[Keynote address at the First General Assembly of the newly-formed Philippine Theater Actors Guild, 10 October 2011, PETA Theater Center, Quezon City.]
It is not only an expression of camaraderie, a renewal of friendship or a sharing of common interests.
Tonight is a vital first step.
This gathering is a statement. We want change…and we all realize that there is a task at hand. This is a necessity not merely for the sake of survival but to certify the significance of what we have chosen to become.
We come from a culture that seems to celebrate disparity as much as it makes a big deal out of our sense of unity. And yet our history has proven that change and advancement can only come when we all decide to forget our differences and assert our common goals.
If one still asks if it indeed a necessity for theater performers to get together, I think the answer is quite apparent.
This has got nothing and everything to do with the consumption of SkyFlakes crackers for lunch and dinner. This meeting is important because it is a necessary step from a decision we all made some time agao: We decided that we wanted to be artists.
We decided that this human life lent to us can and will only have meaning if we pursue, persist and fight for what can give us fulfillment. And that is to be theater artists. That is to be performers.
Mind you, I am not talking about success. I am speaking about the more important fulfillment.
Believe me when I say that there are so many people I know who are so successful but are completely unfulfilled.
Well, yes… rarely can a theater artist be featured in Yes Magazine! to showcase his or her house: well, not unless you are Eugene Domingo.
Rarely can the theater artist be recognized in a tiangge in Greenhills… or spend his weekend shopping at the third floor of TriNoMa or the exclusive shops at Greenbelt.
You see that is the difference between being a celebrity and an artist.
A celebrity gets immeasurable recognition, gets paid exorbitant amounts and gets all the fringe benefits for being public property. A celebrity will earn literally multi-millions for endorsing everything from laundry detergents to feminine washes. And a celebrity does not even require talent. Just a lot of marketing and helluva lot more luck.
Ah, but if you choose to be a theater performer, chances are... you come from a very rich family or basically a masochist.
Theater has never developed to become a lucrative business in this country.
You join the theater because you love to perform… even if you know you cannot make a decent living out of it. Through all these years, the Filipino theater artist has subsisted for the love of the art and the craft--- whether he came from the walkways of the Rajah Sulaiman Theater in Intramuros or the backstage corridors of the Insular Life Theater in Ayala Avenue or the Tanghalang Batute or the Little Theater at the CCP.
The theater artist seeks more than success; he is in constant search for elusive fulfillment. Ironically, fulfillment is so hard to define is the reason why… we persist, insist and subsist.
That is why you are all gathered here tonight. I am joining you in your celebration of untied masochism.
More than that, you are here because you care for theater. No, you don’t only care for theater… you love being part of theater.
Because you share a common passion, you want our countrymen to understand what you are doing… and what you want not only for ourselves but for our country.
You want Filipinos to finally acknowledge and appreciate the passions that so few truly understand.
You are here not for selfish reasons --- because if you were here only after the trappings of success, then perhaps you would have given up this calling and ended up in a call center instead.
You are here to make a point… and to make others see that you matter. Yes, you do matter. You may not be treated as well you wish it to be… but you matter.
Whether recognized or not… even if the theater artist is not beholden to the kingdom of the giant networks or do not have direct lines to the gods and goddesses of the movie studios… you matter!
You, like all creative agents --- mavericks, rebels and iconoclasts --- are instrumental in the shaping of our national culture.
'An actor is an actor is an actor. The only way you can dignify the wealth of your experience and training is when people realize that your work in theater is far superior than the three-day workshops given to wannabes who will be force-fed to the television or movie audiences.'
So what makes this event important? Let me give my tatlong puntos.
Firstly, as soldiers of theater, it is about time that this country learns and recognizes the importance of this form of art as part of their lives.
There are still those who believe that theater is an elitist form of entertainment. There are those who do not recognize that the history of our country has always been anchored on theater forms in order to bring a sense of community and express the sentiments or mindset at whatever point of our soci-political evolution. But let’s not even go there.
To make my point straightforward and simple --- theater is still considered either a luxury or something required by classess in Literature and Theater Arts in high school and colleges.
The tradition of an authentic theater-going public has yet to b developed because it was never given a chance to be even a habit.
And why? Because of very apparent reasons. Not only do we lack the accessible venues for our countrymen to see the showcase of our works. Theater has been relegated to a dispensable form of entertainment made accessible only to a few.
Because of that, theater artists have never been given the importance they most definitely deserve. Because people do not know you. People do not appreciate what you do and what you represent.
Yes, we have the Cultural Center of the Philippines and places such as this… but there has been no concerted effort to bring theater closer to the people rather than compelling the audience to come to the theater.
As long as theater remains as an option from watching a concert of Bruno Mars or the Black Eyed Peas… as long as theater is considered a necessary evil, a requirement to complete courses because of reaction papers and submitted reviews to teachers… then theater can never truly be a part of the life of our countrymen.
And after all these years… after all the sacrifices made by the likes of Tinio, Mabesa, Espejo, Anton Juan, Amador, Guidote-Alvarez and a whole generation who precedes those gathered here tonight, it is about time. Yes, it is about time that you make theater matter.
The country takes pride in saying we have talents in world-class caliber. Pointless to mention the names too familiar that they have become part of a mantra: Lea Salonga, Joanna Ampil, Leo Valdez, Junix Innocian, Monique Wilson et cetera et cetera. Pointless to relentlessly celebrate their names and yet admit the fact that you --- theater artists--- are still being treated like second class citizens in the entertainment business.
This leads me to my second point: It is about time that the theater artists are given the respect that he and she deserve.
Let me assess the situation we all know:
Even a respected veteran movie and television performer whose acting and popularity were honed by media experience said that times have indeed changed.
Nowadays, it is so easy to be called an artista even if you know nothing about acting.
Because of a highly competitive dog-eat-puppy world of mass media, actors are no longer treated as people. You guys have become commodities.
Whereas before, to be called an actor means to prove how good you are in what you do, nowadays anybody who has been thrown in front of a camera can make claims that he is already an actor.
We all know, for instance, that reality shows are the biggest on-camera auditions ever conceived by mainstream commercial television to find the next generation of stars to fill up the studio’s stable. We all know that there are endless talent searches to keep the stockroom filled with second and third-liners. Fresh from the catch, these young wannabes are thrown straight into the barbeque pit and made to mimic what is supposed to be acting in front of the cameras. Performers borne out of popularity and saleability of the moment are made leads, considered as star while do their on-the-job training.
The veteran actress asked, “Ganun na lang ba yon? Kahit sino na ba artista na ngayon?” And the sad answer is both a yes and no.
Anyone can be a star --- for as short as three months--- or as long as his talent can hold. But not everyone --- not just anyone--- can be an actor.
Stars fade--- actors mature. Stars are dependent on the box office receipts of their latest movies --- or how their most recent adventure in television fairs in the ratings game.
Actors are as good as their most recent performance --- measured by their competence in the role that they are made to play and challenged by other roles that remain to be discovered.
That is why actors are diamonds that shine with greatest brilliance in time. Celebrities merely fade -- or enter politics.
When television and film productions --- both commercial and independent – are in need of competent, reliable and guaranteed professional performers --- they tap the theater actors. I know that for a fact.
As a line producer for commercial films or as a TV director, there is a roster of theater performers who form a core group of supporting actors that can enhance any show or film.
You --- the theater actor--- provide credibility to the performance level of films. Sometimes the theater actor, as the supporting performers, surround the neophyte wannabe star so that the audience can be made to believe that the newcomer can impersonate acting. In other words, you guys give credit to the dancing bear. It is not how good the bear dances… but the fact that you can make the bear dance at all.
But the saddest part is that you still get the SkyFlakes reference as a joke. I am quite sure that young man did not mean it that way… but is perceived that way not only by the larger public. Worse, that is how media productions think and perceive you.
'Stars fade--actors mature. Stars are dependent on the box office receipts of their latest movies--or how their most recent adventure in television fares in the ratings game. Actors are as good as their most recent performance... That is why actors are diamonds that shine with greatest brilliance in time. Celebrities merely fade--or enter politics.'
Life for the dedicated professional actor was never fair. Even in the US, the likes of Jane Alexander, Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin and others never reached that much coveted star status not unless you are Meryll Streep. In our contry, the same thing can be said. Theater actors play the competent and inevitable supporting roles and never manage to have their names above the title--- well, not unless you are Eugene Domingo.
But what sounds like a dismal situation is good news. You should give premium to what you are worth not only for your theater work but for popular media as well.
An actor in an actor is an actor… regardless of where he appears: onstage, onscreen or in the tube. You should realize that even if you are given supporting roles that this is not a reson to be treated like second class citizens on the movie or television set.
As I said---an actor is an actor is an actor. The only way you can dignify the wealth of your experience and training is when people realize that your work in theater is far superior than the three-day workshops given to wannabes who will be force-fed to the television or movie audiences.
This leads me to the final point: no one can help you except yourselves.
If I can be so blatantly honest with you, I have learned one thing about this country. You cannot depend on anyone to protect your turf and interests except yourself.
Government support to help boost the cultural development in this country? Government support to aid the development and propagation of theater?
Fat chance, people. Right at this very moment, there are more pressing problems in Hagonoy and Calumpit. Not that the cultural development should not be a priority… but it never was and by the looks of it, shall never be.
Besides, anything that has got to do with government tends to be tainted by politics, politicking and partisanship. I guess you wouldn’t want to go into that either.
So the most important lessons, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that no one can help you except youselves. And that is why tonight is very important. Tonight, by being here, you make a stand… no longer as an individual who has dedicated his life to theater… but as part of community seeking for a definite identity and a potent voice.
Tonight is important because if there is any need, any change that will take place… the crucial first step has already been taken. The journey has already started because you have empowered yourselves… because you realize that if there is anybody who should protect your interests… then it has to be your own moves, your own intentions, and your own volition.
It is perhaps too simplistic to enumerate three points and claim that these summarize the problems you must confront. There are definitely more. This adventure is bound to be a bumpy but interesting ride. But what is important is that you have made the crucial first step. And this, my friends, is the significance of this night… which hopefully is the birth of a new theater in the country.