MANILA -- Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) actor Marco Viaña could have easily shifted from acting onstage to being in films a long time ago. A number of times, he received tempting offers to prove his mettle on the big screen. However, it was hard to seriously lure Viaña into films early on.
“For years, several directors who were able to watch our plays have invited me to be part of their film productions,” Viaña told ABS-CBN News. “During those years, the TP Actors Company was doing several shows consecutively.
“It was so hard to find time and accept a film project. I guess I also didn’t have the courage then, because I consider acting in films a different monster.”
With his heartthrob looks, Viaña acted in theater productions that were challenging and at the same time, fulfilling for him through the years. He played the lead in “Katsuri” and won the 2019 Gawad Buhay Award for Male Lead Performance in a Play.
In 2017, he won the Gawad Buhay Award for Male Featured Performance in a Play for “Ang Pag-uusig (The Crucible).”
“I consider Ms. Bibeth Orteza’s ‘Katsuri,’ the heartbreaking adaptation of John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men,’ as one of the most memorable and important theater productions that I’ve been a part of,” Viaña said.
“The opportunity to collaborate with director, Sir Carlos Siguion-Reyna and share the stage with Jonathan Tadioan as Toto and the rest of the Actors’ Company, were highlights of the whole experience.
“But most importantly, the production taught me so much about the continuing struggles of our farmers in Negros and reinforced the importance of hopes and dreams even at the darkest times.”
Understandably, Viaña still has dream roles at this point in his acting career. “Besides the iconic Shakespeare roles like ‘Hamlet’ or ‘King Lear,’ I want to try gender-bending portrayals, Filipino superheroes or even national heroes,” he asserted. “Or any role in a Lav Diaz film.”
Last year, Viaña was confident enough to finally audition for a film role. “I was able to work with filmmaker Kaj Palanca who, I think, is challenging the standards of Filipino queer films,” he excitedly announced.
“It was such an amazing experience working with a new generation of filmmakers, who have set a standard for the kind of working environment and artistry that I want to be part of as an actor.”
WORKING DURING PANDEMIC
While Viaña is aware about how the pandemic affected live theater productions that were absent for more than two years now, he also knows how TP was able to admirably pivot in order to survive and remain relevant.
“The restrictions imposed by the lockdowns prevented TP from performing live at the Cultural Center of the Philippines [CCP],” Viaña lamented. “So TP needed to find other opportunities to continue connecting with its audiences.
“We ventured into short films, radio programs and digital/web series. ‘Heneral Rizal,’ our first short film in partnership with Voyage Studios, was streamed at the Cinemalaya 2020.
“We partnered with Visa Philippines, Eon and film director Avic Ilagan for our financial literacy digital web series, ‘Lukot-lukot, Bilog-bilog’.”
Thankfully, TP went into more co-production ventures that became beneficial for the company’s presentations.
“We were fortunate to partner with the Manila Broadcasting Corporation-DZRH to produce a weekly multi-media program – radio, TV and online – for children titled ‘Tara Peeps.’ These and other TP projects and workshops kept us busy the past two years,” he said.
The theater company, for the first time, fearlessly ventured into its first stage film production with “Doc Resureccion: Gagamutin ang Bayan,” a timely presentation written by five-time Palanca award-winner, Layeta Bucoy.
TIMELY "DOC RESURECCION'
Viaña plays the lead as Doc Jess Resureccion, with Tadioan as his cousin, Boy Pogi Resureccion, a nuisance candidate. Nanding Josef is the alcoholic father Papang, with Sherry Lara as Mamang and Lhorvie Nuevo as Elsa.
Although the full-length film version is still on the wings, Viaña, as well as the entire TP team, are optimistic this presentation will create interest from producers to take on this challenging, yet very relevant material that tackles the national elections.
“Everyone on the team realized that the more important task is to connect with Filipino voters and reach as many audiences as we can,” Viaña explained.
“It was an exhilarating experience to step inside the CCP Main Theater again. TP’s production and marketing teams were able to confidently communicate and collaborate with Sir Dennis [Marasigan, stage director], Sir Pong Ignacio [director of photography] and with the rest of the film team.
“We are just grateful that we gained new experiences from awesome filmmakers these past two years. Every artist and staff in the company has grown into multi-hyphenated artists-managers. I can’t wait to dive into another project with the whole TP team.”
The original Virgin Labfest script of “Doc Recureccion” by Bucoy did not have a major revision for its latest presentation that will run starting from April 17 to 30.
“We merely altered two lines just to adapt the script to the present biometric voting system” Viaña said. “The script was written in 2009 when the voting process was still manual.
“I think it’s a testament to the significance and power of Ms. Layeta’s script. Even after 12 years, the story and the challenges of the characters remain relevant up to the present.”
“Doc Resureccion” is challenging enough for Viaña as it marks his first time to essay the role. “I was able to watch the first staging at Virgin Labfest in 2009,” he said. “I immediately became a fan of the play.
“The following year, as I was digging my way to becoming a professional theater actor, TP announced that they were looking for new, resident actors as members of the Actors’ Company.”
Viaña tried his luck, submitted his application and prepared for weeks. “I went to the CCP on the audition day,” he shared. “To my surprise, the panelists were Riki Benedicto and Jonathan Tadioan, the original cast of ‘Doc Resureccion.’
“I can’t even remember how I was able to survive the audition without blacking out. Twelve years later, I was given this opportunity to be part of Ms. Layeta Bucoy’s powerful material.”
Perhaps, the biggest challenge for Viaña is finding and reintroducing himself to the theater process after again after not being able to perform onstage for two years. He was initially unsure whether or not he could do justice to the role.
“Honestly, I was really terrified going back onstage because I was not confident if I still have the skills needed to be a theater actor.”
However, once rehearsals started and Viaña assumed his role, he was inspired to act again. “Excitement took over,” he recalled. “Through the guidance of our director, I was reminded that this is beyond my fears.
“That this is an opportunity to be of use in relaying the importance of informed choices and critical thinking for the coming national elections.”
NIOT JUST AN ACTOR
Viaña is aware there is no room for being complacent, as he is no longer just an actor for stage this time. He took on the more daunting task as TP associate artistic director.
“In 2018, Tata Nanding [TP artistic director] and Ms. Carmela Millado-Manuel [TP company manager] assigned me to be part of the newly-formed Artistic Committee, with the goal to expose us to the management processes inside the company,” Viaña shared.
“They also wanted to develop us to be the next-generation of artists-leaders for TP. It was when the pandemic hit that major management and artistic decisions were to be made inside the company in order to survive.
“We also wanted to make sure that we kept our regional linkages and audience relationship active. I was then temporarily assigned to be the associate artistic director while we were navigating our way through our digital platforms.”
After a year, Viaña was offered to renew his contract for a more permanent TP position. “I never stopped working since then,” the actor teased. “Kidding aside, I found myself enjoying the challenging work, so I accepted the offer to continue with my role.
“I realized it was important to just allow myself to be a beginner and figure out the ropes of the position, with the support of TP artists and staff. It is a very demanding position, but in hindsight, most people inside the company at that time, were also adjusting.
“The people were learning and trying to navigate the ‘new normal’ processes. Everyone was again a beginner, so it felt I was in good company.
“I just reminded myself to always show up, be present, ask for help when needed and find opportunities to pat each other’s back.”
As officer of TP, Viaña has adjusted to the demands of his job, admirably shuttling between acting and being associate artistic director. Busy, perhaps, will be an understatement for him.
“Most days are packed with online meetings and detailed planning for current and future projects,” Viaña said. “Online work is very taxing for a company that thrives in physical interactions.
“Initially, I made steps to thoroughly understand the functions and responsibilities of the different units inside TP. Knowing the strengths, limitations and challenges of each unit allowed me to understand my fellow artists-managers.
“I also find ways to effectively communicate and contribute to the problem-solving within the company.”
Marasigan never fails to remind him to continue finding opportunities to act onstage or in films.
“He once told me that I don’t have to choose between being an actor or being an art’s manager, but to just find my own system to manage the opportunities,” he explained.
“The continuous experience of doing stage performances, embracing all the training you can get and contributing to the future of the company is a dream of every theater actor. I’m so grateful to TP for giving me the opportunity to live that dream.”
Fortunately, Viaña enjoys the support of his parents in the work that he does. “I am an engineering graduate and my parents were initially a bit doubtful about my decision in the beginning.”
Today, however, the tides are changed. “Now, my parents are my biggest defenders when some relatives question my decision to pursue a career in theater,” he said.
“Belonging to a family who acts more and talks less, I remember my mom’s advice when I was at a loss if I should continue this path or not. She said simply, ‘Tuloy mo lang, anak.’ I couldn’t be more thankful to those words of affirmation.”
And Viaña couldn’t be more certain about his career choice than now.
“Doc Resureccion” streams from April 17 to April 30. Tickets are available on Ticket2Me.net or through here.