The curtains rise, the music plays, the backstage hushes stop and the house lights dim. You step onto the stage and the spotlight is on you. That moment, you’d feel infinite.
It’s one of the idiosyncrasies of theatre. At any given point, you could be anyone or anything. You could be a king, a peasant, a witch or the protagonist in your favorite novel. You could be Romeo, or Juliet, a tree, a candle, or a monster that invaded the planet in year 2097. The possibilities are endless.
You could live in times and places that don’t exist. Sliding in rainbows, touching magic pots, reliving the tales of Ibong Adarna, or belting Broadway classic “On My Own” as Eponine in Les Miserables. It’s never ever short of fantasy — very much like Alice in Wonderland that has come to real life.
And yes, there’s the glitz and the glamour in it. Theatre actors get to wear intricately woven costumes, and they put on fancy make-ups and hairdo’s. They do photoshoots and fansigns and their faces are plastered on posters and playbills. It’s for these reasons that one of my biggest childhood dreams was to go to PETA, a highly esteemed theatre company in the country.
It’s really so enticing not to try.
Act One: It Started with a Frustration
My first experience in acting onstage was my college org’s production Dulaang Kapiterya back in 2009. We’re a group of broadcasting students trying to dabble in theatre, making annual experimental plays that attempted to discuss social issues. That year, we produced a three-play spectacle where I played multiple roles: a bullied Jejemon kid and a poor journalist.
It proved to be a baptism of fire in all sorts. What seemed to be so easy proved to be a difficult ordeal. We had to rehearse until the wee hours, sometimes foregoing meals to memorize our lines. But more than the physical stress, it was the emotional exhaustion that plagued me those days.
The main problem is I’d always feel giddy waiting for my turn, but once it’s my time to shine, I couldn’t release the proper emotions anymore. I always forget my lines, and in most times, I don’t get to deliver them properly. There were butterflies in my stomach that seemed to suck my energy.
While I didn’t commit blunders in the play, I know my performance was “so-so“. The audience probably didn’t even notice me onstage. Most of them forgot about my character after the curtain call.
And the worst thing happened: I lost my self esteem.
Act Two: The Enigma of Theatre
Fast forward to 2012. Despite the nearly traumatic experience I had in Dulaang Kapiterya, the stage called me back. It was my last semester in college. I was painstakingly doing research for my undergraduate thesis but I had the guts to enroll in Prof. Michelle Washington’s Theatre 100 class. The course was notorious for being toxic.
The foremost virtue we had to learn in that class was to always release our inhibitions. Whenever we go onstage, we have to give our 100% — something I applied not only in theater but also in life. However, in that class, that meant doing a lot of role plays and improvisations. One day, our Professor ordered us to cross-dress. I chose to be a Miss Philippines candidate.
During those days, I also religiously watched Dulaang UP and PETA productions to observe. Both teams always come out with great productions. They have talented actors, directors and playwrights. I wish I could be one of them.
But I wasn’t a born performer. I can barely sing in the right tune and my dance steps were always awkward. My only driving forces were my professor and classmates who’d never run out of good words even if I know my performance was bad. Still, I loved what I did, and I believed in it. I passionately gave it my all, delivering more than what was expected of me.
For our final project, we produced a French comedy by Moliere called The Learned Ladies. I was the director and I even played the main antagonist Monsieur Trissotin. We sang, danced, and acted in front of hundreds of people without any inhibitions! All the elements blended in perfect harmony. I did not mind all those eyes. I just performed to my heart’s desire.
The class ended with a sweet surprise. I got a grade of 1.00.
Act Three: Devirginized!
One lazy afternoon in July 2013, I was browsing the Internet when something caught my attention. Sipat Lawin Ensemble, the group behind Battalia Royale, was offering a series of theatre-related workshops. Without hesitation, I signed up, and there I met JK Anicoche, who would eventually introduce me to more opportunities. He directed a play in CCP’s Virgin Labfest. It inspired me so much that I featured it in my first story as a segment producer for GMA News.
Then came the longing to go back to the stage. To be honest, I wasn’t content with watching stories as they magically turn to reality. I knew I had to be part of something bigger. Call it self-absorbed, but I loved the feeling whenever I bowed out after each play.
Act Four: All the World’s a Stage
In October 2013, the universe conspired to make one of my biggest dreams come true: to perform with PETA. It was more elaborate and intense than my college theater class, but less academic. Each day, they made us do things we never even imagined we can! While PETA became a comfort zone and a weekend refuge after a stressful work week, it also made me go beyond my limitations. We defied possibilities. We created something different.
The workshop culminated in a production where I played Miguel, a fictional character who saved his princess from an unwanted marriage by putting their ship on fire. There was extra pressure because it was a major character that appeared in the opening act. But I did not mind; I loved the pressure anyway. My theatrical endeavors finally reached its peak.
As always, it’s those few minutes before the show that’s really nerve-wracking. Several thoughts flashed before me and everything was laid into retrospect — from how my performing frustrations transformed into a passion, to how we’ve breathed life into this beautifully orchestrated piece after weeks of labor. Those moments were our denouement. Truly, theater is the greatest of all arts, it goes beyond what is seen, and it tells stories that mirror human life.
When I snapped back to my senses, the show was already about to start. The butterflies were still there, but I was more confident this time. And even before I knew it, the curtains rose, the music played, the backstage hushes stopped, and the house lights dimmed. I stepped onto the stage. The spotlight was on me.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story kung paano ako naging leading man.
[Entry 25, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Jervis Manahan is a News Reporter for PTV 4. He is also a Contributor for SubSelfie.com but is part of the original roster that founded the site. He was previously a News Writer for 24 Oras and Unang Balita and a News Researcher for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Broadcast Communication 2012, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.