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A tale of two theater ‘titas’

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Theater Titas was born in a Japanese restaurant. Our initial notes were written on a piece of paper napkin.

They share the same name. Or almost. She is Chesie. He is Cheese. Beyond this “happy accident,” as Cheese puts it, they both love theater.

Theirs started as a teacher-student relationship. Chesie Galvez-Carino teaches Theater Arts at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) and Chesie Mendez was “one of my best students,” she says.

Outside of the classroom, and beyond the campus walls, their friendship flourished. “We would watch plays together and then talk about the kind of theater we liked, or the kind of plays we wanted to stage. We also saw some bad plays and productions and we usually agreed on what they could have done to make it better,” she further recalls.

CHESIE Galvez Carino.

It wasn’t long before, over a glass of wine and a plate of sushi, they decided to form Theater Titas, which recently co-produced the 50th anniversary run of Ang Paglilitis kay Mang Serapio written by Dr. Paul Dumol, their former college professor. It is the company’s second production.

“When the director, Juan Ekis, asked us if we wanted to co-produce it with his group, Duende Theater, we immediately said yes. We had seen his version of Paglilitis in 2010 in UA&P, and I thought it was gripping and moving,” says Chesie.

“From the start, we wanted to do fringe theatre. Small scale, experimental stuff. Interesting stuff. Intelligent stuff like Paglilitis,” she emphasizes.

Horror lovers

It has been a year since Chesie and Cheese gave birth, as it were, to Theater Titas.

Chesie recalls, “Theatre Titas was born in a Japanese restaurant. Our initial notes were written on a piece of paper napkin. Cheese and I, who both love scary movies, had been wanting to see a friend’s one-act play on stage since it belonged to the horror genre. It was about a father who could not accept the death of his daughter, so he plays God and resurrects her again and again. For some reason or another, it just couldn’t get staged. So we decided to do it.

“But since another playwright friend had also written a brilliant one-act, also about a girl, a blind one who gets kidnapped and then teaches her captor, a hardened serial killer, to see the light of hope and see past his ugly soul, we decided on a twin bill, and we named our first production ‘What’s in the Dark?’”

Cheese concurs, “Yes, I believe we were dining in Nihonbashi Tei when we decided to do it. And yes, we do love horror, and we’re shocked that local companies do not present ‘horror’ theater here, so we decided to take that gamble.”

While Chesie was enamored with the creative side, Cheese took on the challenge of operations and marketing. As he had earlier been involved in such productions as Wicked, Les Miserables, The Lion King and The Sound of Music, all famous musicals, “working on our twin unknown plays with unknown producers meant having to face a lot of difficulties.

For example, word of mouth has always been a key marketing tool in the entertainment field, but we had close to none for our first show. I was also so used to working with a show that had a cast and crew of a hundred people, but when we started, it was really just me, Chesie and a friend of ours, Diandra Concepcion, doing all the legwork.”

Both plays – Beheld, which was about the blind girl and was directed by Chesie’s husband, Carlos; and Carol, which was about the girl who kept coming back from the dead and was directed by Tinette Villanueva Miciano — turned out to be immensely successful.

“People either loved them or disliked them, which was totally expected and totally fine with us,” says Chesie. “The best part is that we actually did not lose money. We were in the green.”

Of course, this isn’t about money, even if it is essential to survival. To Chesie, it all boils down to “a sense of mission and guts to make it happen. You have to have a vision.”

Cheese insists, “Definitely, you can’t be in theater for the money. You’re passionate about something and you want to push it, you want to make a difference.”

Transformative art

Their interest in theater goes a long way back.

Cheese relates, “I have been into theatre since I was a child and a teenager because a neighbor performed with the Rep so I constantly saw her shows. But my interest intensified when I discovered Wicked in 2006. I have since exposed myself to more theater, including enlisting for Chesie’s Theater class in UA&P. Until then I was really only familiar with the big musicals. It was in Chesie’s class that I discovered just how malleable theatre is as an art form, and how it transforms, not just over time, but also how it transforms genres, meanings and people.”

Chesie attended theater arts workshops when she was a child, acted in school plays and competed in elocution contests. In college at the UA&P, she played Juliet in Shakespeare’s Women during the Shakespeare Week Festival on campus.

“My favorite role was Candida in Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino. We invited him to see it and he loved it,” she shares.

While in college, Chesie fell in love with theater, realizing “it has the power to change lives, not only of those who witness it as audience members, but also those who practice it.”

After her graduation, she taught Literature in the same university, where she became involved in its Theater and Arts Program.

“I found myself mentoring and directing students for their productions. It was fulfilling seeing them slowly transform into confident, empathic and happy individuals,” Chesie recounts.

In 2000, she took her MA in Performance at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She was hoping to become an actor, but “somewhere between my stint in London and my coming back to teach again at UA&P, I began to lean more towards teaching and sharing my passion for theatre rather than being on stage,” Chesie confides.

Cheese, who acted in high school, majored in Marketing at the UA&P. “I combined marketing, my major, with theater, my true passion,” he relates, “So I did my share of directing while doing marketing work.”

Right after college, he worked for Concertus Manila, the local promoter of international shows. After being involved in the staging of world-renowned Broadway and West End musicals in local venues, “I decided I eventually wanted to produce my own content and contribute to the local Philippine theater scene. I like to think I have vision, and I know what works and what doesn’t on stage, but I can’t necessarily do it myself, so I direct,” he says with a grin, amused at the thought of “not being able to do it all by myself.”

CHEESE Mendez.

A family of thespians

After getting married to Carlos S. Carino, executive director of the Maria Montessori Children’s School Foundation, Chesie took a hiatus from actual production work “but I continued to teach drama. I gave workshops and I taught at the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy, Philippines when my friend opened the franchise here in Manila.”

When her children grew a bit older, “I decided to train again and studied Physical Theatre and Mask Theatre in Brisbane, Australia with the Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company, and in Padua, Italy under the tutelage of Paola Colletto and Mateo Destro.”

Her family, luckily, is just as interested in theater. “This year Franco, my son, and Enrique, my nephew and ward, were volunteer actors for ‘Serapio.’ Sia, my daughter, works front of house with Diandra. It’s also very good exposure for my kids.

“Their father is also in theater so there is full-on support. I help my husband with his projects, he helps me with mine. We are each other’s artistic sound boards.”

Today, aside from teaching theater part time at UA&P, Chesie handles Human Resources in the Galvez family’s property management firm. Cheese is in digital and social media marketing.

If theater work has been a little bit easier, the two Titas attribute this welcome situation to “the third Tita, our awesome production manager Diandra Concepcion. She’s Wonder Woman,” says Chesie.

One show at a time

While they make sure not to take themselves too seriously, lest they take the fun out of theater work, both Chesie and Cheese view theater as essential to people’s lives, and a contributing force toward solving the ills of society.

Cheese, rising in defense of theater from criticisms of theater being irrelevant, says, “Theater is a very concrete way to deliver truth on a level that is easy to digest.

“As Bertolt Brecht said, if you want to educate, you must entertain.”

Chesie concludes, “We need theater even more today. Electronic gadgets depersonalize, dehumanize. They connect people globally and digitally but they promote disconnection.

Theater does the complete opposite. It humanizes, it connects people, builds communities.

It’s the most human art of all.

THE “What’s in the Dark?” Team.

“Theater not only entertains; but heals and teaches. It creates beauty but it can also incite people to action, and change the world, one show at a time.”

For one night only, you can still catch the 50th Anniversary of Ang Paglilitis Kay Mang Serapio on 22 September. Tickets at P800. P900 for walk-ins. Contact Diandra at 0917 656 7293.

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