Last April, Theater Fans Manila commemorated its 5th year anniversary. To celebrate the event, Team TFM wanted to do something that we knew the fans (and we) would love. About a month prior, I messaged none other than Ms. Bituin Escalante if she would be willing to have lunch with some fans. I was nervous because I asked her in the most informal way possible — through Facebook message. I was beyond thrilled when she agreed.
The meet and greet contest with Ms. Bituin was the third leg of our #TFMnext5years contest series. We asked people to send in their entries on why they wanted to meet her. From all the entries that we got, we used random.org to select our two lucky winners — Jude Buot and Lorrie Anne Figueroa. We asked each of them to bring a friend on our scheduled lunch last May 1st. They were all so excited! (But honestly, I didn’t know who was more excited, the winners or the 4 of us who tagged along from Team TFM.)
I couldn’t say I was surprised, but Ms. Bituin is just as hilarious and as down-to-earth in person as she looks on stage. She is laugh-out-loud funny without even trying. She was gracious enough to answer all our questions and spent more than 3 hours with us.
I knew that she had just come from Cris Villonco’s wedding the night before, so I thanked her for coming to the lunch in spite of going home late.
“No, I went home early.”, she said. “I was so nagmamamadali. I have kids. I was home at 11.”
While we were joking about ordering alcohol, she talked about how hard it is to sleep at night after doing a show.
Bituin: “Kapag performer ka, on stage your energy is so high, tapos you end late, you end at 11-11:30, you pack pa your things. You need something to go down because the next day you have a show, you have to wake up early so you have to sleep.”
I personally never thought of this, but it makes so much sense. I mean I already have a hard time sleeping every time I WATCH a show, what more if I were performing for 2-3 hours?
Bituin: “That’s why when we go out, theater people and dancers ang nagsasara ng lugar. Even if it’s just eating, and then talking, and then slowing down… you can’t sleep with all that energy. So I tire myself out with my kids.”
In the middle of the conversation, she would ask our winners questions about themselves, like how old they were and what they were doing for a living. Lorrie is an Applied Physics student of the Ateneo de Manila University who is also an actor for Tanghalang Ateneo. Jude currently teaches Math for freshmen students in the same university. Ms. Bituin gave her and her friend Dane advice on what it takes to be a theater practitioner. “The most important thing, since you’re a freshman in the education of theater, is to watch. The key to becoming a good theater practitioner is to be curious. You watch everything you can.”
She also gave advice to Jude, who jokingly said that he was a frustrated performer.
Bituin: “Do your students like you? Do you think your students enjoy Math?”
Jude: “I think, some of them. I always say, if you’re addressing a big crowd, a noisy crowd, use your theater voice. (shows gesture for projection) It’s like performing.
Bituin: “Teaching is all about communication. If hindi nakinig estudyante mo patay na. So pwede ka magperform kasi kung Math na nga kinkwento mo tapos nakikinig pa sa iyo iyung mga estudyante mo, what more if…sex, or murderous family affairs.” (laughs)
Jude recounts a story on how he became an avid theater fan. A colleague forced him to listen to one of Lea Salonga’s Broadway albums a while back. He was very hesitant at first, but after a few weeks, he was hooked.
Jude: “If she were here, magagalit siya na hindi siya iyung kasama ko. Kasi I told her, ‘Oh my God, you would not believe it, I’m eating with Bituin Escalante!”
Bituin: “Bakit hindi ako nagmake-up? Magseselfie tayo!” (laughs)
Jude wanted to know more about her experience when she was cast as Effie White in Atlantis Productions’ 2003 re-staging of Dreamgirls.
Bituin: “It was earlier than the movie. It was the only other time it was staged other than Jennifer Holliday (version). It has never been re-staged because Jennifer Holliday lost her voice 3 weeks into the run and then they couldn’t find anyone to replace her.”
She talked about how it was the hardest role that she has ever done, and even lost her voice on the 3rd and last weekend of the run.
Bituin: “Menchu [Lauchengco-Yulo] was there. She was in the wings praying all the time that I would make it. Then on that one show… second weekend, wala na akong boses. Ang sakit na. I could sing it but the high parts hindi na. So Lana Jalosjos sang ‘One Night Only’ in it’s entirety and I lip-synched badly, even missing an entire line! After that song, tumaya na ako. I will do it hoarse no matter what.”
She persevered and made it to the very end. She also talks about how theater actors adlib when technical mishaps happen on stage.
Bituin: “Iyung panic sa headset, ay ang sarap niyan, grabe! I love it! ‘Naiwan iyung costume sa stage, ‘Hindi naexit, hindi naexit!!’ I live for that. Iyung mga kailangan ng baso ng tubig papasok tapos nakalimutan ng aktor ipasok.” (laughs)
She talks about people she has loved working with and what makes them work so well together. For Bituin, collaboration is key. It’s always about the work and never about them.
Bituin: “I love Jaime [del Mundo]. Text analysis with him is… (gestures amazing) Jaime is Jaime. (referring to Lorrie) Masasarap na guro iyan sina Ricky Abad at si Anton Juan. Be curious, be hungry, and you listen to them. Sarap. Ang sarap. The only thing they ask from you is your generosity of self. Itaya mo na lahat.”
I was personally too young to have known about the theater scene in the 90’s, so I asked her how audiences responded to the runs of Atlantis’ Rent (1999) and Dreamgirls (2003), where she was part of the original cast.
Bituin: “Full capacity! That was ‘99. Full capacity. Even the auditions for it was full capacity in Music Museum. The entire lobby of Music Museum was packed. The line was down the stairs sa side ng hall. Michael de Mesa lined up. Anna Fegi lined up. Everyone lined up. Everyone wanted in.”
What has been her favorite role so far?
Bituin: “It was for a reading, I played opposite Roselyn Perez, a reading directed by Jaime [del Mundo] of a straight play, ‘Going to St. Ives.’ Moral dilemma siya, and it’s just an hour-long conversation in both acts. So it’s a 2-hour show, just two people toeing the line of morality and who gets to make the decision, who gets to choose, who dies, who lives.”
“There was also an original piece by renaissance man, Daniel Darwin, that talks about faith and my sister, Kalila [Aguilos, her sister] and I were lucky to read it for him. Both plays, ‘St. Ives’ and ‘Green Glass Door’ were part of Trumpets’ 4Faith Series.”
She also talks about her fondness for children’s theater.
Bituin: “I am so thankful to Repertory Philippines, especially Ms. Joy Virata, for Theater For Young Audiences. Kasali ka mag create ng new audiences for theater. Sarap ng kids. Sobra. Tapos iyung scenes, pagpumapalakpak [the kids] iba iyung sound. Oh my God. Iyun iyung first ko talaga na aww… iba iyung kamay ng bata grabe. Tapos iyung paglabas mo, iyung papatayin mo na si Snow White lahat sila, “Nooo! Snow Whiittee!!” Tapos ako HAHAHA! (mimics evil laugh of her evil queen character in Snow White) Sarap manakot ng bata, grabe. (laughs) Sarap. Iba. Iba.”
What do you get out of performing?
Bituin: “Story-telling. Ang sarap kaya. Playing pretend.”
Does she have theater crushes?
Bituin: “In love ako kay Rem Zamora. (laughs) He’s so silly. He’s the silliest man I know. They have to be silly. If they’re not, leave them. Pero mas in love ako kay Mano (Domingo, her partner of 7 years who also works in theater).”
She expresses how excited she is to re-unite with Rem Zamora and Vincent de Jesus in their Virgin Labfest entry this year entitled “Changing Partners.”
What is her favorite locally produced show?
Bituin: “Iyung solo show ni Daniel Darwin. ‘Dance Until You Shatter Yourself’. Tsaka Ilustrado by Nonon [Padilla]. Minsan hindi ko na maintindihan iyung play pero nakatayo na iyung mga buhok ko.”
Favorite show that she has done?
Bituin: “Once on this Island. Ganda ‘nung cast nun. Bart Guingona, directed and it starred Jett Pangan, Menchu [Lauchengco-Yulo], Michael Williams, Michael de Mesa, May Bayot and Bodjie Pascua among others. All-star cast.”
How does she feel when she auditions?
Bituin: “None of us expect to land the part. We’re realistic that way. Everyone auditions and you don’t expect to get the part.”
It was pretty hard to believe, especially if you’re Bituin Escalante.
Bituin: “Sometimes you go to auditions to practice the audition piece. How often do you get the chance to really practice it in real life, iyung pressure ‘nung nandoon, iyung panel.”
It was such a priceless 3-hour meal for all of us, getting to know more about the real person behind the woman we have admired for all these years. Toni Bufete, a member from our team, said it best: “Best lunch ever!”
This is what Jude had to say:
“Thank you to Theater Fans Manila for the awesome opportunity to meet Ms. Bituin Escalante up close and personal. I really loved it that I got to ask her questions about working in local theater, and even her views on politics. What made it even better was the members of TFM who joined us were as fun and accommodating. It feels good when you find people like you who enjoy the shows that you also enjoy. I’m so happy I have new friends who share what I love, which is live theater.”
And this is what Lorrie had to say:
“It was a really fun experience. And it felt like we’re all just old friends talking. I didn’t speak much but it was wonderful hearing all her stories. I learned a lot too.”
Thank you Ms. Bituin for being so real, so candid, and being so generous with the fans. We will never forget it.
(READ: OFF-STAGE with Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo)