The prime of Ana Abad Santos

The prime of Ana Abad Santos
By Walter Ang
November 29, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

From Ana Abad Santos Facebook account
By all accounts, Ana Abad Santos had a fulfilling 2009. "It was a good year, I got to play very strong women characters in several productions with different directors. I learned a lot," she says. She got to direct theater productions and even acted in a film or two.

As soon as 2010 came around, things got even better.

Earlier this year, she was nominated twice in a single category for the 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay, the awards given out to productions and performers of Philstage member companies. Santos was nominated for the Best Actress in a Straight Play category for her turns as Candida Marasigan in Repertory Philippines's "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino" and as Blanche Dubois in Tanghalang Pilipino's "A Streetcar named Desire."

The short film she acted in, "Out of Love," directed by Flora Lau, won best film at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

And, oh yes, she just won this year's Aliw Award for Best Actress in a Non-Musical Production for her portrayal of the title role in Dulaang UP's "Mary Stuart."

"It was pretty great!" she says of the recognition. "I loved being chosen by a respected group of people and being nominated with actresses that I respect."

Growing up
Abad Santos seemed destined for a life in theater. She grew up "sleeping in hotel ballrooms" as her mother, former supermodel and fashion show director Wanda Louwallien, would tag her along to rehearsals.

"I remember having fun at my mom's shows. I loved watching everything, paying attention to what was going on," Santos says. "I even modeled once for one of my mom's shows. I loved modeling but, unfortunately, I never grew any taller," she adds with a laugh.

A trip to New York City solidified her love affair with theater. "My mom took me to see a Broadway show and I loved it. It just hit me, theater was what I wanted to do," she says.

Upon her return, Abad Santos sought out theater but "I didn't really know where to go, there weren't a lot opportunities back then to learn the craft."

Abad Santos started taking summer acting workshops at Repertory Philippines and soon debuted professionally in one of the company's productions. "I was a tree or something like that in `King and I,'" she says with a laugh.

She's been at it ever since, becoming part of Rep's stable of actors with ensemble or lead roles from Shakespeare tragedies to contemporary comedies.

At a time when theater companies were not as open in allowing cross-over appearances of actors, Abad Santos bucked convention and proceeded to appear in productions with Actors Actors and Dramatis Personae. Eventually, she also performed with World Theater Project ("King Lear"), Atlantis Productions ("Dogeaters") and UP Playwrights Theater ("Fluid") and Dulaang UP (most recently in "Shock Value").

"I wanted to see what was out there," she says. "It's important to always keep learning. You need to learn, you need to go out there. I have such a hunger to learn. You have to work with other directors, with other actors, with people you respect, to hone your craft."

She credits her former teachers at Rep for being long-lasting influences in her career as a theater artist. "Bart Guingona and Jaime Del Mundo were two of my teachers at the Rep workshops," she says. "Bart taught me the importance of doing radical works and Jaime taught me the value of the foundation work of doing the classics."

Abad Santos has also taken a post graduate course in Classical Theater at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art and got a chance to apply what she'd learned, this time as a director, when she was tapped to helm Rep's critically-acclaimed "Hamlet" a few years ago.

She's also directed rock opera "Bare" for Ateneo Blue Repertory, the musical "Duets" for Rep and, most recently, Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical revue "A Grand Night for Singing," for Power Plant Mall.

From student to practitioner, Abad Santos also has "teacher" as part of her list of roles. She teaches at Rep's summer workshops and at Beacon Academy for its International Baccalaureate academic program's drama subjects.

Her "hunger to learn" is insatiable it seems. And her capacity to work knows no bounds.

Abad Santos is currently taking up an online course on "professional development on teaching theater." She's also already working on her first two productions for 2011. She's rehearsing as an actress for Repertory Philippines' February staging of Amy Tan's "Joy Luck Club," where she plays one of the daughters in the story of Chinese women who've immigrated to America, and she's rehearsing as the director for Rep's March staging of "The 39 Steps," a comedy based on the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

All this learning, teaching and doing is inspired by her ten year old son, Tommy, and is driven by her desire to take an active role in developing theater for the country.

"Theater is alive here in the Philippines. It doesn't always have to be `serious.' Even if it's just to entertain or amuse, it's there," she says. "I attended a talk by playwright David Henry Hwang where he said people can find their culture and their identity in theater. I believe that. Being Filipino is tied to theater. I want people to be able to see themselves in theater. I want to bridge that gap."

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