4th of July is different this year for Americans. We have to celebrate safely. Many issues are on our minds; affecting our work, relationships and our lives. What’s more, we can no longer ignore the growing tensions right outside our doors.
Growing up with a Philippine passport, I was used to the hassle of VISA application every time I travelled outside of Southeast Asia. But the reality that today, we Americans are the ones who can’t do the traveling is such a novel thing. These are strange times.
So, today I will stay home and cook a meal with the hubby. Then (like millions of people worldwide) we will enjoy streaming Hamilton at home on Disney+. See the trailer here.
We were able to see Hamilton live in San Francisco. I can tell you, I was in the virtual queue for 9+ hours before I got the chance to choose our seats. By that time, the ticket price was double what we were prepared to pay but after being glued to the phone all day, I was not going to miss my shot to see the show. The app showed there were 125,600 online before me. How often does a 9-hour virtual wait occur while purchasing online event tickets? If this is common, there should be a way to receive a callback when it’s your time to get into the room where it (the sale) happens. The app told us when it was time to get in the room. Once there, it doesn’t give you a lot of time to make your decision. It was stressful picking dates, seats and times with the clock ticking on your phone. That final ticket confirmation turned into a moment of joy and relief. It’s seems all too dramatic for theatre tickets but it was.
I expected to be disappointed by the show considering the long-wait, high ticket prices and great expectation. What a surprise. It was worth it. We loved every minute. No, we loved every moment of it. If you told me I could come back the next day to see it again for free, I would have booked a hotel room and stayed overnight. That’s something. Unless, you are performing or connected to a production, I don’t think most people would watch any play back-to-back. But Hamilton is spectacular. I don’t want to say anything more in case you haven’t seen it.
With Hamilton’s colorblind casting, I have no doubt, Filipinos could pull off a remarkable Asian production if not for the royalties. An amazing thing about the Philippines is that we have wonderful Western theatre and such a deep talent pool even Cameron Macintosh couldn’t believe it. We have robust original local productions as well. Filipinos are very talented, musical people. I am an exception but it is not for the lack of trying.
I grew up spending several summers in theatre workshops with Repertory Philippines. It was wonderful for a kid. I would be dropped off to get the Love Bus (with literally, giant hearts all over it). It would be a straight shot to the Insular Life Building in Makati City. This was the home of Rep (as everyone called it). It was the first summer workshop so we were all ages studying and performing together in one class. It was as if you were truly part of a real company production. There was no children’s theatre group. Children were treated with the same degree of respect and dignity as the adults. Rep Founders Zenaida Amador, Baby Barredo and all the instructors had the same standards and expectations regardless of your age. We were performers. Furthermore, there was no crying or whining in the theatre. If you were late, you missed the day, even if your parents paid for the summer. Then there were auditions for the final showcase to prepare for! We didn’t have 3-hour extravaganzas so that every participant could have their 15 minutes of fame. You could even just end up with a one-line walk-on. Which is what theatre is all about. Theatre is never easy.
But the experience was phenomenal for me. There were instructors from as far as London and Broadway. My homegrown teacher Junix Inocian, was a stellar talent. He went on to take over the role of the Engineer in Miss Saigon after Jonathan Pryce left the production. I just know that if people had the sensibilities of today in 1989 when Miss Saigon launched in the West End, Junix Inocian would have been the original Engineer. I respect Jonathan Pryce, but he is not Asian, and he can’t sing. Can we consider Jonathan Pryce in Miss Saigon an example of colorblind casting or do we classify it as the need for a marquee name? Help me with this. Does colorblind casting only go one-way? Do I dare ask Lea Salonga? Clarification here.
Back to Junix. Junix Inocian could act, sing, dance, adapt any accent from around the world and play big or make himself small for a role. I do not mean the way Hugh Jackman does it by working out for a film. But in theatre, how actors can carry themselves and take the entire stage and be heard (without mics then) until the very back row. Or alternatively, actors seem to just blend, creating the mood and scene as part of the chorus.
Junix, passed away a few years ago, leaving me even more grateful for everything he and Rep taught me. Mostly that happiness, relationships, art; all worthwhile enterprises and endeavors, required hard work, honesty and humility or he said “you’d be found out.” He also taught me the meaning of the word endeavor. You can tell words enterprise and endeavor stuck with me as they are major categories in this blog. Mostly, he and the other instructors didn’t treat us like children, they treated us like people. If we saw something or heard something we shouldn’t have. Maybe a lovers’ quarrel or a 4-letter word. They’d tell us “People aren’t perfect. The show must go on.” And we went on. We didn’t really care.
In Repertory Philippines, once you stepped into their world, you were not young or old, men or women, gay or straight, dark or white, Asian or any other race. You were whatever role the Directors gave you to play. And I played with some amazing talents Monique Wilson, Shielu Bharwani, Noni Buencamino, Raymond Lauchengco, Luna Inocian, Jamie Wilson, Menchu Lauchengco, Audie Gemora, Pinky Amador and so many more. And the way you were regarded was with respect, but the roles based on talent and merit. Didn’t matter who you were, you’d still have to go audition like everyone else. We were inspired watching those open auditions. Of course, some actors seemed like shoe-ins but if someone showed up who was more right for the part and had a great audition, they would get the part. It was one of the best times of my life. It was especially crucial because high school had some of the worst times of my life. All-girl Catholic schools can surprisingly breed a few mean girls. I needed Rep summers to look forward to and keep me going through the school year.
I didn’t go into theatre except for a solitary production of Oliver. This was a decade later while I was in-between jobs. My father encouraged it to “get it out of my system”. I sprained my ankle when stacked benches we were dancing on toppled. Our doctor said “Don’t walk. See me in three weeks.” The folly of youth. I ignored his orders, we opened in 3 days. In your twenties your body can take major damage. So, I told the doctor “I’m not just going to walk. I’m going to dance.” I pushed through, despite my parents prodding to quit, probably powered by adrenaline from excitement. The theatre was not the career for me. That ankle never healed properly. That sprain has come to haunt me 20 years later. It is as if it just happened yesterday and it won’t go away. Performing in theatre was out of my realm. You have to be physically strong. Something, I realized I never was. But I still love to go watch.
It makes me both sad and happy to think of those days. Happy that I had those experiences that wouldn’t happen the same way today. The sad part is that I wish the world today were more like “that summer theatre world” I knew. In my youth, I thought that first unsheltered glimpse of adults was what the world would be like when I grew up. It turns out nowhere was like “that summer theatre world” I knew. It was a certain special place at a particularly special time when wonderful things were just beginning. This was way before everything got so big and so business-like. I had great expectations coming to America. That “all men are created equal…” Who was I kidding? America is more big business than anything…