MANILA -- Tanghalang Pilipino’s (TP) “Nekropolis,” the new play by Guelan Luarca to be directed by Charles Yee, is set to premiere on April 20 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Black Box Theater or Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez.
The teaser synopsis goes: “Sa Nekropolis, naghihingalo ang mga gusali sa pagpadyak ng mga manhid na katawan. Lumalangitngit ang mga tulay sa mainit na pakikipagtalik ng laman. Masusulyapan pa ba ang kislap sa likod ng abo? Ito na ba ang hudyat ng apokalipsis?”
As they gear up for “Nekropolis” and breathe through the final and fourth weekend run of the acclaimed “Ang Pag-uusig,” the TP Actors Company scholars look back to their journey on the live stage.
Aggy Mago, Arjhay Babon, Earle Figuracion, Edrick Alcontado, Heart Puyong, Judie Dimayuga, Mark Lorenz, Mitzi Comia, Sarah Monay and Vince Macapobre are the new actor-scholars of the TP Actors Company. Some have been with TP for years serving in different departments like marketing, sales and promo. A few directly auditioned to be actors.
As members of the TP Actors Company, they all came in at the tail-end of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns early last year, when live performances, like theater, were just testing the waters and TP was migrating from online performances or streaming platforms and preparing for its 36th season.
Some of the TP Actors Company scholars had their first tastes of performing on the live stage in last year's Virgin Labfest. But the real baptism of fire was “Anak Datu,” the full-length play with music written by Rody Vera and directed by Chris Millado. The play tackles the modern history of Mindanao interwoven with a short story written by National Artist for Sculpture Abdulmari Imao.
This proved to be their litmus test and for a new material, TP’s bravery and hard work paid off.
“Ang Pag-uusig” is the third staging of Jerry Respeto’s translation of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” directed by Marasigan. Again, the play with the new cast members earned the nod of critics and young audiences who didn’t see the 2017 and 2018 versions.
The four TP senior members Marco Viaña, Jonathan Tadioan, Lhorvie Nuevo and Antonette Go earned the most praises, having been part of the first two runs. One critic said these four are the dream cast but the actor-scholars as part of the ensemble were a revelation.
Before the final weekend run of “Ang Pag-uusig”, the 10 actor-scholars gave their insights on their theatrical journey since joining TP, from their experience in “Anak Datu” to “Ang Pag-uusig.” Going back to live performances through TP also helped them hone their craft as an actor and personality as a whole.
Aggy Mago was part of the ensemble in “Anak Datu,” playing a character named Bayol Maguiales. In the ongoing “Ang Pag-uusig,” she is Mary Warren.
“I've been with TP for several years but not as an actor. I was a graphic artist. Although I have been eyeing the place where I am right now for many years, it is still so new to me and overwhelming. And now, being with TP AC, it may have been one of my greatest dreams but it also showed me the biggest threat I have faced in my life,” she said.
“As a theater artist who came from the region, some of the things I am grateful for being part of the Actors Company are the knowledge and skills that I am acquiring from our classes and theatre productions," said Arjhay Babon who played the pivotal character Nur Misuari, in “Anak Datu” and Giles Corey in “Ang Pag-uusig.”
“These knowledge and skills are not only cognitive, they are also affective realizations. We are taught in TP that being a good actor is being an altruistic character in real life,” he said.
Heart Puyong, who played Lasinah Abdullahi in “Anak Datu" and Mrs. Putnam in “Ang Pag-uusig,” share the same sentiment.
“I was just this simple girl who lived on a farm in South Cotabato, and next thing I knew is that I'm here surrounded with exceptional people that help us grow as an artist and share experiences behind and on stage,” she said.
Earle Figuracion played Jikiran in “Anak Datu”. Now with “Ang Pag-uusig,” he plays Rev. Samuel Parris.
“It’s been insightful and revelatory being in TP; it showed me different perspectives and gave me a better understanding of the specific practices done in it, and the philosophy the company espouses,” said Figuracion.
“From the classes and mentorship that I am obtaining from the Actors Company, Tanghalang Pilipino made me realize the importance of being a thinking actor, the value of script analysis, the significance of being open to exploration and collaboration, the gravity of being part of the ensemble, the power of choices, teamwork and empathy, the importance of valuing my instrument as an actor, and the significance of embracing my roots," said Edrick Alcontado, who played Abu Bayao in “Anak Datu” and Ezekiel Cheever in “Ang Pag-uusig”
Judie Dimayuga is a lawyer by day and an up-and-coming, very promising theater actor outside the courtroom. In the Virgin Labfest last year, she was part of BJ Crisostomo’s Absurdo: Event Day." She played Amina Gunao in “Anak Datu” and now she is earning praises for playing Tituba in “Ang Pag-uusig.”
“My favorite lesson as a student-actor in TP is that we have the capacity to make choices. And that in making these choices, we should not only think about ourselves, but other people as well, whether they be my fellow actors in TP to create ensemble work, or humanity in general in our pakikipag-kapwa.,” she said.
Mark Lorenz, who played Young Jibin Arula in “Anak Datu,” is also earning praises as Reverend John Hale in “Ang Pag-uusig.”
“This is undoubtedly the most challenging role I have played in my theater career so far. I have reached the point where I discover a lot of things about my character as I hit upon him in my sleep. There were nights that I caught myself rehearsing in my dreams and woke up the next morning with a deeper understanding of John Hale. In ‘Anak Datu,’ I gave my 110%, here in ‘Ang Pag-uusig,’ I doubled, even tripled all my efforts," he said.
“It was a huge help that Tanghalang Pilipino gave us a lot of classes in Script Analysis, Improvisation, and Viewpoints. These classes equipped us to be keen on portraying our characters. It also taught us to be good individuals for others, and our country.”
Mitzi Comia is a familiar face for followers of TP’s streaming public service advocacy radio plays for children and young adults called “Tara Peeps.” In “Anak Datu,” she played Abdulsukor Tacbil. Now in “Ang Pag-uusig” she is playing Mercy Lewis.
“I am grateful for the classes that TP provides. Aside from the acting, movement, voice class, along the way I am being taught to be human and being selfless. All of what I learned here is being culminated through the work we do on stage,” she said.
Sarah Monay functions as part of TP’s marketing team and Actors Company. In “Anak Datu” she played Dalagang Walang Ngalan. Now with “Ang Pag-uusig” she is exemplary as Betty Parris.
“To be with Tanghalang Pilipino was a dream I didn’t know I had in me until the pandemic hit us. It took all of me to eventually resign from my previous job and leave Bicol to move here and pursue a full-time theater career. In my almost two years with TP (My first year, as an Intern, was spent online in 2021), I have learned more than just being an actor, but more so about being and staying human. I resonate so much with the battlecry “Utak. Puso. Bayan” and the essence of kapwa which TP lives by," she said.
Vince Macapobre also has double roles as marketing person and actor for TP.
“TP helped us in terms of our classes. They provide us with the appropriate class that we can use in a specific play. Like the Script Analysis and Viewpoint classes. In these classes it helps me to build what is the importance of my character in the story and also building an Beginning, Middle and End so that I can build an arc on my character. They are also guiding us if we have choices that not fit on the scene and they are supporting us in terms of artistic so we can build our own choices.”