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After rehearsals one evening, the two actors in The Necessary Theatre’s production of John Logan’s RED opened a bottle of vodka and decided to interview each other. Bart Guingona plays Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist, who was commissioned to paint a series of murals for The Four Seasons Restaurant in the newly-built Seagram Building in 1959. JC Santos plays his assistant Ken, and in a series of gripping scenes, they trade patter and barbs and knowledge and ultimately open our eyes to a new way of seeing art and life.
Bart Guingona: What attracted you to the play RED?
JC Santos: The text. I think it’s genius. RED is an intimidating play, a complex and challenging one. (BG: Pareho tayo!)
BG: Doing theater is a much longer process than television or film, and for a fraction of the pay. So why do you want to do theater?
JCS: I love the work ethic and the military discipline of it. I enjoy the long process of trying to figure out the material, understanding the text, and the rehearsals process. Whenever I do stage work, I feel like an athlete getting ready for a competition, and I want to win. Ang sarap ng proseso!
BG: As a star that has crossed over from independent to mainstream entertainment, how do you deal with the fame and popularity?
JCS: Not a big fan of the fame and popularity because of the lack of privacy. But, may perks naman (laughs).
BG: What do you personally think of Ken? What do you find attractive about him? What do you dislike about him?
JCS: Ken is intelligent and brave. Maabilidad. He cares about art; he thinks it matters. I think he is going to be a successful artist one day. But I think Ken needs to figure out the art of dedma (laughs).
BG: How much from your personal background do you draw to play Ken? What aspects?
JCS: The family background of Ken, I can relate to. His passion in pursuing art. Also the part of being a survivor.
BG: What is your opinion of Rothko? Of abstract expressionism? Of art in general?
JCS: I appreciate Rothko and his art. I think the rise of abstract expressionism is a very important event in the history of art. To be an artist you have to be a student all the time. You cannot stop. To be an artist is to understand, to appreciate, to be critical, to enjoy, to be present, to love. It’s a way of life.
BG: Who is your favorite actor?
JCS: Andrew Scott (BG: Pareho tayo!)
BG: Who is your favorite artist? No cognition. First thing that comes into your head?
JCS: Benedicto Cabrera.
BG: What is “red” to you?
JCS: “Red” is bravery.
BG: What excites you about the upcoming production?
JCS: I’m excited about the possibility that our audiences’ opinion on art will change after watching the show.
BG: Describe your process.
JCS: I keep reading the script or material until I can explain what the character is dealing with in the moment. Then I find ways to experience and practice what the character is feeling whenever he talks about certain things — his past, his present situation, his future, and where he is. I always list down great amounts of (perceived) circumstances, even the shallow ones.
BG: How do you like working with Bart? (laughs)
JCS: Love working with you, Kuya Bart! I value your opinion and your artistry. I think this is the start of a long working relationship we are going to have. (BG: Naks!)
BG: Your turn to ask me stuff (laughs).
JCS: Why did you choose the theater?
BG: Theater is one of those things you can practice with the least compromise. You get to keep your ideals intact. I always say that since there’s no money in it, at least compared to its richer cousins television and cinema, you need to do it purely for love. And love should be given unconditionally. Also I think it’s the perfect metaphor for life. No matter how many times you do a show, each performance is a singular life lived. Its ephemeral nature is parang life lang, temporary and short — but better because you get to live a life that’s rehearsed.
JCS: What is acting for you?
BG: Hirap naman ng mga tanong mo! (Laughter) Seriously, I love how acting allows me to redefine myself, my limits, and my character with every role I take. In other words, it gives me the chance to polish new facets of myself. If I play a priest, I need to find the devout person in me; if I need to play a psychopath or a politician or whatever, I take it as an opportunity to understand a different way of looking at life.
JCS: Why do you think Mark Rothko’s work is still significant today?
BG: Because his work provokes feelings while making you think. His “color fields” use colors to invite feelings in much the same way sunsets or music evoke certain inexplicable but very real feelings.
JCS: Kung hindi ka inalok ni JC, gagawin mo pa rin kaya ‘tong play or role na ‘to?
BG: First, I love how we refer to ourselves in the third person (laughs). But seriously, I didn’t think I would get the chance to do it again. But your invitation was just irresistible. I have seen some of your stuff and if anyone deserves to be called a gifted star, that would be you. So I knew I had to do it. Naks.
JCS: Kung hindi ka inistorbo ni JC sa tent mo habang nagte-taping, why would you think RED is relevant now?
BG: RED is relevant because there is a new generation of viewers who haven’t seen it. There’s a new generation of tech- and media-savvy viewers who neither have “the heart, nor the patience, nor the capacity to think, to understand” art that requires time and commitment from its viewers. RED is a reminder that “in order to surmount the past, we must know the past.” Wise words, by the way, from playwright John Logan.
JCS: How do you manage acting and directing at the same time? Kahit sobrang hirap?
BG: It helps immensely if I have an acting partner that is talented and intelligent and collaborative. Because that’s my style as a director anyway — I love collaborating with my actors to devise scenes and interpret the text.
JCS: After 22,367 and counting productions na nagawa mo, what is your favorite directorial work? (Laughs)
BG: Ikaw naman, 22,366 pa lang naman! (Laughs) I have many favorites! Hurlyburly by David Rabe, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, 4,000 Miles by Amy Herzog, Anna Kleiber by Alfonso Sastre, among others.
JCS: Who is NOT your favorite character for the screen and stage? And why?
BG: No comment! (Laughter)
JCS: Pero, who is your favorite character syempre.
BG: Hamlet, hands down.
JCS: Who is you favorite painter?
BG: Kiko Escora, Jojo Legaspi, Zaballero, at maraming marami pang iba! Sorry hindi ako makapili ng isa!
JCS: Who is your acting hero? (Laughs)
BG: Andrew Scott. And lately JC Santos. Naaaaks! (Laughs)
JCS: Do you think that theater training in the Philippines is competent? Why? Or why not?
BG: I was an economics major so I don’t know. (Laughs) But seriously I think that for Philippine theater to have produced a Dolly de Leon, a Soliman Cruz, and a JC Santos, the training must be doing something right.
JCS: Kung hindi ka artist ngayon, what is RED for you? Hashtag malabong question. (Laughter)
BG: If I weren’t an artist, RED — yung play ha — would really intrigue me. It has such an alluring premise. Nakaka-curious. The idea that it’s based on an historical anecdote of Rothko withdrawing his works from a lucrative commission then donating them to London’s Tate Gallery and then later committing suicide. Nakaka-curious diba? Hashtag nasagot ko ba? (Laughter)
John Logan’s RED will play from June 9 to 18 at the PETA Theater Center. Tickets are available at Ticket2Me. For bulk ticket sales, pls contact email@example.com. Please be informed that there will be cigarette smoking onstage and that vaccine cards will be required for entry into the theater.