Pinoy grabs lead role in Chicago staging of "King and I"
By Walter Ang
Former Tanghalang Pilipino actor Jay Españo will be playing the lead role in a Chicago staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I" by the Drama Group.
He had auditioned for the role of Lun Tha "because I really like his love songs," he says. When the show's director, Andy Leahy, asked him to read the king's part, Españo credits his ignorance of any version of the musical (including the movie version) that landed him the part.
"I wasn't stuck with the default stereotype as portrayed by Yul Brynner. I think there were moments in the reading that I made the king likeable and humorous, rather than making him a stern despot," he says of the Thai monarch who is won over by English teacher
He now travels 40 minutes every day to attend rehearsals. "The Drama Group is 32 miles from the city where I live," he says. The long transits are not new to Españo as he's been shuttling back and forth between Manila and Singapore for the past several years. He's been visiting the US more often lately as part of his efforts to "to go all-out global."
The Singapore chapter of his career began when joined "Chang and Eng, The Musical." Years later, he wrote, directed and produced "The Tales of Three Marias," a show about Filipino domestic helpers living in Singapore, after interviewing over 50 of them.
Having won silver medals in the acting and singing categories in World Championship of Performing Arts 2008 hasn't stopped him from continually takes classes to improve his craft.
He got hooked on yoga four years ago and even got a certification to teach it. His interest in movement was further piqued while taking his Musical Theater degree (on scholarship) at Lasalle College of the Arts. "We had a class where we studied all kinds of movement philosophies."
He was inspired to take a graduate degree in Laban Movement in Chicago. "Laban is a tool for observing and analyzing movement. The idea of the body being aware of incorporating space, time, weight and flow is astonishing to me. Being able to properly utilize your body is an excellent tool to have as an actor. Movement is an external manifestation of one's inner behavior."
"The trend now in most acting schools is gearing towards the studies of movement. Aside from Laban, you have yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Suzuki Method combined with Anne Bogart's Viewpoints and a lot more. Although they differ in technique, they all agree that one must be cognizant of their bodies to function efficiently in life."
Españo credits Tanghalang Pilipino for instilling in him the importance of continuous study and "a high regard for discipline which I still carry to this very day." He joined TP as a scholar of the Actors Company, TP's resident pool of actors, in the late 90s.
"Everybody in the company was serious and dedicated in the craft. We had classes in the afternoon and rehearsals at night, different classes like movement class with Agnes Locsin, or improv with Anna Valdez-Lim and other teachers."
"My favorite and also most dreaded class would be Script Analysis with [TP founder] Nonon Padilla," he says laughing. "Each week we were assigned to read a play and analyze it in class. I would just sit there and listen to him for hours as he munched on peanuts while delivering his take on the chosen text of the week."
Españo waxes nostalgic after noting that TP is celebrating its 25th anniversary. "I miss working with TP people. I remember doing 'Besa Me Mucho' where I was required to dance the tango in a pair of red thongs in the intimate Tanghalang Batute. Most of the time, I'm more worried about memorizing my lines. That was the only time I was fussy over a costume or the lack of it," he says.
He also recalls forgetting his lines during a long monologue in a performance of 'Ang Ulo ni Pancho Villa.' "I resorted to gibberish. Luckily my co-actors Olga Natividad, Joey Paras and George de Jesus picked up the cues pretty well," he says laughing.
Españo is maximizing his time in Chicago by taking up improvisation classes at the renowned Second City. "Second City is the Harvard of improv theater. It's where the likes of Tina Fey, John Belushi and Steve Carell came from."
He's now on his second year and learning Music Improv. "We learn how to make up songs while doing a scene. This is what they do in the TV show 'Who's Line Is It Anyway?'"
He will also be doing a dinner show with Miguel Vera in May, a Rizal musical in June, and a Rizal opera in November. "The musical and opera are for the 150th anniversary of Jose Rizal. And hopefully, I will have a solo show in September."
This production of "The King and I" is a limited performance for The Drama Group's 80th anniversary. Filipino-Americans Randy Ballesteros and Nicole Dizon will play LunTha and Tuptim, respectively.
"The King and I" runs April 29 to May 1, 2011 at Bloom Theatre, 101 W. 10th Street, Chicago Heights, Illinois, USA. Visit www.dramagroup.org.
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