Miguel Faustmann, the esteemed theater actor who passed away in his sleep last week, is proof one can survive for years in the unpredictable world of Philippine theater—with hard work, dedication, and talent. Of course, with Faustmann, it didn’t hurt that he had other things to bring to the table outside of acting—he was also an accomplished scenographer, and eventually was entrusted directing duties at Repertory Philippines (“Noises Off,” “Wait Until Dark”), the country’s premiere English language theater company.
The actor was fortunate, too, to have jumpstarted his career with highly productive, fellow workaholics: Rep’s titans Zeneida “Bibot” Amador and Baby Barredo. After finding out the guy can act, the two women just handed the guy role after role. In a career that spanned close to five decades, Faustmann seemed to have essayed all the great male parts: Thenardier in “Les Miserables,” King Arthur in “Camelot,” Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” Rene Gallimard in “Madame Butterfly,” and Juan Peron in “Evita.”
The man basked in the theater spotlight long enough to have essayed particular parts more than once—like his Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” (three times); or done the same play twice—playing Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” in 1980 with a young Monique Wilson as one of the Captain’s seven children, and then again playing Max in 2006 when Wilson was old enough to take on Maria.
Faustmann was “pure magic on and off the stage,” said Wilson in a social media post, following the actor’s passing. “You were the kindest, truest, most authentic person. You were just pure wonder and life and joy.” “One of the greats,” said fellow actor Bart Guingona on Facebook. Noel Rayos, who acted with Faustmann in “Romeo and Juliet,” also wrote a tribute on his Facebook wall, saying the veteran actor, his “acting idol,” had this “inhuman ability” to “fall asleep onstage and wake up just in time for your cue.”
This last anecdote speaks a lot about how ingrained stage acting was in Faustmann’s DNA. He seemed to have always thought of the job not so much as craft but as the most natural thing. It’s “thinking of someone you know and saying everything like he would,” he once told Rayos.
Which easily echoes Faustmann’s answer in a rare interview done in 2017 by Lisa Macuja in her Art2Art program over DZRH. The prima ballerina asked her guest how he attacks his roles, especially the ones he is asked to reprise. “When you study a role, as you get older, you see things you didn’t see when you were younger. You know things you didn’t know when you were younger. I just use my gut feel,” he told Macuja. “What it makes you do, depending on the character.”
The Art2Art interview, which is also accessible on YouTube, is a rare and honest look at Faustmann’s life as one of Philippine theater’s most durable stars. In it, he talks about how he lived and breathed and craved theater almost all his life. He said he was always part of the drama club as early as grade school. His parents would bring him to the theater. As a kid who lived in Malate, he would walk from his house to St. Paul University Manila’s Fleur De Lis auditorium to catch a play. “The nun would see me and ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ And then she’d take me upstairs and I’d get to watch the show for free!”
His “addiction” to theater led Faustmann to join the now long gone Manila Theater Guild and the Teatro Fil Hispanico which staged Spanish plays at the Army Navy Club in Luneta. It was all “just for fun”—he said he wasn’t even getting paid—until an opportunity to audition for Repertory Philippines’ production of “Hello Dolly” came in 1974. They gave him a part in the chorus and the rest is history.
Well, it wasn’t exactly all plum roles after. When the Rep bosses found out he did sets for Teatro Fil Hispanico, they also hired him to do set design—and for a while he wasn’t getting any acting parts. “One day, they gave me a role and from then they kept giving me roles, one play after another,” he told Macuja. At Rep, he was actor, scenographer, and then director. “When you’re earning not so much, we have to triple time our work so that we get three paychecks instead of one,” he said in the DZRH interview. “We multitask to make our pay a little bigger.”
He confessed to having had a difficult time after Amador’s death in 2008. He said he went through a “three-year slump.” He worked as a Spanish-speaking call center agent—which is paid much higher than the usual call center agents. He quit after three years. “It was enough,” he said. “It’s like you’re in jail,” he told Macuja, despite his efforts to make it fun. He craved the freedom of living as a theater artist.
The Spanish-Filipino Faustmann traced his ease with performing from the little plays he staged along with his siblings when they were kids (he is the fifth child among six children)—for the amusement of their parents, Ramon Faustmann and Eladio Lago. Ever since he can remember, he told Macuja, when people asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he always answered: “I wanna be a stage actor.”
He had no idea he will survive just being one. His parents were not exactly all for it in the beginning. They asked him to treat it as a hobby and “concentrate on your architecture”—his college course at Adamson University. But then he won an Aliw Award in 1985, tied with Christopher de Leon, dedicated the award to his Mom and Dad, and off he went following—how else shall we name it in the case of the talented Mr. Faustmann?—his calling.