Jon Santos is Irma Vep -this time, not an impersonation

Jon Santos is Irma Vep -this time, not an impersonation
By Walter Ang
August 16, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jon Santos is known for his standup satire shows that highlight his impersonations of popular figures. With a track record of nineteen years, he has a trove of characters under his belt like Ate Vi, Basana Roces, Armida Sigyon-Makareyna, Sherap Espada, Shawie, Sen. Meeryam, just to name a few.

He will once again attack multiple roles in a single show, but this time, no impersonations. He is currently in rehearsals for Marie Eugenie Theater of the Assumption (Metta)'s restaging of "The Mystery of Irma Vep." One of Off-Broadway's longest running shows, the comedy is by Charles Ludlam, an American actor, director and playwright who founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City.

The play involves only two performers (either always two actresses or two actors) with four roles each, including a werewolf, a lord and a lady, a maid and a farmhand. "It really is very, very demanding on a performer," Santos says. "Especially with the accents and the running and the costume changes and a little bit of singing, too."

Before his entry into the stand-up comedy circuit, Santos started out doing theater work with UP Repertory Company under the leadership of Behn Cervantes. After college, he joined Tessie Tomas and Willie Nepomuceno, his idols, in the rounds of political satire shows. "My journey with the UP Theater community extended even after graduation because Willie and Tessie were both from UP and they both also had a love for theater and both also had theater backgrounds," he says.

He was last seen performing in a play for Atlantis Production's Dogeaters. In between his shows and return forays to theater, he once ran a comedy club that featured improv group Philippine Playhouse, whose founder, Ana Valdes-Lim, is Metta's artistic director. Mutual respect and admiration for each other's work has resulted in several collaborations.

Valdes-Lim got Santos to join Irma Vep in its first staging last year. "I was very honored to have been considered qualified and I immediately jumped on the chance to join," Santos says.

The play was chosen partly to service the college's Theater Arts and Media Education program. "The play is technically difficult to do, and it is an acting piece for actors," says Valdes-Lim. "We educate our students and audiences about the importance of having challenging technical and artistic productions. What better way to learn than from difficult pieces?"

For the play, Santos is partnered with Philippine Playhouse member JV Katipunan. "Both are naturals," says Valdes-Lim. "Although both are mimics, they had to create brand new characters from scratch without copying."

While many people assume that his satire shows are mostly adlibbed, Santos reveals that the bulk of his shows are "planned, rehearsed, choreographed and directed." He knows he's done a good job when people think his scripted lines are adlibs. "The adlibs are actually planned and structured!" he says.

His pride lies in giving audiences "fully scripted shows" and he actually finds it "very, very hard not to have a full outline and set of scripts and a guide for any performance." As such, he is no stranger to the rigors of preparing for a play as taxing as this one.

In fact, the process suits his style just fine. "I am the eternal rehearsalist and I like to prepare and prepare and prepare," he says.

Santos notes that doing Irma Vep is a "welcome return to doing theater in a school setting under the supervision of teachers?professionals who have the perspective, the patience, and the discipline and the knowledge that I welcome in my work."

"I like this constant return to the academic setting so I'm always back in a workshop type of situation," he says. "I'm always stretched a little bit. I'm always reminded that certain good habits have to be worked on all over again -- with the voice, the body, with dance, with singing, and, most importantly, with working with a team."

The Mystery of Irma Vep runs Aug. 28, Sept. 4 and Sept. 11, 2010 with 2pm and 7pm shows at San Lorenzo Blackbox Theater, Assumption College, Makati City. The show comes with a Lecture Demonstration by Ana Valdes-Lim on "Rehearsal Techniques" for Directors and Teachers, a question-and-answer forum with the actors, and a backstage tour. Call 817-0757 loc. 1161 to 1163 or 894-2681.

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