Monday, November 27, 2006

Dramatic Reading

A few days ago, Naty Crame-Rogers (whom we all call Tita Naty), 83-year old 2006 National Artist for Drama, sms’ed me an invitation to join her group in a dramatic reading of “the Cradle Song.” She would ask our mutual friend, Lala Castillo, to bring me the script. I was to play Sr. Maria Jesus. The first meeting of the group will be on Friday, November 24.

Lala sent the script on Thursday, which I didn’t get to receive until Friday morning. So it was only then that I discovered that Sr. Maria Jesus was supposed to be an 18-year novice at a convent. “How on earth can I be a convincing 18-year old?” I asked myself. I am 60 and maybe I look 50, but sometimes my voice quakes and quivers like I am 70. But I had not seen Lala in a long time, and it would be nice to chat with her on the way to Tita Naty’s house. Later, I can always make excuses why I could not join.

Through Manila’s traffic, the ride took about an hour – a good amount of time for a chat with Lala. I told her how I felt about playing an 18-year old, gave her the whole slew of excuses that I had prepared. She said not to worry, there is always a double cast, and reassured me that I could quit if I wanted to.

At Tita Naty’s house, I met her motley group of volunteers that does dramatic readings, plays and musicals in her sala (living room) or garden theater. Of course, I already knew Tita Naty. I first saw her perform in the much-heralded Filipino play, Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of An Artist as Filipino,” when I was a student at the University of the Philippines. She was until recently, the indefatigable drama coach at St. Scholastica’s College where my three daughters attended grade school and where Lala was the grade school principal. Lala retired from St. Scho but was immediately invited to be directress of the Philippine National High School for the Arts. Other participants included Mrs. Mabanta, her 76-year old neighbor who was introduced as the wife of a former government official, Cathy, a tall woman in her mid 30’s who works at a call center, and the only man in the group – Danny Escasa, who I learned works with computers and had met my daughter Sacha in one of meetings of the Philippine Linux Users Group.

After some small talk, Tita Naty started talking about “Cradle Song.” She told the story, and gave some tidbits about previous presentations, including the fact that it had been made into a movie. After learning that the role assigned to me was that of Sr. Maria Jesus, an 18-year-old novice in a convent, I was just about ready to back out. “I’m 60, and my character is 18,” I protested but Tita Naty said she doesn’t really assign actors according to the age or personality of the characters to be portrayed. “But I can’t memorize scripts anymore,” I protested again, to which Tita Naty said, “you don’t need to memorize the script – this is dramatic reading, so you’re allowed to read, well glance at, the script.” “But it’s December already next week, and I won’t have time to rehearse with you,” I reasoned to wriggle my way out of this commitment. “Oh, that’s ok. Everybody is busy in December, so we’ll start rehearsals in January.” “But I may be too busy at work to come for rehearsals or the actual performances,” I tried again, and she said “Oh, but this is relaxing and just what you need to have after work.” Running out of excuses, I surrendered to her persuasive ways and picked up the folder that contained the script, in a way glad to have been “pushed” into trying something I have wanted to do for a long time.

The folders that held the scripts were fastened at the bottom instead of at the top, I suppose to make it easier to “drop” the finished page and move on to the next.

There were more characters than actors so Tita Naty, Lala and Danny doubled up, with Danny actually reading a part for a female character. When the script came to my part, I read, almost cautiously, half expecting Tita Naty to correct how I read. But she didn’t! I know that Tita Naty’s ears are trained to hear if lines are read properly – right pronunciation, enunciation, tone, inflection, emotion – whatever it was that we were supposed to do with our voices to make the characters come alive, so it was with relief that she didn’t correct me, or point to any error in the way I read. At some point when the conversation among the characters was supposed to be excited and animated, she must have noticed that all our voices were going the same way and pitch, and she gave us a short informative lecture on the three pitches – high, medium and low. She advised us to listen to each other, and to change the pitch from the one used by the previous reader. “If she’s high, go medium or low.” Like a choral director, she harmonized our voices while keeping intact the identities of the characters.

I found myself flowing through some 15 pages of script, and Tita Naty was right. Except for the first part when I was nervous, the rest of the practice session was quite relaxing. And fulfilling. I committed to attend the rehearsals in January.