REVIEW: Repertory Philippines stages Joaquin's 'Portrait of an Artist as Filipino'

Rep stages Joaquin's 'Portrait of an Artist as Filipino'
By Walter Ang
January 22, 2009

It is heartening to see Repertory Philippines open their 2009 Season with a Filipino playwright, namely Nick Joaquin's "Portrait of the Artist as Filipino." Loyal audiences and fans of Rep already know of the group's track record in staging productions that have originated from Broadway, so to see them see them explore homegrown material is an exciting event.

Joaquin's play has been translated into different Filipino versions, including a musical, though Rep stages it in the original English. And Rep does not disappoint. Director Mari Avellana's mother, National Artist for Theater Daisy Avellana, originated the role of Candida in 1955. His intimacy with the material has produced a show that is tight, evocative, heartrending, and funny.

The cast delivers with panache this tale of two spinster sisters living with their father in pre-World War II Manila. A quaint living room with withered, whitewashed walls greets the audience. Lighting designer Martin Esteva magically recreates shafts of sunlight pouring into the room through two windows. It is, in one glance, both a stately home and a crumbling establishment. The production design sets the tone of this play where the characters are trapped in a time and place that has become disconnected with who they are and who they wish to be.

Candia and Paula are stuck in their family home, caring for their father Don Lorenzo Marasigan, who has retreated from the world by practically becoming a hermit hiding in his bedroom. Both sisters are dependent on the occasional allowance sent to them by an older sister and brother and are pressured by different camps to sell off a painting bequeathed to them by their father.

The painting's title is that of the play, and it hangs invisibly on the fourth wall separating the stage and the audience?a metaphor for the invisible forces and themes of social obligation and personal freewill that permeate the play.

An ensemble cast provides foils for the sisters to deal with and strikes a perfect balance. It does an excellent job, with each actor or actress giving a little more than what is expected of their character but never grandstanding or stealing the scene. Even Dido Dela Paz, who plays Don Perico, keeps his notorious penchant for endless ad-libbing in check.

In the performance that we caught, Ana Abad-Santos played Candida (Irma Adlawan-Marasigan alternates) with Leisl Batucan as Paula. They display acting bravado as their characters attempt to bravely keep their roiling emotions veiled, as dictated by social norms, under a semblance of comportment and normalcy.

Audiences may not even notice subtle acting changes employed by both actresses to great effect. Watch out how they use slightly bent over and inhibited body language that slowly transform into erect and confident stances as their characters find their footing. Both actresses often have to switch from elation to desperation in a matter of beats and are amazing to watch as they do so, right on cue.

When the sisters stand up and strike out as modern women of the early 1940s, such as looking for work and taking in a boarder for extra income, they provide fodder for the city's latest scandal. These are two women definitely on the verge. And when they do break down, with the superb tragicomic performances of Santos and Batucan, the audience feels their shame and pain.

But once you're down, the only way left is up, and the second act allows the audience to witness the sisters' triumphs as they come into their own. The third act provides a poignant reunion of the Marasigan clan and is a hilarious romp with half a dozen senior actors onstage obviously having a lot of fun with their scenes and hamming it up gleefully for the audience. As a bonus, long time Rep fans are rewarded with an inside joke played at the expense of actor Joel Torre who plays Bitoy Camacho.

Portrait runs until February 8, 2009 at Onstage Greenbelt One Theatre, Makati. Call Repertory Philippines at 887-0710 or Ticketworld at 891-9999. Log on to

Careers in the performing arts

Careers in the performing arts
By Walter Ang
January 4, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

These days, everyone wants to become a famous TV or movie personality. Droves of young men and women audition for every televised singing competition under the stars with hopes of becoming a star themselves.

Of course, not everyone can be so lucky. If you can't act, sing nor dance, the first thing you have to do is accept and admit that you can't. It will make life easier for you. The second thing you nee to do is be happy because you can still be part of the wonderful world of performing arts by working backstage.

Yes, backstage. The TV and movie industries can be very lucrative, but why not consider doing theater work? It is an exciting art form and provides one of the best training grounds for people who wish to break into the above-mentioned worlds.

Backstage bosses
If you like ordering people around loudly, why not consider a career as a director? Of course, screaming and throwing chairs at actors as a method of directing has long since been passé, so you may need to find a different way of doing it. You'll also need to be very creative and insightful. You must bring to life a story that starts out on pages of paper. You need to guide your actors and collaborators in creating a good show for audiences to watch.

If you like ordering people around but are much more quiet about it (and if you aren't imaginative enough to be a director), then you can be a stage manager. This is one of the most important roles in theater that no one ever hears or knows about.

A stage manager has a copy of the script with all the directions, exits and entrances of the actors as well as all the lighting cues, music cues, set change cues and, occasionally, explosion cues (if the show uses pyrotechnics). He or she "calls" the show, cueing everyone and everything. When the director is not around, the stage manager is the boss.

Plays with one or two actors are the easiest to stage manage. But if you're really good, you may be asked to stage manage something like the opening ceremony of the Olympics and you can just imagine how much that will pay. But if you're not super organized and have nerves of steel (to calmly fix the occasional missed cue that may cause the entire show to freeze), good luck!

Artistic collaborators
Now, if you're more of a team player and enjoy collaborating with other like-minded people, you can either be a set designer, a costume designer or a props designer. The one great thing about theater is that your college degree is inconsequential. That being said, of course, those of you who took up (or are taking up) architecture, interior design and fine arts can have a slight edge in the design department.

Engineering (electrical, mechanical and whatever-al) or physics majors may have an easier time with the "design" of technical stuff like lighting design and ensuring that the set designer's multi-level stage design can actually withstand a troop of actors bouncing up and down on it.

If you unfortunately had an umbrella open when God was showering the world with the gift of imagination and creativity, perhaps you are good with your hands? The designers need skilled craftspeople to bring their designs to life. Seamstresses, props makers, carpenters, and the like are very important cogs in the machinery of a show. You can't expect the lead actress of a splashy musical to mend her own gowns now, do you?

The biz in showbiz
Now what about the business, marketing and accountancy majors? If becoming a corporate drone leaves you quivering with fear, then consider running the "business" part of "showbusiness."

Every show needs a good producer or production manager to handle the money, making sure that the director's request for another elephant doesn't eat up the remaining budget to pay for the actors' salaries.

The show will actually need seed money to get things rolling. If you were tasked to look for sponsors for your school org's activities back in school and were pretty good at it, you can still keep on doing that for a living by finding funding for a show. If you're good with English, you can even be a grant-application writer. It'll be your job to look for foundations or companies that give out grants and write a proposal that will hopefully convince them to let your show have a slice of their pies.

And of course, once rehearsals are under way but before the curtains can go up, the show will need sales agents (okay, the nice term is "sales associate" or "associates for audience development"). Who else brings in those troves of buses filled with students to watch the play? What's nice is, if you meet your quota, you can usually get a commission.

Posters, souvenir programs and press releases need to be prepared, so the marketing people get to stretch their muscles in this department. How do you promote Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"? Tell people it's about two sex-crazed teenagers who fall in love and then commit suicide. What about Puccini's "Madam Butterfly"? A Japanese teenager is so ashamed when she gets pregnant by her American lover who dumps her that she commits suicide. Sex and death can sell anything!

So take a chance with the wonderful, crazy world of theater. You have a chance to make art. You have a chance to make people happy. You can make them see something they've never seen before. You have a chance to make a difference, even for just a few hours, in the audiences' lives. And while actors don't always get picked for the next show, every show will always need backstage staff.