For two young pinoy actors: It’s child’s play performing in mainstream musicals
By Batrice S. Paez
TORONTO–Some childhood games never lose their allure. The fantasy of dressing up, playing pretend and creating an alter ego lives in the memory of many young adults. What’s now become past tense for those who have grown up is a living practice for Chris Vergara and Ann Paula Bautista.
These days, the two young actors, whose lives are currently in sync, are all about child’s plays. Bautista and Vergara will share the stage twice this season, in the theatrical iteration of Shrek and in Dora the Explorer’s Pirate Adventure at the Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT).
They take front stage in Dora, with Bautista as the play’s eponymous explorer and Vergara as Diego, her cousin.
In Shrek, they appear as part of the supporting ensemble, with Bautista playing the sassy dragon, who keeps Princess Fiona on lockdown and Vergara taking on a string of characters, from the knight to a pig from the three little pigs.
The beloved, and unconventional tale of a beastly creature transforming himself into a hero, hopes to rescue those afflicted with self-doubt with its redefinition of beauty. Its appeal transcends its tailored demographic, said Bautista, because the message it carries is relatable to anyone feeling unwanted or ugly.
In picking his projects, Vergara said he is drawn to stories that champion the underdog and hit an emotional truth. “People will be going in expecting a fun, flashy musical,” he said in reference to Shrek. “But they’ll be surprised at the impact it will leave on them.”
The theatrical spell of stunning lights and mesmerizing dance sequences ignited their passion for performance art as children. For Vergara it was Les Miserables’ soul crushing narrative that moved him when he was a young boy. Fame changed Bautista’s view at the age of 7 of what was possible on stage.
The tell tale signs that foretold their calling were etched long before they chose to build a career centered on the stage.
Growing up, the two young actors were known in their family circles to be willing performers, who revelled in the attention and adoration that was showered on them. Bautista was a regular at Pinoy concerts, while Vergara readily played the piano at family gatherings and would prepare dances with his cousins.
Even with the unreserved support and encouragement of their parents, they toyed with the possibility of working outside of the arts. Financial considerations and other interests nearly tugged them away.
In university, Vergara took up biology and environmental science at McMaster University, with the idea of becoming an environmental consultant. Outside of class, he spent his extra time joining theatre groups and community productions. Though he chose to finish his degree in science, it was undeniable to him that the chemistry he shared with the audience was not worth sacrificing for stability.
Bautista once tried to imagine herself as a history teacher, and when she told her parents, they were baffled. “They knew from the get-go that I was going to do performance,” she said.
With her parents’ support, she eventually decided to dispense with that idea, and enrolled at Randolph Academy, where she graduated last year.
The audience’s affection was also a source of encouragement for Bautista. “People were laughing, everyone was happy. I just knew then that was what I wanted to pursue,” Bautista shared, remembering her first role as Sally in her high school’s musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
For a young actor just starting out, a livable wage is difficult to secure. Both have opted to follow many other millennials in staying with their parents until they secure a more stable employment.
While both are settling in at their new home at the LOT, expanding their repertoire and reach is always in their line of sight.
It helps to be familiar with the space, but it’s not enough to be established at the LOT, the directors cast who they believe will fit what they envision, Bautista explained.
The industry has come a long way in rejecting rigid portrayals of its characters, but there are times when race still factors into their decision, she said, pointing to her role as Dora and her part in the production of Avenue Q, where she plays an Asian woman.
And yet the proliferation of Asian characters in plays being staged has given her a steady stream of work since finishing school, which she said she is grateful for.
But she is looking forward to the day when “colour-blind casting” will become an industry norm.
Vergara wants to break the mold he has crafted for himself and to veer into a different genre, explore his wits outside of comedy and take on more heavy, nuanced roles.
Bautista, who was born and raised in Toronto, dreams of performing around the world, including the Philippines. “I would love to venture out and do musical theatre outside of my hometown.”
Shrek the Musical runs from September 27 to October 19 at the Lower Ossington Theatre. HYPERLINK “http://tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/3769538” Tickets can be purchased here online.
Dora the Explorer’s Pirate Adventure runs from October 5 to October 20 at the Lower Ossington Theatre. HYPERLINK “http://tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/3771002” Tickets can be purchased here online.