“He recently announced that to celebrate his 25th year in theater, he would stage a solo production of a play called The Atheist, a single-actor monologue that is as determinedly noncommercial as you could imagine. He then announced it might well be his last appearance onstage.”
The reason? “He was elected leader of Pagbabago, and oversaw its evolution from a protest group into a nonpartisan political organization. 'We do a lot of projects now, quietly, that I really believe in,' Mr. Ongpin quoted Bart as saying. 'I saw that this was a path to what I originally wanted to do, to change society for the better. So maybe, just maybe, I will leave theater and pursue this full-time.'”
The article's parlous and rather casual mention of such a momentous decision on Bart's part was unsatisfying, so I rang him up and asked for a clarification. Is it true he's contemplating leaving the industry?
“Let's put it this way: I'm just focusing my energy on other things. I will still dabble in theater, but it won't be my main focus for some time. Di na kaya ng powers ko to multi-task,” he explained.
Aside from acting, directing and managing the affairs of his theater group (Actors' Actors, Inc.), Bart said his time these days is greatly occupied by his socio-political advocacy. “Between that and the theater, I find myself really stretched. Trying to get funding for the NGO and my theater projects, it's like 'Ouch!'”
“I'm not throwing up my hands or turning my back on theater; I'm just refocusing. I don't mind doing stuff I've done before, so I'd probably still do repeats of Tuesdays With Morrie and Art this year. But I don't want to be the main player in any project for some time.”
Then the admission: “And, let's face it, in theater, I haven't been doing anything lately that makes my blood rush. I want to do something at this point where I can make a difference more readily.”
His work with Pagbabago, “a political but non-partisan organization,” gives him a different sense of satisfaction, he pointed out.
And how long will this break be? “Maybe a year or more.”
“Unless,” he added, “something really compelling comes along. Say, someone gets me to do Coriulanus. Or Titus Andronicus. Or Richard III. When that happens, kakainin ko lahat ng sinabi ko!”
In the Inquirer article, the actor also touched on his nine-year stint with Repertory Philippines, and his subsequent decision to bet his shirt on risky, unconventional plays, or what he called “The Necessary Theater:”
“'After nine years at Rep, I was burnt out... At that time, I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the material. Rep had started out with noble intentions, but by the late ’80s, it was almost totally commercialized. I don’t say this in a critical way. I mean, tickets were sold, seats were filled and all that. But it wasn’t what I got into theater to do. It wasn’t me any more.'
[“Guingona’s search for meaning led him to stage plays with his new company that, while noncommercial, were critically acclaimed, and, for him, culturally significant.]
“'To make a long story short, I lost my shirt. And pants. And socks. And everything.'
“'I put up these plays because I think these are things that need to be said. I knew it was quixotic from the get-go. But I felt, as I feel today, these were plays that must be seen and heard and thought about by our society. I don’t regret a minute of it, nor do I regret a centavo of it.'”
The Atheist--an intense 80-minute monologue, another one of those plays that he thinks must be seen and heard--will have a single gala performance at the Ayala Museum at 8 p.m. on Feb. 6 for the benefit of Ayala Foundation’s various education programs. (Text or call 0918-9029031 or 0918-4425139 for info and tickets.)
After that, who knows? “It remains to be seen where Bart Guingona’s existential moment will lead him—and us,” concluded Mr. Ongpin.
We'll be right here waiting, Bart.