seconds of my life.)

After Gabun ended its run, I swore off drama onstage and off.

A few years and several comedies later, I decided to act in Macbeth, but only because my role was a small supporting one and did not involve any major histrionics or gnashing of the teeth. And the first ever full-length play I chose to direct was Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comedy. (Riiight, I’m afraid of crying onstage but I’m not afraid to tackle the Bard head-on. Hahaha.)

Now I’m in a play that requires me to play it straight in more ways than one (my character is married with child). But thanks to advanced age and experience I’m more comfortable now in tackling a straight drama again. I remember reading an interview of William Hurt, who said that to be an actor, one needs to be 40 years old. Now I understand what he meant. I needed to be comfortable with myself before I could really take on another persona.

Of course, knowing how to do it onstage and actually doing it are two different things altogether. I hope I can pull it off; come opening night, we’ll see.


Blogger Nelson said...

Atih, there's a certain sense of exhibitionism involved in performing onstage--it's natural to be conscious about yourself and your lines, on the other hand there's also fun in "putting out" for an audience. If at all, go like Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" -- all the lights and the cameras [in this case the audience's eyes, but imagine them as cameras] are on you, and just psyche yourself for your close-up. ;-)

Break a leg, dear!

4:14 PM  

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