Actor-performer Roeder Camanag does in theater what a regular mainstream TV and movie actor does; that is, juggle his time for at least five consecutive stage plays.
Last year, Roeder was featured in five plays, three of which as male lead (Threesome for the Virgin Labfest of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, in June; followed by Tanghalang Pilipino’s Banaag At Sikat (a rock musical; playing the role of Felipe, the rich scion’s son); and, in October, in the Gantimpala Theater Foundation’s El Filibusterismo, as the ill-fated Simoun).
In August, he appeared in the Dulaang UP musical Orosman At Zafira (as Boulasem, ruler of Tedenst tribe) and before the year was over, did three roles (as Jason/Creon/Aegeus) in a thesis production of Greek dramatist Euripides’ Medea, with award-winning actress, Irma Adlawan).
Two of these productions, Banaag At Sikat and Orosman At Zafira had Roeder doing an almost simultaneous appearance.
"It was tough!" he told PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) in an interview before the start of the opening for this year’s grand restaging of Francisco Baltazar’s Orosman At Zafira, held at the Mall of Asia Centerstage on February 4.
"Ang nangyari no’n, nag-morning show ako dito (sa Orosman...), tapos, nagma-matinee show sa Banaag At Sikat. Kaya bilang na bilang yung oras ko!"
The seasoned thespian has no reason to complain, though. For he loves to act and does theater like it’s second nature to him.
LIKE A PUZZLE. In the current version of Orosman At Zafira (OZ), Roeder is playing the role of Abdalap, a ruthless villain, also from Tedenst, led by his father, Boulasem (Nazer Salcedo). Abdalap is the brother of Orosman (played by Jay Gonzaga), the love interest of Zafira (Delphine Buencamino and Maita Angeli Ponce alternating), the princess-daughter of Sultan Mahamud (Neil Tolentino). Sultan Mahamud, the leader of the Marueccos Tribe, has Gulnara (Jean Judith Javier) for his wife.
The other main characters of OZ are Zelim (Acey Aguilar and Kevin Concepcion alternating); Aldervesin (Red Concepcion); Zelima (Tao Aves; the narrator); and Ben-Asar (Felipe Ronnie Martinez; father of Zelima).
Last year, Roeder did Boulasem, a more sober but equally fierce character. The other warring tribe of the classic epic poetry is the Duquela, led by its ruler, Zelim.
What can Roeder say about the challenges that go with playing each character?
Roeder explained: "’Yung challenge [sa akin] of doing Boulasem, nu’ng first time na ginawa ko ’yung role, was that I did it as a replacement. Hindi kasi ako ’yung original na dapat gaganap. It was Ricky Ibe and Bong Embile. Tapos, si Bong, nagkaroon siya ng hip injury, so I had to take his place, mga two weeks before the show. For, me, ’yun ang challenge nu’n.
"But playing both Boulasem and Abdalap has a common challenge, that is, the language," Roeder stressed. "’Ang pinakamasarap gawin sa pagganap sa kanila is to make sense [out of the language]. Kasi nga, di ba, we all know na ’yung Balagtas [pseudonym of Francisco Baltazar, the 19th century Tagalog poet] language, napaka-’archaic’?
"But really, para hanapin mo ’yung tamang phrasing, sa tamang songs, ’yun ang pinaka-challenging," he further said. "Ang masaya do’n, para kang nagso-solve ng crossword puzzle. That’s why I enjoy doing Balagtas.
"Dito, medyo in-edit na nila ang mga lines, consisting of the original poetic verses," added Roeder. "Wala silang binago [sa meaning], kaya lang they chopped the lines; hindi na sinunod yung meter."
Roeder’s first exposure to the Balagtas komedya was when he did the Florante role in Baltazar’s more famous classic epic poetry, Florante At Laura, which is regularly produced and staged by another theater company, the Gantimpala Theater Foundation (GTF).
"When I did Florante, under Len Ag. Santos, who studied under Jonas Sebastian, yun ang pinanghawakan kong technique," Roeder said. "Unang-una, ’yung lines kasi ng komedya, o ng awit ni Balagtas, ’yung tinatawag na ’dodekasyllabic quadrain,’ na four lines sa isang stanza and 12 syllables, ang meter niya, you pause on the 6th syllable.
"So nandu’n yung indayog," Roeder added. "’Yu’ng ginawa namin ni Len [is somewhat different]; ayaw niyang sundin yung meter. Ang sabi niya, ’Kunin mo pa rin yung indayog, yung kadensa (cadence), pero hanapin mo kung ano yung magkakadugtong, yung buong sense, yung buong thought.
"Kaya dito [sa bagong Orosman...], du’n ako na-excite," Roeder revealed. "Hahanapin mo talaga (ang tamang indayog), na para kang laging nagsu-solve ng crossword puzzle. As it is, hindi mo siya (agad) maintindihan, at ’yung idea, kung ano talaga ang gusto niyang sabihin.
"Like, sa end ng Act 2, may ilang lines na hindi pa ako naniniwala kung ’yun ’yung gusto talagang sabihin, and as an actor, you continuously explore," he stated.
ORIGINAL FILIPINO MUSICALE. The February 4-26, 2011 stagings mark the musical’s second re-run. It was in 2008 when Dulaang UP initially staged Orosman At Zafira. The students’ response was overwhelming. Encouraged by the unexpected turnout of viewers, the University-based theater company’s production heads, led by Artistic Director Alexander Cortez and OZ’s director/choreorgapher, Dexter M. Santos and musical director, Carol Bello, thought of bringing back the musical production as part DUP’s 35th Theater Season in 2010. Again, it was met with much enthusiasm, with SRO performances.
"We’re very much satisfied with the response from students and other theater goers," enthused Alex Cortez. "Doing another staging actually started with us doing its re-runs. Our (DUP) finances is in dire need of, you know, a shot in the arm. So we decided to bring it to MOA.
"For the 35th theater season of DUP, we thought of bringing back the hits," Cortez said. "So we had OZ, Shock Value, Isang Panaginip Na Fili, and this February, too, we’ll have Amphitryon (at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater), with playdates, from February 16 up to March 6 this year."
"Like other theater companies, Dulaang UP also suffered due to the natural calamities; the onslaught of typhoon Ondoy affected us, financially, and we need to get back the losses. When our marketing group (led by Atty. Darwin Mariano and Mr. Carlo Francia) saw the musical the first time, they already wanted to bring it somewhere. So, they talked to Cherry Bong (Edralin, of DUP Marketing) and us, we met and ’yun na. Contracts were immediately signed and in no time we’re going full blast.
"I hope it makes good," Cortez said. "I’m always partial to Filipino musicals, though, I think, these (productions) are hard to sell."
THREE-DIMENSIONAL. Actor Reuben Uy, who previously portrayed business tycoon, Eugenio Lopez, Sr., in STAGES’ bio-musicale Undaunted, got so much praises for playing the role of Abdalap in Orosman At Zafira’s previous successful runs and re-runs. He considers Abdalap, "one of the greatest roles ever created for the stage."
For Roeder Camanag, who is now given a most challenging task of reliving the same role, the challenge lies in one’s interpretation of the character.
"For me, as a veteran actor, yung challenge in doing Abdalap is really finding... yung buhayin mo siya, na three-dimensional character. Hanapin mo lang, kasi alam naman natin na ’yung character niya, buktot na talaga siya, e. Siya ang pumatay sa ama niya [Boulasem]. And everytime I encountered that character, hindi rin ako maniwala..."
Otherwise, the current OZ production, with its characteristic bigness, is pretty impressive.
Roeder pointed out: "May mga nadagdag na choreography. And since medyo lumaki nang konti ’yung stage, although hindi malaking-malaki, may mga adjustments, may ibang elements na pumapasok, like ’yung mga scaffoldings, kaya ’yung ending ng Act 1, ibang-iba na."
The play features original music by Carol Bello.
"Ang maganda dito, even if its about war, walang ipinapakitang violence," explained Roeder. "Nasa mind lang siya; yung mga weapons, indigenous musical instruments. Talagang mag-iisip ka.
"Isa ito sa mga productions na talagang gustung-gusto ko," Roeder further enthused.
NEW CAST MEMBERS. Mara Adlawan Marasigan, OZ Assistant Director (who also directed Medea, as graduating UP Theater Arts senior), told PEP about some problems being encountered by the production.
"Kasi po, mas maikli ’yung time namin, this 2011, sa preparation," she said. "Noong 2010 kasi, at least, we had two months, more or less; ngayon po, one month lang. So we have everyday rehearsals. Tapos, meron din kaming bagong cast members na pumasok. Marami ding nadagdag.
"Meron po silang separate rehearsals, for music lang," Mara informed. "Now, isinasabay na rin namin sila with every one else. Kasi mukhang nakalimutan na din nu’ng mga dati."
The working relationship of the cast members, which is an interesting blend of veteran and neophyte theater actors, can be described as harmonious. Roeder, an Aliw awardee for best stage actor (in 2007), talks about his co-actors with much enthusiasm.
"May mga bago kami sa Chorus, na mga dancers," he informed, "pero ’yung mga iba sa cast, galing din sa 2008 na Orosman At Zafira, like si Red Concepcion; ire-reprise niya ’yung role na Alverdesin, siya yung original. Yung brother niya, si Kevin Concepcion ang gumanap, nu’ng 2010. Ngayon, si Red uli ang Alverdesin, and Kevin will do another role. So, we have the Concepcion Brothers in the production.
"Gabs Santos (the Alverdesin alternate, in OZ 2010 production), unfortunately, hindi siya makakasama. Dapat gagawin niya uli [ang Alverdesin], but, I think, he had to fly to the US. Malungkot nga ’yun, e," related Roeder.
Same goes with JM De Guzman, whose current preoccupation as actor in mainstream television soap operas, like Alyna, hindered him from reprising the role of Zelim (a heroic character from the Duquela tribe), which he competently tacled in the OZ 2010 re-runs.
"Ang sarap ng pakiramdam, working with a big cast, na ang dami-dami, from different theater companies," Roeder shared. "Iba’t ibang discipline, and yet, nagsasama-sama!"
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR. Apart from his regular stage acting stint, and while at present busy with the forthcoming OZ production, Roeder regularly finds time supervising the production of a rock musicale, Junto Al Pasig, a project of the government-sponsored theater company, the Valenzuela City Center for the Performing Arts (VCCPA). Roeder Camanag is its artistic director.
"JAP is ongoing, ’yung regular run namin, du’n mismo sa theater namin, sa Valenzuela," informed Roeder.
"Sa Valenzuela, hindi ako artista, nagte-train ako (ng mga artista, for the stage). VCCPA is under the Office of Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian. On its 6th year now, very supportive sa arts ang office niya," Roeder said.
FUTURE OF PHILIPPINE THEATER. With enough government support, Roeder thinks the future of Philippine theater is bright.
"I think, especially now, ang napapansin ko, nagkakaroon ng shortage ng mga actors. That means Philippine theater is really thriving," he opined. "Sana lang, the younger generation, mai-apply talaga nila ’yung passion and discipline.
"They have the interest, but not enough passion and discipline," Roeder articulated. "But, of course, ang challenge ko parati sa kanila... is to prove na meron kayong substance. Kasi ’pag nakakausap ko ’yung senior artists namin, they always say, ’Iba yung panahon namin...’
"Of course, bawat panahon, may kanya-kanyang substance, may kanya-kanyang merits. So, ang challenge ko sa mga... [baguhan], ay, ’since ang tingin [ng senior artists] ay ’malabnaw’ na ’yung generation n’yo’, prove to them na meron kayong substance [as theater actors].’"
Indeed, Roeder Camanag and company took the challenge, with remarkable success.