MANILA -- "Fly high!"
Like a marching order from his mentors and friends in Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), theater actor Jonathan "Tad" Tadioan gets out of his comfort zone to join the cast in the ongoing run of "Ang Huling El Bimbo," now on its final weekend at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila.
Tadioan has been a member of TP's Actors Company for 13 years and has been acting exclusively for TP and other productions under the CCP.
"Ganun nga pagkakasabi sa 'kin nina Tata Nanding and Ma'am Carmela Manuel. 'Fly high, para ma experience mo outside, ibang mundo.' Kaya lumabas ako sa comfort zone, sa TP, first time after 13 years," Tadioan told us recently.
Fernando "Tata Nanding" Josef is the artistic director of TP, the resident theater company of the CCP, while Carmela Millado-Manuel is TP's company manager.
For the past two weekends, Tadioan has taken over the role of Banlaoi, the main antagonist in the musical originally played by Jamie Wilson in the musical's maiden run in 2018 and its re-staging in February to March this year, without an alternate. It's a demanding role with the unwritten rule: "Bawal magkasakit." Banlaoi is the university military training commandant who morphs into a corrupt drug-dealing politician in the latter part of the musical.
During the first quarter of this year, Tadioan did TP's "Coriolano," and later on CCP Office of the President's "Baka Naman Hindi". He was also part of "Tartuffe," TP Actors' Company recital that was staged for two days, April 3 and 4.
But when "Ang Huling El Bimbo" needed someone to take over from Wilson for the role of Banlaoi, Tadioan was reportedly top of mind.
"Nauna ko nalaman kay Phi Palmos, nabanggit nga daw 'yung pangalan ko for Banlaoi. May gagawing ibang production daw kasi si Jamie, then nalaman ko na ang nagbanggit ng pangalan ko ay si Michael Williams. 'Why not try Tad?' After three weeks tinawagan ako ni Sir Michael," Tadioan told us recently.
(I learned it first from Phi Palmos [that] my name was mentioned for Banlaoi. Jamie Wilson will be doing another production and then I learned that it was Michael Williams who suggested my name for the role.)
Palmos plays young Anthony, one of the protagonists in the musical. Williams is co-artistic director of Full House Theater Company and also functions as overall director of the musical.
"It's a go since I wasn't doing anything. It's off-season for TP so perfect timing," Tadioan said.
"Nag-advice si Jamie na panoorin 'yung rehearsals noong April and then 'yung show mismo nila," he added. He learned all the rudiments, quick changes and Wilson's tracks. He studied the script at once.
Outsiders may wonder, why Tadioan? What made him perfect for the role of the most hated main character in this megahit of an original Pilipino musical.
If there's a list of badass male villains in local theater in the past decade, the characters played by Tadioan would be included. Among the standout roles that stick to memory are the cold-blooded murderer Boy Pogi Resureccion and the chauvinist politician Governor Bingo Beloto.
Theater lovers who have been regularly trooping for the past 10 years to Tadioan's "comfort zones" won't forget his role in "Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan," a modern classic of a one-act play written by Layeta Bucoy and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio. It was staged in two successive years, 2009 to 2010, for the annual Virgin Labfest and again in 2012 as part of TP's 25th season at the CCP.
Here, Tadioan plays a fisherman living in an economically challenged community of informal settlers along the coastline of what we understood as Cavite City or Bacoor City. Set before the elections, Tadioan's character is a nuisance candidate for town mayor named Boy Pogi Resureccion.
Boy Pogi has a namesake, his estranged cousin Doc Jess Resurreccion, a successful medical doctor now also running for mayor and asking him to withdraw his candidacy. Doc Resurreccion promises Boy Pogi a better life -- like all politicians before election day would do -- but Boy Pogi knows there's something rotten in Doc's approach.
In the final scene, Jess fish-hooks Doc's right eyeball before strangling him to death. In those three years when the play was staged, Tadioan's character in our memory has been immortalized as among, if not, the vilest, baddest villain in contemporary Philippine theater history.
Read ABS-CBN's review here.
"Yeah, defining character, nag-marka as me, as Tad," Tadioan told me one late afternoon during an early dinner, smiling this time like an old acquiantance and his hair colored gray for the role of Banlaoi.
He's having his quick break from "Huling El Bimbo" rehearsals and even while he's holding only a bread knife, I felt my heart was beating faster than usual and my right hand shook while holding the voice recorder near him. I had to remind myself that it's just a harmless bread knife in his right hand but I can't stop worrying about the fork in his left hand. John Wick could end a life with a pencil. I had to be careful with my questions.
Immersion, understanding the text
So how did he prepare for that role? Did he pattern Boy Pogi to a real person?
"Based on observation lang. Noong ginagawa ko yung 'Doc,' nagpunta ako sa may coastal road, 'yung may mga squatters just to observe kung ano ginagawa nila," he said, putting down the bread knife and holding the fork. He is referring to the highway along the Paranaque City coastline that is connecting Baclaran to Las Pinas. In 2009, there were still a colony of informal settlers there.
"Ang ganda ng pyesa kasi, kailangan pag-tuunan ng attention, bigyan ng justice 'yung role. Kasagsagan ng rehearsal pumunta na ako."
At the time, nobody knew he was doing an immersion, even the playwright and director, neither Tata Nanding Josef and his co-actors. It was his own decision. He didn't even introduce himself as an actor. He stayed for more than a day, from morning to lunchtime the following day.
"May kinausap akong pamilya. I told them, I'm from DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) to observe. Pumayag sila. Walang alam sina Layeta at Tuxqs, walang akong sinabihan. Try ko lang mag-observe paano sila matulog, mag-usap. Tingin-tingin kung ano kinakain nila. Nakitulog ako kung saan sila natutulog."
Pure coincidence, the father in the family was also a fisherman, like Boy Pogi. The fisherman's wife was also pregnant, like Boy Pogi's wife in the play, Elsa, then played by the magnificent Angeli Bayani.
"Doon ko narinig 'yung mga malulutong na murahan. Sa mga kapitbahay, 'yung mga p*******mo, lumayas ka na dito'. Ganun lahat lumalabas sa bibig nila," he said.
Before he left the following day, he gave the family a token of P500. Not only that, a year later he came back with a bag of grocery items and revealed to them his real identity and purpose for the immersion.
"Inamin ko na hindi ako taga-DSWD. May rerun ang 'Doc' kaya nagpasalamat ako. Nakatulong naman ako sa kanila kahit papaano," he said. Then again, he gave credits to Rutaquio's vision as director, to the challenges given by his co-actors Crispin Medina, Angeli Bayani, Peewee O'Hara and Riki Benedicto, who played Doc.
Another abominable character Tadioan did was Governor Bingo Beloto, the psycopath, misogynist politician and husband to Ana Abad Santos' character in Floy Quintos' Palanca-winning one-act play "Evening at the Opera." It was part of the Virgin Labfest in 2011.
In one of the crucial scenes, Tadioan tries to stangle Abad Santos while on top of her on their matrimonial bed. You can feel the rage in Tadioan's eyes, his devilish face like a callous madman about to kill his wife. This scene has been captured for posterity as cover photo in the second volume of Quintos' collection of plays.
Tadioan said for this role, he just relied on the text because there was no chance to do some immersion. And logic dictates that no politician would agree to have Tadioan sleep for one night in his house and observe him and be popularly referred to as the real-life character for whom the despicable governor Beloto was based on.
I asked him what are the other roles he did in which the research was as intense as in 'Doc's'?"
"Willy Loman sa 'Pahimakas ng Isang Ahente," he said, referring to the lead character in Arthur Miller's "Death Of A Salesman." In 2014, TP staged the Filipino translation by National Artist for Literature Rolando Tinio. Tadioan played alternate to Josef. In the words of Tadioan's peers: "Gano'ng level ang ka-alternate ni Tad. Tata Nanding level."
"For the character, I observed the mannerisms of my cousin's 69-year-old grandfather. Siya lang kilala kong lolo," Tadioan told us, laughing at the recall. "Kailangan talagang maghanap ng pag-obserbahan para mabuo ang character. Hindi enough 'yung nakikita sa TV or movie. Kung pwede kong gawan ng immersion lahat ng [roles] gagawin ko pa, basta may time lang."
Otherwise, he would just rely on the visions of the director, the playwright, inputs from his co-actors, the text.
"Nagtutugma na lang kapag nabuo ko na. Madalas, wala akong pini-peg na character. More of understanding the text," he said.
For Banlaoi, I asked him if he spent a night in a police station or an office of a town or city councilor nearby just to observe. He didn't as there's no need for we see them everyday.
"Hindi naman ako nag-observe ng mga pulis, relaxed naman siya na role. Hinayaan ako ni Dexter na mag-explore sa character ni Banlaoi," he said, referring to "Huling El Bimbo" director Dexter Martinez Santos.
It was his first time to be directed by Santos. He's also thankful that all his co-actors have been very supportive of him since the rehearsals. Some were also from TP or have done roles with TP's part productions.
"They would ask me 'OK ka na?' during rehearsals. They all supported me all the way kaya memorable sa akin ito. Sobrang thankful ako kay Jamie [Wilson] kasi bago niya ako iwan, alam ko na gagawin ko. He's a good friend, a good soul," he said.
Incidentally, he and Wilson will act together in this year's re-staging of another musical, "Aurelio Sedisyoso."
"Gusto kong tulungan si Jamie kasi siya magiging bagong Tikbalang (shape shifter)," he said, referring to the role he did for TP's original play on patriot-writer Aurelio Tolentino staged in 2017 at the CCP Little Theater, the one named after him. Tadioan's alternate was Baron Geisler.
Tadioan is in his mid-30s and his high-school years covered the peak of "Eheadsmania."
"Kapag binabalikan ko 'yung mga panahon na 'yun, ngayon ko lang na-intindihan 'yung ibang mga songs nila. Hindi ko naiintindihan na dark o pwede palang ganito. 'Yun ang kagandahang ng songs ng Eheads, you can interpret them in many ways," he said.
After high school, he took the UPCAT and passed it but his father can't produce an income tax return, and he wasn't accepted by the admission department.
He went to Far Eastern University instead and took up Mass Communications. At FEU, one of the major subjects required him to act and immediately fell in love with theater. He loved the camaraderie, the fullfilment after every rehearsals and performances despite going home late.
Tadioan became an active member of the FEU Theater Guild, then newly revived by veteran theater-film-television actress and mentor, Dr. Rustica Carpio. Among the plays he acted in were "New Yorker in Tondo," and "The King and I."
Actor for the people
After he graduated in 2005, he immediately auditioned to be a member of TP's Actors Company and got accepted. "Yes, right after graduation from college, nag-apply kaagad ako sa TP. Ang dami kong natutunan kina Tata Nanding. Noong college kasi, parang extra curricular activity lang sya. Siyempre para sa grades din. Sa TP, nag-iba perspective ko sa theater. Hindi fun, fun lang."
Tadioan's first play in TP was the hilarious "R'meo Luvs Dew-lhiett," the "jologs adaptation" of Rolando Tinio's translation of the classic Shakespearean play. Originally staged by Dulaang Sipat Lawin, the play was brought to TP by director Herbie Go. Tadioan played Benvolio, the cousin of Romeo who tried to be the peacemaker between the Montague and Capulet families. The twist in this play was that Benvolio was made gay.
"First role ko sa TP 'yun. Ginawang bading kaya first role ko rin na beki ako. Alternate ko si Wowie de Guzman and Chunchi Cabasaan," he recalled. His second gay role was The Reporter in Tony Perez's "Bombita," staged by TP in 2011.
"Tribute ko 'yun kay Sir Soxie [Topacio]. Siya ang unang original na actor who played 'Gay Reporter.' Am a fan ng mga works ni Soxie."
More than the skills, he said, "Natutunan ko na may responsibility ako sa playwright, director, co-actors, sa audience, may dapat nakukuha sila sa 'yo bilang aktor. It's not ony for fun and entertainment but also for education. May responsibility ka sa kanila hindi lang sa sarili mo, kaya may outreach program din ang TP."
He went on explaining TP's KAPWA, the acronym for Kamalayan Pilipino Workshop in the Arts. He felt immense gratitude for Josef for these workshops in communities outside Metro Manila. "Sa workshops, dream ni Tatang 'yan, ang magkaroon tayo ng sariling acting technique. Kasi lahat naman hiniram natin, Stanislavski, Stella Adler. It's time magdevelop tayo nang sariling atin."
And there have been a lot of challenging roles since then. Tadioan has played all except for one. "Role na baliw hindi ko pa nagagawa. Pero may isa akong dream role na existing na: Cyrano de Bergerac."
As he finished his softdrink from his drinking glass, he was no longer Boy Pogi who might fork-hook this interviewer or as Governor Betingo who could break the glass with his grip. Outside the grassy backyard of the CCP, Tadioan is our badass theater actor still dreaming for more roles that would challenge him to outdo himself.
For now he finds that challenge as the drug-dealing, corrupt politician we've grown familiar with in real life, like the characters he had portrayed in the past 13 years that continue to thrive around us, threatening to "fish-hook" us out of our comfort zones.