Some actors had it easy, but comedienne Kakai Bautista is grateful her acting career started at the very bottom.
A fresh graduate from Binan, Laguna, Kakai first became an apprentice in Gantimpala Theater Foundation with in-house director Frannie Zamora as her mentor.
Kakai did behind-the-scene odd jobs, such as being Lea Salonga's wardrobe assistant in They're Playing Our Song in June 2000. In this musical, Lea played the lead role of Sonia Walsk.
Kakai told PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal), "Kasi yung training namin sa Gantimpala, hindi siya yung pag nag-audition ka, bida ka agad, may role ka.
"Habang nag-start ako sa theater, kinuha nila kami dun sa production, which is nandun yung mentor ko... Kasi I was just training for Kuya Frannie Zamora.
"Na-train ako sa stage management. Alam ko kung anong nangyayari backstage. Alam ko yung pag-spike ng stage, pag ganito ilalagay yung props.
"Pati pagwa-wardrobe, may knowledge ako dun. Ginawa akong wardrobe assistant ni Ms. Lea. First professional job ko yun.
"Ito yung profession na binayaran talaga ako, hindi na ako apprentice."
Kakai said she closely worked with Lea throughout the 80 shows of the play in Manila.
The experience taught her the value of hard work and pure love for the craft.
"Iba kasi yung trabaho ko nun, e. Play kasi yun. Mas mahirap yun.
"Ako kasi naglalaba, namamalantsa, nagpre-preset, nagkwi-quick change sa kanya.
"Tuwing show ako lagi niyang katabi. Ultimo undergarment ni Ms. Lea nilalabahan ko yun. Mga medyas niya... as in sa wardrobe talaga.
"Ang bibigat ng costume ni Manang nun! Kasi sa akin lahat, ako lahat nag-aayos nun. Mahirap yun, ha!"
Kakai fondly calls Lea "Manang," an Ilocano term for elder sister.
She pointed out that working as wardrobe assistant in theater is different from having a personal assistant for TV and movie stars.
Now that she is an established artist in showbiz, Kakai said of her own personal assistant, "Hindi niya ginagawa yung mga ginagawa ko nung nag-uumpisa ako sa theater. Hindi naman niya tinatahi damit ko."
Her moment to shine came when she played the lead role in Gantipala's 2003 staging of Katy! The Musical!
That was also the year Kakai joined showbiz via a supporting role in the ABS-CBN prime-time series Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay.
Being exposed to Lea's discipline as a singer-actress, Kakai learned a lesson that would serve her well in showbiz: Never be a diva no matter what.
"Una kong natutunang kay Manang professionalism," she said.
"Na ang hirap-hirap, lalo na minsan mag-attitude ka talaga, hindi mo maiiwasan.
"Aaminin ko yun. Pag tinotopak ka na, pag pagod ka na...
"Pero pag naiisip ko yung professionalism niya, yung pagmamahal niya sa craft niya, bumabalik ako dun. 'Ay, ang galing! Dapat ganun lang.'
"Sobrang grabe yun. Iba talaga siya."
Kakai remembered when she would scrimp on her meals just so she could afford her daily commute from Laguna to AFP Theater in Quezon City, where They're Playing Our Song was being staged.
In her Instagram post dated November 2019, Kakai posted her throwback photo with Lea and another colleague Jeluz Imperial.
"Life was very hard back then," Kakai wrote in the caption. "I need to walk from edsa to AFP Theater. I had to skip meals to save for everyday fare to Laguna.
"My friends and I-naghahati hati kame sa isang cup ng Yakisoba ganun lang. Pero MASAYA KAME.
"I needed to find 'cubao shoe expo' without google and waze."
In the continuation of her interview with PEP.ph, Kakai said she made sure that she learned as much as she can working with the best in her craft.
Since becoming part of the Kapuso's stable of free-lance talents, Kakai has been landing character roles that often portray her as a funny sidekick or best friend of the lead actors.
Her most recent outing was as a Filipino domestic helper whom Kathryn Bernardo befriended in Star Cinema's 2019 blockbuster hit Hello, Love, Goodbye.
Apart from her acting, Kakai also showed her singing prowess when she started uploading more cover songs on her social media accounts.
Her cover of Jessie J's "Flashlight" went viral, and it eventually led her to stage her very first concert Dental Diva at the Music Museum in September 2015.
Her title Dental Diva is a wordplay on her prominent gums and teeth when she flashes a smile.
Kakai admitted she was "bullied" in her teens because of her looks.
But she has long gotten over the hurt and learned to embrace her flaws.
In an Instagram post in January 2018, Kakai wrote, "Alam at tanggap kong hindi ako maganda sa paningin at standards ng iba, ng mundong obsessed sa beauty and being beautiful.
"Hindi masakit para sa akin yun, dahil lumipas na ang mga taon na kinaawaan ko ang sarili ko dahil sa sinasabi ng iba.
"Tapos na ang mga araw na pinakikinggan ko sila at wala na akong balak makinig pa."
In fact, Kakai often posed in bikini in her selfie photos on Instagram to flaunt her imperfections.
She added in one of her posts: "Mabubuhay tayo sa inuutos at sinisigaw ng mga puso natin - Mahalin mo ang iyong sarili bago mo mahalin ang iba.??
"Narito po sa inyong harapan, KAKAI BAUTISTA — Tambay ng PACITA!Aaaay chenk u!???????????? #dentaldiva
"#confidenceispower #strokesbymomoisupe #gandangauraruz"
Not quite an A-lister in showbiz, Kakai is recognized for being good at playing meaty roles that spice up whatever TV or movie project she's in.
She is now one of the mainstays of GMA-7's recently launched Sunday musical variety show All-Out Sundays, an added feather to her cap.
She also remains active in the theater scene and has consistently been a part of the annual installment of the hit Pinoy musical Rak of Aegis from 2013 to 2019.
Kakai said, "Yun ang lagi kong binabalikan. Nag-start ako sa theater. Forever ako dun.
"Never ako nag-try ng comedy bar. Ang layo kasi talaga ng discipline ng television sa theater."
Knowing how hard she worked for what she has achieved as an artist, Kakai said it never fails to motivate her to do better.
"Ang laking privilege kapag artista ka and you have a contract from a network.
"Ang laki ng difference na eto lang kinikita mo, but you put the same the same effort like what you do when you have big compensation."
"Kami, nagti-theater kami, anak ng pating, nakakaiyak! 'Ang liit ng bayad ko sa theater, kayo ang sarap...'
"Pero hindi, e. Kami as theater people, hindi kami natitinag sa ganun. Pagmamahal lang talaga."
Kakai went on to say that it pains her to see some young stars whose acting careers were given to them on a silver platter but didn't know how to value their craft.
"Kaya minsan nakaka-frustrate pag may nakikita ka... 'Huy! Huy! Huy! Magpasalamat ka! Hello?!'
"Tapos minsan yung quality of work, ang layo. Hindi ko naman nilalait halos lahat, ha?
"Pero hindi mo din naman sila masisisi. Baka mamaya yung orientation nila ganun.
"Pero as artists, puwedeng mag-impart ng konti, lalo na sa mga bata, mag-impart ka."
In which case, Kakai said she would confront a young star who behaves like a diva on set.
"Naloloka ako. Saka hindi ko mapigilan bunganga ko. 'Tatatanga? Ano? Tamad!' Ginaganun ko talaga minsan.
"'Tamad! Huwag ka magreklamo. Ginusto mo mag artista, di ba?' Sinasabi ko, 'Huwag ka maarte!'"
Recalling how others like her struggled for years just to be where she is now in showbiz, she stressed, "PHP150 nga lang TF [talent fee] ko noon.
"Kasi magpasalamat ka, di ba? Bonus na lang talaga lahat, e. Hindi mo talaga titignan, e.
"Kung ako, titignan ko lang palagi yung how big the compensation, yung agwat, kung ako mukhang pera, hindi na ako magti-theater.
"Pero mahal ko kasi ang theater. Dapat i-value ng mga bata yun."
Kakai also believes that nothing beats discipline and hard work when carving a niche as an actor.
"Kasi naniniwala ako wala namang taong bobo, e. Lahat tayo meron tayong t-a-n-g-a sa katawan, pero walang taong bobo.
"Tamad meron. Tamad matuto. They don't allow themselves to learn. Ayoko talaga yun. Jumijinit [Umiinit] ulo ko sa tamad."