Pinoy grabs lead role in Chicago staging of King and I April 29-May 1, 2011

Pinoy grabs lead role in Chicago staging of "King and I"
By Walter Ang
April 25, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jay Españo
Former Tanghalang Pilipino actor Jay Españo will be playing the lead role in a Chicago staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I" by the Drama Group.

He had auditioned for the role of Lun Tha "because I really like his love songs," he says. When the show's director, Andy Leahy, asked him to read the king's part, Españo credits his ignorance of any version of the musical (including the movie version) that landed him the part.

"I wasn't stuck with the default stereotype as portrayed by Yul Brynner. I think there were moments in the reading that I made the king likeable and humorous, rather than making him a stern despot," he says of the Thai monarch who is won over by English teacher
Anna Leonowens.

He now travels 40 minutes every day to attend rehearsals.  "The Drama Group is 32 miles from the city where I live," he says.  The long transits are not new to Españo as he's been shuttling back and forth between Manila and Singapore for the past several years.  He's been visiting the US more often lately as part of his efforts to "to go all-out global."

Continuous learning
The Singapore chapter of his career began when joined "Chang and Eng, The Musical." Years later, he wrote, directed and produced "The Tales of Three Marias," a show about Filipino domestic helpers living in Singapore, after interviewing over 50 of them.

Having won silver medals in the acting and singing categories in World Championship of Performing Arts 2008 hasn't stopped him from continually takes classes to improve his craft.

He got hooked on yoga four years ago and even got a certification to teach it.  His interest in movement was further piqued while taking his Musical Theater degree (on scholarship) at Lasalle College of the Arts.  "We had a class where we studied all kinds of movement philosophies."

He was inspired to take a graduate degree in Laban Movement in Chicago.  "Laban is a tool for observing and analyzing movement. The idea of the body being aware of incorporating space, time, weight and flow is astonishing to me. Being able to properly utilize your body is an excellent tool to have as an actor. Movement is an external manifestation of one's inner behavior."

"The trend now in most acting schools is gearing towards the studies of movement. Aside from Laban, you have yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Suzuki Method combined with Anne Bogart's Viewpoints and a lot more. Although they differ in technique, they all agree that one must be cognizant of their bodies to function efficiently in life."

Españo credits Tanghalang Pilipino for instilling in him the importance of continuous study and "a high regard for discipline which I still carry to this very day."  He joined TP as a scholar of the Actors Company, TP's resident pool of actors, in the late 90s.

"Everybody in the company was serious and dedicated in the craft.  We had classes in the afternoon and rehearsals at night, different classes like movement class with Agnes Locsin, or improv with Anna Valdez-Lim and other teachers."

"My favorite and also most dreaded class would be Script Analysis with [TP founder] Nonon Padilla," he says laughing. "Each week we were assigned to read a play and analyze it in class. I would just sit there and listen to him for hours as he munched on peanuts while delivering his take on the chosen text of the week."

Españo waxes nostalgic after noting that TP is celebrating its 25th anniversary. "I miss working with TP people. I remember doing 'Besa Me Mucho' where I was required to dance the tango in a pair of red thongs in the intimate Tanghalang Batute.  Most of the time, I'm more worried about memorizing my lines.  That was the only time I was fussy over a costume or the lack of it," he says.

He also recalls forgetting his lines during a long monologue in a performance of 'Ang Ulo ni Pancho Villa.'  "I resorted to gibberish.  Luckily my co-actors Olga Natividad, Joey Paras and George de Jesus picked up the cues pretty well," he says laughing.

Other projects
Españo is maximizing his time in Chicago by taking up improvisation classes at the renowned Second City. "Second City is the Harvard of improv theater. It's where the likes of Tina Fey, John Belushi and Steve Carell came from."

He's now on his second year and learning Music Improv.  "We learn how to make up songs while doing a scene. This is what they do in the TV show 'Who's Line Is It Anyway?'"

He will also be doing a dinner show with Miguel Vera in May, a Rizal musical in June, and a Rizal opera in November.  "The musical and opera are for the 150th anniversary of Jose Rizal.  And hopefully, I will have a solo show in September."

This production of "The King and I" is a limited performance for The Drama Group's 80th anniversary. Filipino-Americans Randy Ballesteros and Nicole Dizon will play LunTha and Tuptim, respectively.

"The King and I" runs April 29 to May 1, 2011 at Bloom Theatre, 101 W. 10th Street, Chicago Heights, Illinois, USA.  Visit

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Theaterbatoring PETA's Care Divas

thoughts on peta's "care divas"
by walter ang
april 18, 2011

Cast of Care Divas
there's news that peta's "care divas" will have a new run later this year. the musical revolves around the friendship between the five care divas.  their dream of landing a regular gig as a group is anchored by the story of chelsea and her relationships with her employer/patient (and, of course, her blossoming love interest). two other care divas provide somewhat major subplots while the last two are mostly for comic relief.

overall, i found the pacing a little slow. the material doesn't seem like it should take more than two hours to unfold.

the first act scenes seem to start in fits, though the interweaving expository monologues introducing the care divas as they pass on their "patient/s" to one another is clever. some scenes, like whenever the care divas are in their friend nonah's flat, seem to be written and staged in a way that have slow starts similar to sequences for tv or film, you can almost feel the invisible camera panning for an establishing shot before someone starts talking.

the set design by leo abaya is unwieldy. though it has a clever carved out seating area that doubles as a patient's bathtub, the downstage cross-inclined ramps could have been omitted to concentrate the action onto a more focused space (not to mention to add rows for more audiences).

(i've noticed that directors for peta productions have been staging some scenes on ground level, forgetting that audiences in the orchestra aren't seated on an incline and, therefore, do not have clear sightlines. this happened in their production of "ang post office" a few months ago, too.  during the intermission, a family crept up to the balcony where i was seated, announcing they were tired of craning their necks.)

drag performances naturally involve superfluous showboating, and perhaps that's where it should stay and not conveyed via descending lampposts from the rafters. (even if they're supposed to serve as metaphors for phallic symbols piercing into the care divas' lives).

a sense of identity is one of the obvious and initial themes the text presents: in this story we have men-who-identify-as-women who are strange strangers in a strange land.

director maribel legarda has one actor (paul holme) portraying all the jewish patients of most of the care divas. it's theatrical and fun, we get to see one actor switching several characters on and off. two female roles (israeli mother and isaac's daughter) are also played by one actress.

this reinforces the concept of the "sameness" or "generic-ness" of these "minor" characters.  it tells us that this story is not so much about "them" (the israeli employers/patients) than it is about the care divas, who, in turn, we assume, are the ones usually regarded by the public as "them."

that even if these care divas use gender-bending make-up and costume (whether this is to disguise their true selves or to dress up as their true selves deserve a whole other discussion), they have more solid identities than the "other" characters around them.

one has to wonder, then, what the production is trying to say by having only one caucasian actor and a couple of filipino actors play the non-filipino roles. i realize that it's not easy to cast caucasians in manila, but the color-blind-save-for-one-actor (nothing against holme) set up seems a little off-kilter.

gender and sexuality
contingent to the issue of identity, in this case, are gender and sexuality. and the many shades within their intertwined spectrums.

refreshingly, playwright liza magtoto dumps us right in the middle of the action with none of what-could-have-been stereotypical melodramatic and trite backstories of attempting to explain/justify the hows and whys of the homosexuality or the cross-dressing. (there is actually one backstory that seems awkwardly inserted, but more on that later.)

given the self-identification of the lead characters as women, the text surprisingly harbors a misogynistic streak. the care divas' sole female friend nonah, is, at one point, considered a traitor to their cause. and then there are the mothers.  israeli mother and shai's off-stage voice-over mother are both demonized as the enemy.

kayla is deported and her subplot awkwardly ends there. shai's backstory showcasing her strained relationship with her mother is left awkwardly unresolved. adding to the awkwardness is the way the mother is never present on stage. she's channeled by shai's patient (holme) and then by the care divas-as-greek-chorus-as-mother-as-a-monster.

the device used to present this absent character is good for laughs, but doesn't really seem to serve a point. it explains some of shai's caustic personality, but why is she the only character whose personality has to be explained? and why explained in this manner (mother-as-monster)?

when kayla is deported, the other care divas are unable to help her.  shai does not receive closure for her relationship with her mother (whether seeking acceptance or unilaterally breaking ties), she simply leaves for work in another country.

even when they are double-crossed by the bar owner who hires them, the care divas march on. when chelsea discovers kinks in her potential love relationship (a wonderful twist that layers further and skewers notions of truth / identity / costume / deceit) , she pushes forward.

we are given these recurring awkward endings to the problems that are introduced. in the face of conflict, it seems acceptance, resignation and moving are the only currencies that can be banked on by the care divas in their fleeting, unstable, risk-filled, oppressive world.

thank goodness for acts of kindness from strangers (israeli or otherwise) and friends (filipinos or otherwise) in the strange land. the care divas may sing about being bad girls, get bitchy with each other, and kvetch about their employers, but then these divas really do care: about each other, the people they have to care for, and the people they want to care for.

melvin lee is sterling in his portrayal of chelsea's breakdown when isaac passes away; showing chelsea's hope, grief, longing, and love smashing into each other.

maybe this is the point: hope. perhaps because, despite and in spite of unpredictable awkward endings hanging over the care divas' heads, they know that their minds have to necessarily let go of what can't be changed and their hearts have to grasp at all and any chance at hope, real or illusory.  now if it could all be told in just two hours ... kekeke.

NOTE: This blog post was developed further into an essay for the Journal of Asian Perspectives in the Arts and Humanities (Vol. 1, No. 2, 2011) with the title "Art reviews: Care Divas by Peta."

Temptation Island remake 2011 and its theater connections

Temptation Island remake 2011 and its theater connections
By Walter Ang
April 6, 2011

Poster of original movie
found on the Interwebs.
I just found out that casting has been announced for the 2011 remake of the classic 1980 movie "Temptation Island" written by Toto Belano and directed by Joey Gosiengfiao.  The movie is about four beauty pageant finalists and four men (plus one maid) who get stranded on an island.

The remake will feature Lovi Poe as Suzanne Reyes; Marian Rivera as Azenith Tobias; Solenn Heussaff as Bambi Belisario; and Heart Evangelista as Dina Espinola.  Who are these people?  I don't watch a lot of TV (because I don't have a TV at home, poor me) so I have no idea who they are.  Are they famous?

Stage version
My friend B.L. took me to see the stage version "Temptation Island ... Live!" produced by Madiraka Entertainment production company in 2003 at Tanghalang Huseng Batute, CCP.  In a send up of the campy nature of the movie, the stage version featured male actors in the lead roles: Peter Serrano as Suzanne Reyes; John "Sweet" Lapuz as Azenith Tobias; Raymon Narag as Bambi Belisario; and Tuxqs Rutaquio as Dina Espinola.

Photo from
Here is a video excerpt of the stage version.  (Sorry, it's in Tuxqs Rutaquio's Facebook account and I don't know how to upload it here, but you can click the link to get to it.)  This is one of the iconic scenes from the movie, where the ladies are hallucinating about giant chickens and ice cream cones.

Original movie
Poster of the stage version designed by Jason Moss
I actually saw the stage version before I saw the movie (a copy of which was given to me by advertising producer par excellence M.G.).  I was only three years old when the movie was shown in theaters, so thank goodness for VCDs. The original cast was portrayed by Jennifer Cortez (Suzanne Reyes); Azenith Briones (Azenith Tobias); Bambi Arambulo (Bambi Belisario); and Dina Bonnevie (Dina Espinola).

Funny and scandalous
It is a hilarious movie and to this day, my friend L.H. and I exchange quotes from the movie on our Facebook walls. If you have any friends who were old enough to have seen or know about the movie, talk to them about it and you'll get loads of fun trivia.  For example, how the four lead actresses were actually beauty pageant contestants/winners in real life (Dina Bonnevie was Ms. Magnolia Ice Cream or something) or how Alfie Anido, the actor who played Alfredo, was supposedly murdered by the family of the girl he was seeing.

Cast of the stage version "Temptation Island ... Live!"
From left: John "Sweet" Lapuz as Azenith Tobias;
Jonnel Sales as The Maid;
Peter Serrano as Suzanne Reyes;
Tuxqs Rutaquio as Dina Espinola;
and Raymon Narag as Bambi Belisario
 (photo shared by Tuxqs Rutaquio).
The mistaken identity of the theater director who is in the movie
In the movie, many people mistake the actor playing the role of Joshua as theater director Rolando Tinio. The actor who portrayed the role is actually another theater director: Jonas Sebastian. I used to watch the plays he directed for the defunct Bankcard series of free plays in Makati City.

The playwright and theater director who will direct the movie
The remake is being produced by Regal Films.  Chris Martinez will do the rewrite and will direct. He directed the stage version as well.  Martinez is known for writing the script of the hit comedy movie "Kimi Dora" (where he pays homage to "Temptation Island" with lots of inside jokes, lines and character histories).

On the left: Jonas Sebastian as Joshua in the movie.
On the right: Rolando Tinio, who is not in the movie.
Martinez has written the stage adaptation of Carlo Vergara's "Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah, Ze Muzikal" and has won Palanca Awards for his other plays "Last Order sa Penguin" (1st prize, 2001), "Welcome to IntelStar" (3rd prize, 2005), and "Our Lady of Arlegui" (1st prize, 2007).

I've seen "Our Lady of Arlegui" directed by Dennis Marasigan with Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino and Abner Delina acting; a funny, touching scenario between a Muslim woman who sells pirated DVDs and a young film lover in search of an elusive title.

I haven't seen "Last Order" and "Welcome to IntelStar" but I've read the scripts and they are hilarious. I wish a theater group would restage these two plays so I can finally watch them.

Summer theater workshops 2011

Summer theater workshops
By Walter Ang
April 6, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

“What’s most rewarding about our annual summer workshop is witnessing the process of transformation that happens to the workshoppers,” says Gantimpala Theater Foundation founder and artistic director Tony Espejo.

From shy and inhibited young boys and girls, they learn to deliver a punch line, sing a tune, work out dance steps. They are initially strangers who become friends in such a short time, and their creative juices seem to be coming from a bottomless well. I sincerely hope we instill a love and respect for theater with them.”

Gantimpala is just one of many theater companies that are holding acting workshops this summer (see listing below).  Workshops are available for children, teens and adults.  Most groups have children’s and teens’ classes during the daytime and adult’s classes during the evenings.  All workshops usually end with a recital.

Aside from learning the craft of expression, children gain social interaction skills while teenagers and adults get their foot in the door should they decide to pursue careers in the industry.  There are usually no requirements in terms of acting or workshop experience; just a desire to learn (or a parent who will force you to join to help you improve your self confidence) will do. 

While syllabi differ from group to group, basic acting classes for kids usually use games to teach enhancement of the senses and to improve focus, concentration, observation, and, most importantly, to build confidence.  The games help students with coordination, agility, self-reliance and experiencing the importance of teamwork.

Teens and adults usually have lectures and exercises on spontaneity, improvisation, body and voice work, and script analysis, among others.  Beyond basic acting, some companies offer musical theater training as a separate workshop.

A few tips
Enrollment: Bring your own pen to save time. Have photocopies of either a school/company ID or birth certificate, just in case. Some groups ask for one or two ID photos. Have 2x2 prints made; it’s easier to cut down to 1x1 if needed.

Fees: Just so that there are no surprises later on, ask if recital fees are separate or included in the tuition.  Remember, there might be additional costs for photocopying of scripts, merienda for rehearsals, costumes for the recital, etc.

Discounts/payment terms: It depends on the group, don’t be afraid to ask, the worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say “no.”  It’s a long shot, but if you feel you have talent, consider writing a letter to the group’s artistic director to inquire about auditioning for a scholarship.

Security: Get the name and cellphone number of not just your child’s teacher, but also at least one office staff.

Caveat emptor: Research and ask about what you’ll get.  Be sure to know the credentials of the company that is giving the workshop, ask around for referrals, ask about the backgrounds of the instructors.  Don’t rely on just your children to tell you about their recital schedule, call the office to double check when it will be so that you won’t miss out.

Special classes
Tanghalang Pilipino, CCP’s resident theater group, will have a Rehearsal and Performance Techniques workshop for students with prior acting experience.  Classes will focus on movement, voice, text and character analysis, and improvisation.

Repertory Philippines will hold special classes:
Shakespeare for Kids
For students aged 9 to 16. It will include a brief history of the life and times of William Shakespeare. Students will find out if his father was really an official beer taster and how Shakespeare wrote 42 plays in 15 years with only a grammar school education.  The course will give students tools to better understand and appreciate the Bard’s works.  It will conclude with a scene and monologue night.

Movement for the actor
For professional and student actors. Using dance and rhythmic movements, students will train their bodies to express a fuller range of physical emotion. Work will be done on breathing, posture, alignment, agility, flexibility and the overall strength.

Students will be taught movement techniques created by Rudolf Laban, a tool used by dancers, athletes, physical and occupational therapists—one of the most widely used systems of human movement analysis.  The class will also include a beginner stage combat course; staged sword-fights, fist-fights, slaps, punches and pratfalls will all be covered.

Acting Master Class (audition required)
For actors with professional experience in stage, television and/or film, a Master Class will be taught by Pinky Amador and Bill Atwood.

Students will be coached one-on-one on aspects such as vocal improvement, physicality and actor’s movement, audition techniques, choosing audition pieces, rehearsal and performance techniques, for all mediums for both the local and international market.

Amador has 24 years of non-stop work experience as an actress, singer, host, model and dancer both in the Philippines and England. Bill Atwood has 30 years of teaching experience and has taught at American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

Non-acting classes
As theater practitioners know, a show doesn’t always need a lot of actors, but a show will always need backstage staff.  For students 18 years old and above who want to learn the ropes of running a show, Tanghalang Pilipino will have an Event Production and Stage Management workshop.

Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) will have one-day lectures on Stage Management, Technical Theater and Make-up for Theater; and half-day lectures on Music Appreciation, Song Writing, and Choreography.

It will also offer week-long workshops on Visual Arts for Young People and Theater in Education for educators and teachers.

My Talent will have courses in modeling, street dancing, drawing and other art forms.  Audie Gemora, known to theater audiences for his acting and directing and known to television audiences for his stint as a judge in the show Talentadong Pinoy, will teach Pop Concert Performance for students who want to learn how to become concert /recording artists.

Sipat Lawin Ensemble has week-long or month-long workshops in Directing for Teens and Adults; Production Design and Technical Theatre) and storytelling.

Where to go, who to call 
You can also call your nearby schools, churches, barangay halls/centers, village associations, etc. to see if they are offering any theater workshops.

Here’s a round-up of some of the more established theater groups you can contact. Schedules and info are subject to change without prior notice. Contact the groups to ask for their full line-up of different classes.

9Works Theatrical
Dates: April 11 to May 29, 2011
Contact: 09175545560; 5867105; 557.5860;
Office: Ortigas Center, Pasig City
workshop venue: Rockwell Center, Makati City

Gantimpala Theater Foundation
Dates: April 25 to May 28, 2011
Contact: 5280603, 5365860 and 09215286308.
Office and workshop venue: Rizal Park (Luneta), Manila City

My Talent Place by Audie Gemora
Dates: March 28 onwards
Contact: 3590497; 5713485; 09225916060; 09273159994; 09228764772;
Office and workshop venue: Eastwood City, Quezon City

New Voice Company
Dates: No workshops scheduled thus far, but call to confirm
Contact: 8965497; 896-6695;
Office: Makati City

Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta)
Dates: April 13-May14
Contact: 7256244; 4100821; 09175769339;
Office and workshop venue: New Manila, Quezon City

Repertory Philippines
Dates: April 4 to May 20
Contact: 5716926; 5714941;
Office: Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  Enrollment can also be done at Onstage Theater, 2nd floor, Greenbelt 1 Mall, Ayala Center, Makati City during scheduled performances on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Workshop venue(s): Ortigas Center; Pasig City; and Makati City

Sipat Lawin Ensemble
Dates: No set schedules thus far, call to confirm
Contact: 09175008753; 9645969;
Workshop venue: the group can go to your venue

Tanghalang Pilipino
Dates: April 5-9, 12-16, 26-30
Contact: 8323661; 8321125 loc. 1620 and 1621;
Office: Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City
Workshop venue(s): Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City; Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City; and Miriam College, Quezon City.

Triumphant Peoples Evangelistic Theatre Society (Trumpets)
Dates: April 4-May 31
Contact: 6317252; 6362842; 3816635; 0917896 4034;
Workshop venue(s): Podium Mall, Mandaluyong City; Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City; and Alabang Town Center, Muntinlupa City.

Cebu City: Little Boy Productions
Workshop dates: May 2-20
Contact: 2549320 or 4158058

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