Mely Moran knows that her high school education won’t get her far. As the sole provider in her family, she knows the best she can do is find work as domestic help. Her younger sister Viva, on the other hand, believes she’s meant for greater things, and refuses to settle for the hard-scrabble life Mely leads.
The two soon found themselves working at the headquarters of Fuwerza Filipinas, the popular, corporate-sponsored team of light-skinned superheroes whose exploits are reported on media breathlessly, like the hottest showbiz news. But while one sister is in service of these celebrity superheroes, the other is out to unmask them.
Written by Carlo Vergara (of Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal) and directed by Issa Manalo Lopez, with new music by musical director Kevin Maske, Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady is a production that celebrates Ateneo Blue Repertory’s 25th anniversary season.
More than the snappy lines and acerbic wit, the extravagant numbers, the action sequences, and the pop culture references that are hip to the millennial taste, this musical is a timely story that hopes to engage a young audience in a discussion about gender politics in modern Filipino society.
In fact, the creative team behind its second staging—the first was last year’s successful run at the PETA Theater—is proud to declare the feminist perspective they impart to the production. Manalo Lopez tells MB Life. “We believe that the stories of Mely and Viva are part of a wider spectrum of the female experience: one who works hard to support her family and one who’s misunderstood by the people around her. And these are stories that need to be told, because they reflect the struggles Filipinas constantly face.”
Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady tells two particular experiences of womanhood, but the material was written by a man who undoubtedly has a male perspective. As the female director of this production, how does the creative team resolve that?
“If you read the material, you’ll see that Carlo Vergara understands the traditional treatment of women, maybe due to his experiences. He understands how women are treated in a sexist society. It’s also interesting that he made the decision to make a female character into a superhero, which I liked. After laying out the limited role that society puts women in, binasag niya ‘yun sa huli.
“It’s important for me to capture and underline that in every scene, that I nurture the women’s narratives right until the end. This is Leading Lady’s second staging, and each production has its own focus. With ours, most of the people I’m working with, including the students, are female. Ang artistic director ng Blue Rep, babae. Ang company manager nila, babae. We all have that goal of nurturing the female narrative.”
Musical director Kevin Maske composed new music for this staging. Have you also made creative changes?
“I didn’t get to watch last year’s staging, which is good because it gives me distance; I have fresh eyes to imagine the new production. Dahil mahirap galawin ang material, we worked closely with Carlo, either to shorten or switch some scenes. Anyone who has seen the first production might be surprised when they see ours. ‘Is this still the same play?’ But I think what we’ve done is liven up the dynamics. Mas mataas ‘yung energy, mas tight ‘yung presentation, mas accessible sa younger audience.”
Speaking of a young audience, how important is it that they be made more aware of gender politics? And what makes theatre a great medium for this kind of discussion?
“It’s important because all of us have become used to how women are seen and treated in society. Kahit tayong mga babae, nasanay or na-condition na tayong tanggapin na lang ‘ang mga bagay. I see theater as like a microscope that presents ideas up close to the audience and can influence them to raise themselves and push through barriers that they might have accepted as normal.
“More and more, especially now with all of our issues and what’s happening in the government, more artists are using theatre as a medium to air out the beliefs and values they’re fighting for. I’m encouraging everyone to watch theatre productions because it’s different to have an immediate connection to a scene unfolding right in front of you. Theater is live; you’re not just scrolling down a page on your smartphone, which is very impersonal. In theatre, you are part of a community. You feel the exchange of energy and ideas, especially now with a lot of shows holding talk backs after a presentation. Instead of having someone lecture you, theatre goes straight to your heart and mind, and you get the message. You empathize as you watch. So if empathy and connection are what young people are looking for even as they get entertained, they’ll find it in the theatre.”
Produced in partnership with Dalanghita Productions, Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady opens on April 19 and will run until April 30, with four shows held every week: Thursdays and Sundays at 8 p.m. and a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturdays and Sundays. It will be held at the Rizal Mini-Theater in Faber Hall, Ateneo de Manila University. For ticket inquiries, contact Stephanie Escuadro at 0956-8452030 or reserve through Ateneo Blue Repertory’s website: www.bluerepertory.org/tickets