Homegrown son Joaquin Valdes takes over Trumpets Playshop

Homegrown son Joaquin Valdes takes over Trumpets Playshop
Oct. 22, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Joaquin Valdes
Joaquin Valdes was only 13 years old when he first performed in Triumphant People's Evangelistic Theater Society's (Trumpets) "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe."

He then started taking several years' worth of summer workshops with Playshop, Trumpets' theater training arm.

He didn't just study, though. With other stage credits already under his belt (debuting professionally as a chorus member in Repertory Philippines' "Evita" and then playing the lead in "Pinocchio"), he was tasked to teach classes at Playshop starting at age 14.

"I just really wanted to extend the high I'd get from a show and keep filling my system with as much theater education as I could," he said.

And now at 32, it's his turn to steward a new generation of future professional performers.

Valdes is the new executive director for Playshop, and of Playhouse, its newly formed youth theater group composed of workshop alumni.

Mentor, apprentice
Aside from forays into directing films, fitness coaching  and coproducing the "One Night Stand" series of monthly cabarets featuring theater performers, Valdes has always stayed connected to theater.

His credits include Atlantis Productions' "Spring Awakening," 9 Works Theatrical's "The Last Five Years" and, most recently, ABS-CBN Events-Cornerstone's "Ako Si Josephine." He received the Philstage Gawad Buhay Best Featured Actor for his work in Actors' Actors Inc.'s "Red."

It was veteran actor Audie Gemora, founder of Trumpets and Playshop, who sought Valdes out.

"He and I have developed a mentor-apprentice relationship. He's always believed that the next generation has great ideas," said Valdes.

"He asked me to bring in some of my expertise from working in advertising, film and digital content, giving my two cents on where the product should go and how it should address a new generation and new market."

"Extending the mission of Trumpets, Playhouse will stage productions for children and families. Focusing on original Filipino creativity, the group aims to bring a brand new experience with values to audiences."

First show
Cast of "Always Upon A Time"
For its inaugural production, Playhouse will stage "Always Upon A Time," a musical where brothers Tommy and Danny, neglected by their busy father, find a book of stories that their mother used to read them to sleep with.

The tales will be brought to life via puppets designed by Make It Happen Workshop, which also handles set and costume design. Inspired by book pages, the puppets will have the look and feel of paper sculptures, and the set design will evoke pop-up books.

The show's title is from a song used in one of Trumpets' first musicals, "Fables and Parables," written by Freddie Santos and composed by Lito Villareal.

In "Always Upon a Time," Lorenz Martinez plays the father, while the brothers will be played by a rotating cast that includes Andee Achacoso, Daniel Drilon, Gabo Tiongson and Teddy Velasco.

Also in the cast are Chimmi Kohchet-Chua, Anton Posadas and Guido Gatmaytan, all of whom played leads in Trumpets' musical "Bluebird of Happiness" in 2013.

The show is written and directed by Steven Conde, with Vince Lim as composer and musical director, and lyrics by Conde, Lim and Valdes.

"Always Upon A Time" runs Oct. 29-30, Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Tickets: 0917-5864177, Ticketworld.com.phVisit Fb.com/TrumpetsPlayshopPlayhouse. For Playshop workshop schedules, call 9014364.

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Carlon Matobato is lone Filipino in multinational 'Mahabharata'

Carlon Matobato is lone Filipino in multinational 'Mahabharata'
Oct. 15, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Carlon Matobato as Krishna
Photo by Hiroshi Koike
"Nganga ako," Carlon Matobato says, when he saw a movement-led staging of "Mahabharata" last year at the Peta Theater Center.

"The performers were so strong and their lines were so clean. I was excited and scared."

Scared because he'd soon be part of the show's next installment. He had auditioned for Japanese director Hiroshi Koike and won the slot as this year's only Filipino in the multinational cast.

Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project's "Mahabharata" began in 2013. Chapters are created annually in a different Asian country; it's intended to conclude with a full-length staging in 2020.

Last year's "Part 2.5" included Manila in its performance tour. This year, Matobato worked with performers from different countries for "Part 3," which was recently staged in Indonesia.

The ancient Indian epic deals with two warring branches of the Bharata dynasty battling for the throne of Hastinapura.

(Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas staged the musical adaptation "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" in 2014, written by Floy Quintos and composed by Ceejay Javier.)

Different dances
Matobato played the roles of the Hindu god Krishna and the warrior Karna.

The production combines different Asian dance forms and recruits performers with backgrounds in all manner of dance (traditional, ballet, contemporary) and movement (circus) so they can contribute to the process.

Rehearsals had started without Matobato, as he was still acting in Philippine Educational Theater Association's "Rak of Aegis." But, with his dance experience and skills, it wasn't too hard to catch up.

"Malaki ang utang na loob ko kay National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan. He was my mentor, he honed me in Philippine dances. I knew my knowledge of these forms would become useful one day."

Matobato knows more than 70 kinds of Philippine traditional dances.

"Hiroshi wanted a Filipino actor-dancer-singer who also knew martial arts," he says. It just so happens he knows Indonesian aduk-aduk, Brazilian capoeira, Chinese wushu and tai chi, and, of course, Philippine kuntao. But who's counting?

Matobato started performing when he was a student at Lyceum of the Philippines University. "I was part of our college theater group Tanghalang Batingaw and I also joined the dance troupe.

"That's also when I joined Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group. Theater and dance converged at the same time in my life."

Theater and dance, together
He started choreographing while he was part of Tanghalang Pilipino's pool of resident actors, "while learning from respected theater gurus."

Matabato then joined Jay Cruz's Dancing Wounded group. "Jay was my second mentor, teaching me a deeper understanding of dance."

He's been with Peta since 2005, performing, choreographing, teaching-and collecting awards for his efforts, such as Philstage Gawad Buhay Best Choreography nods for "Ismail at Isabel" and "Care Divas."

Productions he's choreographed or acted in include "D' Wonder Twins of Boac," "Lola Basyang," "Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal" and "Katy!"

This wasn't his first international production, but it was particularly challenging. Prompted partly by a complex piece of costume, he had to "completely master the performance space, even with eyes closed."

"The masks made me see very little. I had to dance, sing and act without seeing much of my surroundings. I hoped I wouldn't bump into my castmates!"

"I ignored the calluses and wounds on my feet. The roles were wonderful but not easy. I put a lot of heart into it. I usually cried during rehearsals because I was so moved. It was important that I played these roles well."

Visit kikh.com/english.

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Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' gets Filipino staging

Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' gets Filipino staging
Theater House of Black's adaptation incorporates Baguio's haunted Laperal White House
Oct. 1, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

As a prelude to Halloween, Theater House of Black will stage the suspense-horror supernatural play, "14 Leandro Road," based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Fall of the House of Usher."

The story of two eccentric siblings and their macabre home has been adapted by Jay Crisostomo and CK Bautista. Their adaptation incorporates elements of Baguio's allegedly haunted Laperal White House, which was built in the 1920s and used as a Japanese garrison during World War II.

The house has spawned tales of the lingering presence of those who've been killed in it. (In 2013, it was repurposed as the Ifugao Bamboo Carving Gallery.)

The production will alternate male and female actors for the main roles. TV mainstays Mosang and Migui Moreno will play one sibling; Ahlex Leyva and Gry Gimena, the other.

The cast also includes Peewee O'Hara, May Bayot, Patricia Ismael, Gold Villar and Harry David.

Mosang admits to believing in a lot of superstitions. "Mostly the old, traditional Filipino ones like when you whisper your wish to a dead person, it will come true. Or when a dog howls, it's a sign of death," she says.

While TV audiences are more familiar with her comedic work in "Pepito Manaloto," Mosang has done several stage dramas. "I keep coming back to theater because it helps me  hone more of my love for acting."

Recent credits include Gantimpala Theater's "Kanser (Noli Me Tangere)," Virgin Labfest's "Ang Goldfish ni Prof. Dimaandal" and Theater House of Black's "Peratedes (The House of Bernarda Alba)."

Producer Harry David says, "The audience can expect to be entertained through spooky thrills and a few scares here and there. But they'll also leave the theater asking questions about the points the play brings up."

While Poe's work follows the conventions of dark romanticism/gothic literature (fascination with melancholia, insanity, the grotesque, the irrational), some modern interpretations use mental health conditions to demystify the story, such as hyperesthesia (sensitivity to stimuli) and hypochondria.

Theater House of Black makes an effort to support various advocacies for its  productions. "We chose mental health for this one because it's a concern that has to be addressed by everyone," David says.

Part of the proceeds will go to the Philippine Mental Health Association of the Philippines.

The play is directed by Jay Crisostomo, whose recent credits include Ikarus Theater's "Habulan sa Pagitan ng Maliliit na Kamay ni Kamatayan" (his Palanca award-winning play) and "End Of The Gallows."

Alex Conbalay, set designer; Bambi Bucao, lighting designer; Vince Lim, scorer; The Closet, costume design.

"14 Leandro Road" Oct. 7-8 at Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Tickets: 0917-656-1109, Ticketworld.com.ph. Visit Fb.com/TheaterDuNoir.

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Going barefoot, developing rituals, catching Pokémon–what it takes to get Jef Flores on stage

Going barefoot, eating ramen, catching Pokémon–what it takes to get Jef Flores on that stage
Sept. 24, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jef Flores
Photo by JC Inocian
"I like rehearsing barefoot,” says Jef Flores. “I like feeling the floor with my toes. It helps me think and keeps me balanced.”

He’s developing the character of Jon in 9 Works Theatrical’s production of “Tick, Tick…Boom!”

Jon is a composer doubting his career choice and facing problems with his best friend (who wants Jon to switch to corporate work) and his girlfriend (who doesn’t want to be with a starving artist).

“Tick, Tick…Boom!” was written and composed by Jonathan Larson before he created the now legendary musical “Rent.” The 9 Works Theatrical production is directed by Robbie Guevara with Daniel Bartolome as musical director.

The cast includes Ariel Reonal and Tanya Manalang—fresh from her stint as the lead in Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (Peta) “Rak of Aegis” and, before that, as the alternate Kim in the London revival of “Miss Saigon.”

Flores didn’t need to look too far to craft Jon’s insecurities. “He’s frustrated, lost and about to give up on art. [Earlier in my life] I gave up on theater. I thought that I’d never make it.”

Ariel Reonal, Jef Flores and Tanya Manalang
Photo by JC Inocian
Flores—born in Maryland, United States, to Filipino parents—was a 10-year-old kid who only wanted to play with his Gameboy when his family visited New York.

“My mom took us to a Broadway musical, ‘The Music Man.’ The show was amazing. That was it, I was hooked. In high school, I joined all the musicals and the marching band as well. That’s where my theater career started.”

Later on, a dearth of opportunities made him decide to quit the profession. That is, until he visited family in Manila. He found out Repertory Philippines was holding auditions for “Disney’s Camp Rock.”

“I made the ugliest, most embarrassing resumé in existence and auditioned,” he recalls. He passed the auditions and made it to the cast.

That was five years ago. He has gone on to act for, among others, Resorts World Manila’s Full House (“Cinderella,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”), Dalanghita Productions (“Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady”), Peta (“3 Stars and A Sun”), Actor’s Actors Inc. (“The Normal Heart”) and Red Turnip Theater (“This Is Our Youth”).

Pre-show rituals
To prepare for shows, Flores takes his script everywhere: “And I read it anywhere. My friends get annoyed with me sometimes, but I don’t like forgetting my lines, so I study as much as I can.”

Hard work pays off. He received the Philstage Gawad Buhay Best Actor nod for his work last year on “This Is Our Youth.”

He also uses exercise to prime his body and mind. He boxes when there are no rehearsals. He plays arcade basketball as a pre-show warm-up.

“I’ll have coffee and shoot basketball at TimeZone. This gets me really focused. Nice deep breaths, don’t panic, just shoot the ball, grab the next ball. It’s just like theater when you think about it,” he says.

Once a show starts its run, Flores will develop rituals. “If I happen to eat ramen on opening night and the show was good, then I’d eat ramen before every show.”

He adds: “My co-actor in ‘This Is Our Youth,’ Nicco Manalo, believes the same thing. On show days, we’d have sushi at the same restaurant, same table, same chairs.”

Also, “I really like to take naps. I can fall asleep anywhere.”

Except when there are Pokémon around: “I have a Poliwhirl with combat power level 720 that I really want to evolve, but I don’t have enough candy yet. So I get really excited when there are Poliwags around [so I can get more candy].”

Daniel Bartolome, musical director; Arnold Trinidad, choreographer; Mio Infante, set designer; Mickey Hirai, costume designer; Martin Esteva, lighting designer; Myrene Santos, hair and makeup designer.

“Tick, Tick…Boom!” Oct. 1-23, Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Tickets: 09175545560, 5867105, Ticketworld.com.ph. Visit Fb.com/9WorksTheatrical

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Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is first Asian to play Christine in 'Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway

Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is first Asian to play Christine in 'Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway
Aug. 27, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ali Ewoldt.
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is currently playing the role of Christine Daaé in the Broadway production of "The Phantom of the Opera," and it marks a milestone: She is the first actress of Filipino descent and first woman of color to portray the role on Broadway since it opened in 1988.

"It is incredibly exciting!" she says. "I have loved 'Phantom' and dreamt of playing Christine since I was a child, so to get to play Christine is literally a dream come true."

Ewoldt, whose mother hails from Pangasinan, was born near Chicago and raised in Pleasantville, a short distance from New York City. She's been performing the role since June.

"Being the first Asian-American Christine on Broadway is an honor and, also, I believe, comes with a bit of responsibility. I want to demonstrate that this incredible story can be told regardless of my personal ethnic background."

Ewoldt recently played Tuptim in the Chicago Lyric Opera production of "The King and I" opposite Fil-Am actor Paolo Montalban as the King. She previously understudied the role as an ensemble member in the 2015-2016 Broadway revival.

To prepare for the role, Ewoldt revisited the Gaston Leroux novel the musical is based on. "And, of course, I spent many hours learning all of the songs," she says.

She credits "many, many years" of vocal training and ballet classes in honing her skills. She also praises the musical theater program of her high school, Pleasantville High School.

Her pre-show preparations consist of putting on her costume and wig then warming up vocally. "I then stretch and run through all of the opening choreography and the 'Think of Me' song in my dressing room."

She then enjoys the first part of the show as an audience member with a special vantage point: "I watch and listen to the other amazing performers sing the first number from the wings."

Ewoldt is still connected to her Filipino roots. Though she has become a pescatarian and finds choosing Filipino dishes a bit tricky now, she's still able to enjoy sinigang and turon.

"Growing up Filipino, music was always a part of my family gatherings," she adds. "My eldest aunt, my Tita Myrna, took me to some of my first Broadway shows and my parents continued that tradition when they realized how much I loved watching them.

"My parents were always incredibly supportive, shuttling me to dance classes and voice lessons, etc."

Ewoldt with Adam Jacobs
and Lea Salonga, backstage at "Les Miserables."
Photo from Fb.com/aliewoldt
While a psychology student at Yale University (she later graduated cum laude), she auditioned and got cast in a minor role for one of the school's opera productions.

An agent saw her performance and started working with her to land professional jobs.

One of her first jobs was "Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular" at Disney California Adventure theme park, where she was the Jasmine body double.

Ewoldt made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the 2006 revival of "Les Miserables." She was able to share the stage with Lea Salonga when the latter was cast as Fantine in 2007 (Salonga was the first Asian to play this role on Broadway).

Other credits include Maria in the national tour of "West Side Story," chosen by the musical's book writer Arthur Laurents to play the part, and Luisa in the off-Broadway production of "The Fantasticks."

Co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's production company The Really Useful Group, the musical has music by Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart and book by Richard Stilgoe and Webber.

In 2012, Concertus Manila produced the Manila leg of a touring production from Australia.

"The Phantom of the Opera" runs at Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th St., New York, New York. Visit ThePhantomOfTheOpera.com. Digital lottery for $28 tickets at PhantomBroadwayLottery.com.

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