Theater in the New Normal: Keeping the Passion Burning
Words by Lara Louise Antonio
How do theater actors keep the passion alive during this pandemic? We find out in this roundtable interview
Actors in quarantine – what a difficult concept to embrace, especially for theater actors who make their livelihoods out of performing and entertaining the public on a stage. When displaced by a pandemic and these unprecedented circumstances, what drives them to keep the fire burning? What motivates them to stay performance-ready?
In the previous installment of this series, we learned how Luis Marcelo, Maronne Cruz, Bibo Reyes, and Abi Sulit have been personally affected by the Corona-virus pandemic and more importantly, how they – and other actors – have had to adapt to being an Actor in Quarantine.
PRESS RELEASE: “Still”, the first filipino Viu Original Musical Series
Produced by Viu Philippines and This Side Up, “Still” is set to be the first Filipino musical series to launch on Viu Original.
This time around, we discuss how the four keep their passion for acting alive – despite the fact that opportunities are scarce (how bleak it’s looking for our country) – and how they keep themselves in tip-top shape as a performer; ready to jump back on the stage and into a new role when the time comes, whenever that may be.
If you need a rest, take a rest
Lara: Given the fact that it’s so difficult to find opportunities during this pandemic, and even more so to position yourself during this time –“Am I a content creator?”, “Am I going to stream?”, “Am I going to start my YouTube channel?” How do you keep your passion to perform alive?
Luis Marcelo: Well, for one thing, I really hate having to shoot myself. Finding the angle, finding the location, saving the spot. Tapos biglang sira na buhok ko, so mag-aayos ulit. Tapos may ingay sa labas. And then having to record yourself: “It’s not perfect, one more time.” “It’s still not perfect!” Hanggang maka-20 takes ka and it’s so frustrating! I hate doing all this tech.
I [asked myself], “Why am I not loving this?”, “Why am I not feeling the passion?”, “It does not feel the same.” “I don’t feel as good.” [But] after watching the previews and after it came out, “Hey it’s not bad. It’s still there.” It’s a very small consolation, I guess. But for me, [I’m] still raring for something like before. But yeah, I guess you have to wait. I miss it so badly, but at the same time, it’s so difficult to fully enjoy it.
Maronne Cruz: It’s really been a big personal battle for me. “Do I still want to be an actor?” or “Do I still enjoy it?” I think a big part of it is being okay with not enjoying it anymore, especially now.
There are way too many things causing grief. What I would tell myself is, “Why are you letting another thing cause you grief when you can find other forms of happiness?” Survival lang talaga. You really have to hang on to whatever keeps you sane, keeps you happy. And if it means admitting acting isn’t giving you joy and it’s giving you more anxiety, that’s okay.
I was lucky enough na I was able to start my YouTube [channel], and it does give me a sense of fulfillment. Parang there are people who enjoy it so that’s kinda what is keeping me alive right now, in terms of my performer [side], my creator side.
[But] yun nga, keep [your passion] alive if you still want to, but if it’s weighing you down too much [that] it’s causing you a lot of mental health problems, then it’s not worth it. But that’s a privilege also ah. That’s a privilege.
Luis: I do feel though [that] if the opportunity comes, I guess in the future, it will re-spark. But, if you need a rest, take that rest.
Maronne: Take that fucking rest, man! And don’t compare – it really helps not [to]. I think what made me have more drive to create again, I stopped comparing myself to others. “Oh, but this person gets paid to do it.” What is this capitalist thinking that made me think [that] because “I’m not getting paid to do it means I don’t deserve to do it?”
Don’t compare yourself to how other people are creating and why they are creating.
Abi Sulit: Because I started everything early. I started teaching early. I started YouTube early. I started KUMU (@abisulit) early. I started getting burnt out – “Okay, this is too much for me to handle.”
When I had [a] COVID scare, that’s when I started doing all my self-care, meditation, and all that na parang, “Okay this is your break.” Alam mo yung pa-decline na yung buhay mo: “I don’t want to make content right now. I don’t want to go to KUMU right now. I don’t want to do all these things right now.” I needed that break.
Kasi iba yung tuturo ka ng kanta, kakanta with them, iba yung ikaw yung kakanta because you love doing it. Because I was making so many videos about [being a] Musical Director, about audition videos, and about giving free vocal workshops, I suddenly felt [na] mas matagal pa bago ako makabalik.
I guess that’s why I got burnt out… It’s more of just taking it slowly and not rushing na, “Okay, I need to do this.” No, only if I want to, and if it still makes me happy, then I’ll do it.
Bibo Reyes: I’ve been very lucky to still exercise my passion during this time. Even in a weird context, because like the shoots from home that I’ve done, they’ve been very professionally handled and all of that. So it wasn’t too different from what I wanted to do, and I’m very blessed and lucky to be able to say that.
Bibo Reyes in ConnectPodcast’s Love Me Hater. Photo courtesy of ConnectPodcast
What [Luis and Maronne] mentioned [earlier – am I still an actor if I can’t act]? I don’t know if it’s just [the] security brought on by being able to work the way I want for myself in the past month – I’m sure maybe that’s a factor – but, I can honestly say also na prior to all of this kasi I never attached my passion or identity to what I do. I’m just me. I like what I like. I’m interested in what I’m interested in. I can do what I want to do, but my passion is what I do.
I’m a huge consumer – the things that I’m very interested in, and things I’m very passionate about – that’s where I get my passion from, in terms of performing. Kasi all of us saw a musical once and we were like “Crap, oh my god I want to do that.”
Bibo and his collection of toys and figurines in the background
That’s how I fuel my passions – I never left that whole core idea of: I saw it, I was affected by it, and now I want to affect people in the same way. So, now it’s just a constant flooding myself with the things that made me love what I love to begin with.
Lara: How are you keeping yourself “in performance shape,” so by the time that happens, whenever that is, you will be ready to just go back on stage [as if] you guys didn’t miss a beat at all?
Abi: I’m taking a mentorship program. As a singing teacher, I also have a teacher in singing and in teaching. So I’m doing both para, okay pa rin yung boses ko. But yeah I’ve been doing some stuff with Jim [Ferrer] like tap.
Luis: Ako, I joined some of the dance classes in Galaw. Since we get to take it for free as members. Mostly that. I do feel though [that] in teaching, it also helps you learn stuff for yourself as well. I always value the discussions that we make and so minsan din may mga nasasabi din ako na “Why don’t you apply this?”
Bibo: Everyone who approaches me attaches me to a musical. So parang, as much as I want to have a bit of distance between that part of my career and where I want to go,. I’m just constantly thrust into representing myself as that. Be it on KUMU (@biboreyes), be it wherever. If I show up on a stream, and people start watching, they’ll always ask me to sing; they’ll always ask me to do that. And that’s just putting myself out there, kasi when we perform we’re playing characters diba, but putting myself out there as me, I’m forced to [be] Bibo Reyes the musical theater actor. So okay, I will continue to be that person.
Maronne: Okay, I do sing a lot and I do think that counts for something. Acting-wise, I actually think all of this that’s happening is giving us more experience to draw from and more room to ruminate.
Mostly I’m preparing myself mentally and that includes forgiving myself for struggling with being an actor right now because it really is hard… Reminding myself that my worth is not measured by what I do for a living. I mean it’s normal, and it’s completely okay to struggle and feel like you can’t be an actor if your job was taken away from you.
I just have to keep reminding myself “Do I love to act?” and “Why do I love to act?” You really have to take care of yourself mentally, so that you are able to be more generous creatively when the time comes.
Bibo: That’s a really nice thing that Maronne touched on, and I love that she said “generous” at the end because that’s the challenge for us, diba? Kasi, it’s really giving, like what Abi did. Giving and then receiving also of yourself, of your perspective on the world. And as much as right now sucks, ang dami rin ma-tatake away as a performer. As a performer, as an actor.
You really have to take care of yourself mentally, so that you are able to be more generous creatively when the time comes
Lara: That’s true. Even as a person, as a human being.
Bibo: Yeah because a lot of schools of acting will put emphasis on society, diba? And the socioeconomic realities of the character you’re playing and how you can parlay that into imbibing whatever into the character that you’re playing.
It’s the reason why a mother will play a female character differently from a girl who’s like 22, right? It’s just something that’s intangible that will, as much as it sucks, it’s just something you will gain from on an artistic level, as performers.
Maronne: It’s true! So many of us are finally being exposed to the realities that a lot of the work that they already have done, have been trying to do, have been trying to say for a very long time. I think this is strengthening the message in so many actors.