Jon Santos, whom we normally see impersonating famous personalities, reveals his vulnerable side as he talks about his character Fernan in Rak of Aegis.
PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) will offer 82 shows during the fifth run of this musical from June 17 until August 28, 2016.
This is not even his first theater production as he has worked with the likes of Jaime del Mundo, Menchu Lauchengo-Yulo, and Michael Williams in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert two years ago.
He explains why it took him so long to debut on the PETA stage, "first, walang guts. Lagi ako may feeling na not good enough, kinakain ako ng self-doubt pagdating sa mabibigay ko ba ang tamang oras, kaya ko ba ang demands at discipline nitong mga eto. Sobrang respeto ko sa theater actors kasi."
After watching three of the 206 shows so far of Rak of Aegis, Jon is bursting with excitement to finally be on the PETA stage.
"Literally first time ko today na nakatungtong dito kasi doon ako sa audience noon, isa ako doon, umiiyak ako every time for those great moments in the musical," said Jon during the press con of this theatrical production.
He auditioned, just like everyone else did, to get their roles. He recalls, "at the audition nabigyan buhay ko ang kanta ni Fernan at natuwa ako na ang ating director and musical director gave me the green light. Nerbiyos, I guess they saw through the sharps and flats, and they felt I could be Fernan and I'm very happy and grateful. Hanggang ngayon super, super grateful and excited for this opportunity to be on the stage."
The journey to the PETA stage might have taken some time but it was all worth it.
"I am very grateful for stand-up comedy, for night club and lounge work, and television, but I really miss theater."
Jon, whose love for the theater started in the '80s as a member of the UP Repertory Company, remembers that despite his longing to come back to theater immediately, "ang hirap hirap magnakaw ng oras to commit to a play kasi bawal ang pa-importante, you cannot impose."
He stopped making excuses for himself when he saw those he considers more mainstream than him as an inspiration to come back to theater, "E, bakit yung mas busy sa amin, sila Jett Pangan, Eula Valdes, Aiza Seguerra, nakakacommit to a play so lumalakas ang loob ko over the years, patakas takas audition sa Priscilla."
Jon took part in the musical Priscilla which had great songs but not in Tagalog and he did Dogeaters which had socio-political themes, and he also showcased his thespian talents in Bituin Walang Ningning.
However, he was still looking for something, which he eventually found in Rak of Aegis. "Dito, parang complete, full circle na ang tema, ang mga awitin, atsaka parang full circle nandoon din yung E sa PETA yung education."
What strengthened his resolve was that in PETA, "I'm not going to work alone, there is an incredible team of designers and actors and directors and veterans who will take your hand. I come back to a classroom situation, to a laboratory."
He says that Rak of Aegis "has the singing, the OPM, the Pinoy-ism, the setting of a black box, set in a real theater at ang missing link kaya full circle coming home, may edukasyon, I am surrounded by teachers: the cast has voice teachers, the cast has directors, it has production managers, it has acting coaches."
It is already starting as a priceless experience for Jon and he is "looking foward to everything I will learn and all the new friends I will make. I am very thankful they are so patient, I am trying to cram and catch up."
With several weeks of music rehearsals clocked in, Jon says "fortunately that gives me a little more time to reach into Fernan on my own and find out what he's really all about. Ang ganda diyan, hindi celebrity impersonation, ang sarap!"
With his comedic background, can we expect a funnier Fernan, who is already an intriguing and mysterious character to begin with?
"I will be very happy if that is the outcome, a very funny Fernan in the hands of myself and the director and the writer. Very welcome naman ang comedy sa pyesa, it gives so much allowance for the funny parts noon pa man. At tawang pop culture ang pinaghugutan. There was a time yung pinag-usapan was foods, condo, isang balik ko, iba naman laman ng headlines. Kung ngayon baka andoon yung thingy," Jon admits.
He also says that "may bagong twist doon sa mga eksena ni Fernan, tuwang-tuwa ako as a character, kasi di mo masabing good guy, di mo masabing bad guy, kakatuwa. Di ba ang buhay natin, di naman black and white, may mga gray, yung bad na may konting good, yung good na may konting bad, nakakatuwa din na naka-escape muna tayo sa mga ginagayang totoong tao, dito muna tayo sa isang kathang isip na fictional character like Fernan."
Jon confesses that he cannot prepare and practice for this like he would for a solo show, especially with the roller coaster of emotions a live performer goes through, because in this ensemble play, he has to think about his scene partners.
"Nakasalalay linya ng ka-eksena mo, where you could destroy a moment by not doing your part. Sa mga solo show di naman nalalaman ang di ko nagawa, dito ibang challenge."
Aside from these changes, a major change is also the addition of a new song, and the new song will be sung by Fernan.
"Kasalukuyan, kinakalaban ko yung daga at takot kasi narinig ko na at how challenging it could become. Eh these veterans will take you by the hand and bring out the best in you diba in life, that means there is love, in a loving relationship the best in you is brought out. I guess I am in a loving environment," he smiles knowingly.
That's why he is also grateful for the presence of the other two Fernans, "napakagenerous nung dalawang Fernan, si Juliene Mendoza, isang premyadong aktor at si Gui Onida haligi ng PETA, pareho sila na encounter ko in the campus situation. It's more tanggap lang ako ng tanggap ng support, ni walang compare compare."
While he will be alternating the 82 shows with them, he remembers that he has to "keep on his toes kasi alam ko how high the bar is set and alam ko yung mga expectations ng mga uulit."
He is excited for the nights when his Fernan is paired with "isang ka vibes na si Kim Molina at sana may mga gabi na kami ang Aileen-Fernan."
Jon is grateful that Rak of Aegis was able to finish 206 shows already, "buti nalang sinuportahan at umabot ng 206 at umabot sa five runs, at nakasingit ako na maging bahagi nito. It's gonna be my 30th year in 2017 so extra special lahat ng ingredients narito na."
Direk Maribel Legarda had already confirmed that aside from the additional Fernan song, "yung iba surprise, chos!"
She added, "if you haven't seen it for a long time, we have just come from a very contentious election, a lot of us are very tired emotionally, Rak will make people laugh because it's a comedy with content, and be able to find joy. In our fifth version, in a way, the job is even harder because we would like to keep that same standard and quality and have that effect on our audience."
While some parts of Rak of Aegis have been tweaked for the fifth run, "the story is still the same, di naman pwede every show papalitan, it took us too long to fix it, there are still lots of people who still haven't even seen it."
She encourages those who have yet to see it, or those who saw the earlier runs, "the cast also changes, the chemistry and the space, it's not set, it's not where everybody does the same thing. Each of the actors really bring in their individual selves to it so the interaction is always different and it's never really quite the same show. That's where the magic happens, it's never the same, di siya pareho all the time."