By Rica Arevalo
Set in two far-flung continents, The Tempest Reimagined is the magical play of William Shakespeare interweaving with the massive destruction of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). This one-hour-and-a-half classic Shakespeare play adapted to Filipino is a collaboration of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) with the British Council, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and The Japan Foundation Manila. UK-based Nona Sheppard directs and co-writes the play with Liza Magtoto.
The play starts with a powerful storm in a remote island concocted by a commanding wizard, Prospero (CB Garrucho) with the help of Ariel (played by spirits) to control his daughter Miranda (Yeyin Dela Cruz) and to seek revenge against his sibling for throwing him out of the city he ruled.
We sat down with Gabe Mercado who plays Gonzalo and Papa Bonsto to discuss his first Shakespearean play and his first PETA stint.
“The most important factor is Nona Sheppard, associate director of RADA,” says Mercado. “When courses are offered here, they are always sold out and very expensive! I jumped at it because I was getting an education in Shakespeare from an expert in Shakespeare. I love the process.”
Sheppard did her research by visiting Leyte and interviewing the Yolanda survivors. “She started with physicality. It made our bodies embody the text rather than be conscious with pronunciation. She tried as much as she could to work individually with actors. She also brought a vocal coach who would also help us with the emphasis and text reading. It was a beautiful process,” he adds.
Practicing improvisational theater for more than 15 years, Mercado is the founder of Silly People’s Improv Theater (SPIT). He recalls their daily physical rehearsals: “I think the best analogy—it’s as if I went to the gym. Sometimes you hate the gym but you feel new muscles are coming out that you never thought you had before. It was a mixture of feeling good and giving up but always, you’re thankful after.”
To guide the audience, a fisherman (Norbs Portales) narrates Shakespeare’s The Tempest and adapts it in the local setting during the Yolanda rampage.
“I think the best thing is it brings both to life! Tempest seems to have relevance—it is one of Shakespeare’s lightest works,” says Mercado. “It’s whimsical, it has fantasy, but it also has messages about the ideal society, the ideal government. I love how that played so well with the experiences in Yolanda. There were issues of governance, both local and national. It did not make Yolanda a victim of sad, sobbing stories. The characters are all alive because of the process. They all became natural, hindi pilit. My character is based on a real-life Yolanda survivor. ”
The 44-year-old actor started theater in grade school at Southridge. While at Ateneo, he was a Fr. James Reuter “baby,” performing and touring the country. Although his roles are mostly comedic, he has done serious acting, too. “I have always thought of myself as an actor but I accepted the label comedian because it makes people remember you. Even in my college days, I would do roles that would require seriousness. Tom Hanks started as a comedian. I wouldn’t mind having that kind of career trajectory.”
The pinnacle of Mercado’s television career was hosting the ABS-CBN news and public affairs show, Noypi! Ikaw Ba ‘to? He became popular in a TV commercial delivering the line, “Ok ka ba tiyan?”
“I have moved away from television and movies,” he confesses. “I don’t accept unless a super good role comes in. It treated me well but I am not excited anymore.”
Mercado put up Third World Improv, the country’s first school on improvisational theater. “It’s doing well. We not only teach performance but also the corporate training. One restaurant, for example, wants us to train the staff to be naturally engaging. I like it because it’s sustainable. I go home at 6 p.m. I like it that way. No hard feelings but I do not like the set up of three times a week of non-stop taping. You don’t get to sleep properly. I become grouchy and I do not like myself being grouchy. I’ll go with what makes me happy.”
So why should people come and see The Tempest Reimagined? “It’s an easy watch. It’s entertaining. It says something. And it’s Shakespeare!” says Mercado.
Performances are ongoing at the PETA Theater Center until Dec. 4. Call TicketWorld 02 8919999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.