This piece first appeared in the book Dancing with the Ripples: Celebrating Inspiration One Story at a Time by Michelle Simtoco.* I am posting this here today as a tribute to Daisy, my dear friend and mentor, in what would have been her 53rd birthday.
On a cool autumn night in Vancouver, some audience members were milling around outside after the show at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, a theatre popularly known as ‘The Cultch.’ It was the middle of a 3-week run for Headlines Theatre’s** production, Us and Them.
“Thank you so much for your performance! It was so moving,” a man with gray hair said to me.
“I cried,” a woman in her twenties gushed. She added, “This is the second time I’ve seen the show. And I cried both times – even if I knew what was going to happen. Your performance is always so real.”
“You’re a professional actor, right?” The woman’s friend asked.
I smiled and thanked them for their kind words. In the first week of the show, I felt embarrassed with the compliments and I just wanted to bolt to the dressing room and hide there! I was happy to hear them of course, but I just wasn’t used to it. Being an immigrant in Canada, I have often felt invisible. Having then been plunged – literally – into the limelight, I became “hypervisible” as Ligaya, my character in the play, and as a Filipino actor in Canada.
This particular night wasn’t the only night I was asked if I’m a professional. Mariton Pacheco, host of Balitang Canada (ABS-CBN/The Filipino Channel), also asked me similar questions during an interview. Was it my first time ever on stage? Have I had training as an actor? Was I a professional actor in the Philippines?
A professional is someone who is paid to do something and does it for a living. Us and Them was my first paid acting project. Does that make me a professional actor now? These are simple, straightforward questions that require multifaceted answers. And stories. Many stories. But if there’s going to be a short answer to all of them it would be: “Daisy Ba-ad” – the woman who changed my life in both small and big ways. The woman I first knew in my teen-age years in my city of origin – Cebu, Philippines.
I knew of Daisy Ba-ad many years before she became my teacher and friend. When I was in second year high school at Saint Theresa’s College, I used to watch the third and fourth year students in the Drama Club rehearse skits beside the Greenhouse. At our school campus, the place we call the Greenhouse was not actually a glass structure with plants in it. It was a gazebo with a green roof. There was a hole cut at the centre of the gazebo to give room for an old tamarind tree that stretched its branches to the often cloudless sky. There were tables and benches in the Greenhouse, painted – yes, you guessed it – green!
At first, I didn’t know who the adult leading their rehearsals was. She seemed to be younger than most of my regular teachers. There was something different about her. She was hip, cool and bursting with life. I heard the Drama Club members call her Ms. Ba-ad. Sometimes, they referred to her simply as Ba-ad. That would have sounded too casual and perhaps disrespectful in a culture where young people are expected to show deference toward those even slightly older than they are. But I heard sincere respect and even affection from the students towards her.
I remember feeling very excited about the prospect of joining the Drama Club with Ms. Ba-ad as the teacher/director in my two remaining years of high school! But to my disappointment, Ms. Ba-ad disappeared. I didn’t see her around the campus until about 4 years later. By then, I was in third year college pursuing my BA degree in Psychology. (Yes, I’m a loyalist of Saint Theresa’s College. I spent most of my formative years there, from kindergarten to college.) I learned later that Ms. Ba-ad had gone to Manila and worked with film and theatre luminaries like Laurice Guillen, Leo Martinez and Johnny Delgado.
Meanwhile, the Greenhouse, the place where I first became aware of Ms. Ba-ad, became the backdrop of my college life. It became the hub of my interactions with fellow students and Ms. Ba-ad, the rare teacher who actually liked hanging out with her students. The Greenhouse turned into my study room as I would cram for tests and write assignments for my subjects, including Ms. Ba-ad’s Play Production and Developmental Theatre classes.
It became an Oval Office of sorts when my thesis group brainstormed with Ms. Ba-ad, our thesis adviser. We came up with a very ambitious thesis with a very ambitious title: “A Video Documentary on a Personality Development Workshop using Participatory Drama.” Looking back, I realized we were way over our heads! Yet, I never heard Ms. Ba-ad urge us to scale back our original idea. It’s very likely that she was as crazy as we were. More than that though, I think that she always had this genuine, almost naïve, belief that anything done with passion is possible. Because she wasn’t jaded like other adults we knew, her idealism and optimism paved the way for our group to accomplish our thesis project with flying colors!
The Greenhouse is memorable in other ways, too. It was where I hatched my brainchild project to Ms. Ba-ad when I was elected as chairperson of the student body. “Smoke, Baha ug uban pa” was a hugely successful ecological concert directed by Ms. Ba-ad with eighteen repeat performances in different venues in and out of town. The Greenhouse was transformed into a studio and rehearsal spaces of various works of performing arts before it were brought to the school auditorium. It was also where we ate our lunch and sometimes dinner. I remember Ms. Ba-ad, known for her generosity, treating the whole gang to scrumptious snacks or drinks after a warm day of hard work in rehearsals.
Then there were those quiet nights when the Greenhouse turned into a confessional. A place where Ms. Ba-ad and a group of us students talked about hurts from our past and our hopes for the future. Those were precious moments when I knew who I was and I was certain what I wanted in life.
The Big World
By the time I graduated, Ms. Ba-ad had become “Daisy” to me. Our student-teacher relationship had developed into a close friendship. After giving me some training and experience in facilitating drama workshops, she invited me to help her teach her summer workshops for children and youth. I also assisted in some of her projects outside Saint Theresa’s College.
When I started my career as a school guidance counselor, Daisy and I connected only sporadically. We saw each other less and less when I started my own non-profit organization in a rural town south of Cebu City. Life happened and we just … drifted apart. I had lost touch with her completely by the time I immigrated to Canada in 2006. But somehow she was always nearby. The lessons she taught me both inside and outside the classroom shaped my decisions and interactions with others.
The trajectory of my life never hinted at a career or even work of any kind in theatre. In school plays back in the Philippines I was always the friend or assistant of the leading character. In a culture where “white (or fair-skinned) is beautiful,” I was resigned to the fact that I would never be a main actor. Daisy knew this reality only too well. She had experienced it when she tried her luck as an actor in Manila. Like her, I concentrated on other things I do well. For her it was directing and teaching. For me it was stage management, scriptwriting, and organizing. Despite the minuscule possibility of having a career in acting, I remained passionate in participating in all of Daisy’s acting workshops. It never occurred to me to question my commitment to something that in all likelihood wouldn’t be of practical value to me in the future. All I knew is that throwing my heart and soul into these acting workshops made me feel alive inside!
I never expected that all the things I learned in Daisy’s workshops would come in handy one day. I was wrong. In July 2011, David Diamond, the Artistic Director of Headlines Theater in Vancouver, informed me that I was chosen as one of the 6 cast members (out of 185 applicants) in their next production. I was stunned! To be paid to do something that I love doing – Wow! Headlines Theatre is a leader in forum theatre. Their productions are rooted in the important current issues of the community. Actors of their plays are chosen because of their real-life experience with their characters. My character was named Ligaya, a Filipino immigrant in Canada.
I lived and breathed my character from the moment I created her.*** The emotions of Ligaya ran the gamut from high hope to deep despair. Each day that we rehearsed and performed, I gave it my all. Every day. Even during my bad days. The whole process was absolutely exhausting emotionally! I am certain that I wouldn’t have survived the three months of psychologically intense work without having the bag of acting tools that I gained from Daisy’s workshops. Her voice guided me each day.
Express, don’t impress. Give 100%, take 100%. Performance level! Feelings are equal. They are neither right nor wrong. Share. Accept. Believe. If you believe in the situation (scene), the audience will believe you. Focus. Commit to your character. As an actor, your instrument is your body. Your resource comes from your past experience, your feelings. No acting please! NO ACTING. Take it from the place of truth.
Even if Daisy’s workshops took place many years ago, the exercises I learned just floated into my mind. In preparing for scenes, I didn’t have to think hard what I should do. Identifying the emotional obligation (the emotion required in the scene), the choice (person, object or event that will help you feel the emotion) and choice approach (acting exercise you will do to reach the required emotion) became as natural to me as breathing. Is acting physically and emotionally draining? Absolutely – and I loved every moment of it!
The World is a Stage
When I think of Daisy, I think of the many big happy moments with her and my dear college friends. I also think of the dramatic outbursts during rehearsals and the deep sadness after closing nights. But one quiet and tender moment keeps coming back to my mind. It was just the two of us in the alumni office. I was telling Daisy about the film, Prince of Tides. She was typing; her eyes on the computer screen. I had read the book before and I was interested to see how the film portrayed the scene wherein one of the characters was sexually molested.
She turned to me, looked into my eyes and said calmly: “It happened to me when I was a little girl. How old were you when it happened to you?” My brain protested: “I was just talking about the film!” But my heart saw the truth. With those two lines from Daisy, a flood gate opened and my long journey of healing began. Great teachers don’t just teach their subjects. They teach you about yourself. They teach you about life.
So am I a professional actor? That question still stumps me. Acting is not my bread and butter but it is my nourishment and my first love. It is my lifeline to my inner self.
It is my connection to Daisy Ba-ad. Teacher and friend. Fellow survivor. Fellow warrior.
About the author: iris a. paradela-hunter is a performer, dreamer and meaning weaver. Aside from being Ligaya in Headlines Theatre’s Us and Them (directed by David Diamond and Kevin Finnan), she also played Maria Virginia, a lesbian in I Confess (directed by Sean Cummings) as part of the BC Buds Spring Festival in 2007.
* This piece appeared in the book under the title “Teacher, Friend.” For more information about the book, visit http://dancingwiththeripples.com/.
** Headlines Theatre is now called Theatre for Living (TFL). For more information about TFL and forum theatre, visit http://www.headlinestheatre.com/theatre_for_living.htm.
*** In forum theatre, actors create their characters. No script is written beforehand. Actors, together with the director/s, create the play from improvised scenes.