Missy Maramara: On Learning and Unlearning, An Artist’s Journey
Words by Anna Nicola Blanco and Bianca Butalid; Illustration by Tej Tan
For Women’s Month, we sat down with actress and professor Missy Maramara to talk about her journey in the theater.
Missy Maramara goes by many titles — artist, actress, improv performer, teacher, director, choreographer, writer, mentor, student. The list goes on. But if there is one thing that she highlighted in our hour-long interview with her, it is that she is constantly in a process of learning and unlearning, something she associates heavily with her work.
When asked when and why she started working on stage, her answer was simply “Because I was born.” Those that have had the pleasure of working with Missy or watching her perform may be hard-pressed to disagree. She is undeniably at home on the stage, in front of an audience.
“It was just an inevitable path for me,” she says. “It got sort of defined in high school,” particularly when she was cast as Lady Macbeth in Dulaang Sibol’s production of the beloved classic, under the tutelage of Onofre Pagsanghan (Mr. Pagsi). She went on to study Theater Arts at the Ateneo de Manila University, where she joined Tanghalang Ateneo under Ricardo “Ricky” Abad.
“Mr. Pagsi gave me the intro to Shakespeare, then Ricky Abad expanded it to show me the possibilities of how to Filipinize it, how to make it our own. Then, I started working outside [school].”
While still in college, Missy was invited to audition as an understudy in “The Vagina Monologues” (TVM) by the New Voice Company, which, she claims, “was where the feminist angle happened, where it began.” Almost 20 years after the show first premiered in the Philippines, TVM remains more relevant than ever. In 2018, amidst the #MeToo movements happening around the world, Missy went back on stage with a new iteration of TVM. “All these feminist plays are really something that I find as a highlight of my career.”
It’s hard to be a woman. It’s hard to be in the arts. it’s hard to be a woman in the arts…we have to continuously empower women and men towards the notion [of working together]
“It’s hard to be a woman. It’s hard to be in the arts. It’s hard to be a woman in the arts,” she says when asked about the state of women in Philippine theater. “You know, the journey of equality never ends…I think Filipina women are lucky, but at the same time, we’re not.” She emphasizes that while Filipinas tend to have more agency than in other contexts, “there’s still inequality in the paycheck; there’s a lot of misogyny going around; there’s a lot of patriarchal ideologies that are false, and we need to educate not just men, but women as well. We have to continuously empower women and men towards the notion of [working together].”
One theme that seems to recur all throughout Missy’s life is expansion, whether it’s as an actress, educator, or student. She holds a Master of Fine Arts (Performance) from the University of Arkansas through the International Fulbright Scholarship Program, an experience she highlights as both one of her proudest moments and one of her most difficult.
“As much as it was a highlight in my career, it was also very difficult because you leave your comfort zone. You go out of the country and you start from scratch… Just that humbling experience was very important… I had to unlearn [my being Filipino], so I could learn the western [style], and then when I [came back], I had to relearn the Filipino approach.” The fact that the Philippine industry is already varied in itself just added another layer to the challenge.
Currently, she is a Ph.D. candidate in English Language and Literature at the Ateneo de Manila University, where she is also a full-time professor. When she’s not writing her dissertation, she’s taking online workshops. She says that one of the good things to come out of the pandemic was the opportunity to take classes you would never have been able to take otherwise. COVID-19 hasn’t stopped Missy from what she does best — learn.
On her time as a young actress, she says she was part of the generation of performers “trained by fire.” She explains: “They throw you in the flame, and you [have to] come out gold, or else you just perish…so sink or swim, patigasan ng loob.”
Iba ang context ng students now. I also have to adjust to that. It’s a lot of learning and unlearning and meeting them halfway. It’s really a collaboration
Nowadays, Missy acknowledges that theater is a space for artists to be who they are. She says that injecting care, mindfulness, and being methodical in the teaching process of young performers is vital. It’s for this reason that Missy continuously learns new ways of teaching and mentoring, like the workshop she’s currently taking on intimacy direction and improvisation. “It’s opening up so many ideas about how to care for another, especially in the theater…Iba ang context ng students now. I also have to adjust to that. I have to make sure their needs are met, and again, it’s a lot of learning and unlearning and meeting them halfway, and encouraging and challenging them to meet me where I am. It’s really a collaboration.”
Missy was featured in an episode of the Ateneo’s Magisterial Lectures, titled “Theater, Trauma, and the Rehearsal to Recovery,” which illustrates the way she marries the theater with “real life” and how she endeavors to impart this to her students.
“I really want to stay hopeful,” says Missy. “People in other countries are getting vaccinated; they’re opening theaters. We have yet [to reach that point]. It’s very frustrating, but we have groups like the Theater Actors Guild, [who are finding] ways to protect the industry. There’s a lot of online [initiatives]. Meron namang nangyayari. We’re not performing… but people are trying to find creative ways to express themselves.
We won’t go back [to how it was]. We’ll move forward and find a way to reclaim the theater and incorporate the things we’ve learned in the pandemic
“I think we’ll get over it, this pandemic… We won’t go back [to how it was]. We’ll move forward and find a way to reclaim the theater and incorporate the things we’ve learned in the pandemic… We can make the theater even more vibrant, even more exciting, even more engaging. And people will be so hungry [for it].”
As audiences, we yearn for the day we can get our tickets stamped or ripped at the entrance once again. Actors and directors and production crews yearn for the day they can rehearse in stuffy, empty theaters again. But until then, we can stay hopeful. As she said, “we’ll move forward.”
MISSY’S MARCH PICKS:
MOVIES OR SERIES YOU’RE CURRENTLY WATCHING?
I’m actually watching different Filipino movies. I just finished “The Panti Sisters,” “Four Sisters and A Wedding,” “Barcelona”…
Prior to the pandemic, I didn’t have time to watch television…then the pandemic happens…and I watched all these Korean telenovelas, and oh my god, it’s wonderful! “Goblin,” “Crash Landing on You,” “It’s Okay Not to Be Okay,” “Start-Up!” Ang galing galing! Their acting talaga, incredible!
I’m looking at “Descendants of the Sun.” I’m watching the Filipino version and the Korean version sabay. Seeing the cultural differences and how they shift in South Korea and the Philippines [portrayal], interesting!
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
I’m still reading “Anna Karenina,” because the last play I watched before the pandemic rendered all of us immobile was “Anna In The Tropics.”
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY SINGING IN THE SHOWER?
“Into The Woods” and “Once on This Island!”. After “Next To Normal,” those are my dream plays to direct.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT FAVORITE THEATER PRODUCTION?
Every time I’m asked that…How the hell do you choose?! I can’t even go top 3 because oh my gosh, I love all of them!
I must say…”Stop Kiss,” “Dalagita’y ‘Sang Bagay Na Di-Buo,” “Kundiman Party,” “The Dressing Room”… “Richard The Third!” “Balunbalunan” from before I left for the States… “Clytemnestra,” because that’s what I took around Europe and around the United States. Clytemnestra was my one-woman show that my Italian director devised and directed, so I was able to go to Europe because of that play.
All the Ricardo Abad plays! “The Vagina Monologues!” I cannot not say that! All the Ricardo Abad and Shakespeare plays! All the New Voice Company plays…”Stage Kiss!”
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