Stage flight

JJ Ang shares unscripted secrets to soaring in life and theater

By Deneb Batucan

 

STEPPING into the theater stage was a happy accident for JJ Ang. The year was 2009, her last year in nursing school in Cebu Normal University. She came across a poster of a musical play and the production was calling for auditions. Excited, she and her friends decided to audition together. Of course, this piqued JJ’s interest. She had always dreamed of gracing the stage. “Since high school, I’ve always wanted to join theater. I’ve always wanted to try but there just was no opportunity,” she said in Cebuano.

CLARITY AND CHANGE. Theater has taught JJ Ang many lessons, such as having the clarity of mind to ponder about life and impermanence. She is also grateful to have gotten the chance to share her talent not only in the Philippines but also in other countries.
CLARITY AND CHANGE. Theater has taught JJ Ang many lessons, such as having the clarity of mind to ponder about life and impermanence. She is also grateful to have gotten the chance to share her talent not only in the Philippines but also in other countries.

The day came and she was the first of her friends to arrive at the auditions. She wondered where they were, but decided to sign up just to kill some time. Minutes passed, and she was still alone. Her friends, apparently, backed out of the audition. Learning this, she thought of backing out as well, but something pushed her to stay.

MUSIC TO HER EARS. When not doing stage plays, JJ performs her original compositions with a saxophonist friend during acoustic gigs. She’s bent on writing more songs of hers and play them in front of an audience.
MUSIC TO HER EARS. When not doing stage plays, JJ performs her original compositions with a saxophonist friend during acoustic gigs. She’s bent on writing more songs of hers and play them in front of an audience.

She went on with the audition, thinking that it was a waste of time to quit since she was already there. That decision led her to her first role for a play – Kindred Hearts: A Musicale, which was about the life of two nursing students who went through the highs and lows of life and love. And since it was a musical, it meant this first-timer on top of juggle stage practice and multiple school priorities needed to dance in front of an audience.

“The play was really challenging since I’m really not a dancer. And I’m not really flexible. During warm-ups, the choreographer would really push us to our limit. Also, drawing emotion was hard considering it was my first,” she said of the musical produced by the Velez Nurses’ Alumni Association and the Association of Deans of the Philippines Colleges of Nursing. “At that time, I was also a graduating nursing student. We had started with the review for board, plus hospital rotations, case study, thesis – it was very hectic,” said JJ, who played the role of Mia Calderon, the best friend of the female lead.

Bigger roles

Her decision to stay led to many more plays and even bigger roles. During the restaging of Kindred Hearts in 2010, many of the cast were changed. It was there that she met members of a local theater group Cre8tive Thespians Club. She met its founder and artistic director, Sonny Alquizola, who encouraged her to audition for the restaging of Les Miserables, a musical derived from Victor Hugo’s epic novel.

ON A ROLL. Many doors have opened for JJ Ang, who has played big roles in locally produced musicals such as Les Miserables and Siddharta: The Musical. She shares how she got these roles and the key moment that led to this calling on stage.
ON A ROLL. Many doors have opened for JJ Ang, who has played big roles in locally produced musicals such as Les Miserables and Siddharta: The Musical. She shares how she got these roles and the key moment that led to this calling on stage.

JJ passed the audition process and bagged the role of Eponine. For her, playing Eponine has been her favorite role so far. “Aside from the fact that Lea Salonga is my idol, I really like the character of Eponine. She is very strong, but she knows her place. Even if she is a fighter, she knows she can’t force Marius,” she said. In the story, Eponine is part of a love triangle – she loves Marius while he loves Cosette. JJ was keen on learning what kind of emotions she should draw out in playing the role of Eponine, and read and studied the character. This resulted in a performance that gave justice to the character she portrayed.

Because of her role of Eponine, she was discovered by another musical production. Benjie Layos, a theater actor, saw JJ performing Eponine during a show. Benjie has been playing role of Siddhartha since 2007, during the first staging of the eponymous musical. He told the original director of the play, Ms. Daisy Baad about JJ, who was then called to meet the crew behind the production. “I didn’t know when I got there that it would be an audition. But they made me sing and asked me if I would be willing to commit to the play. I said yes,” she shared, smiling.

JJ bagged the role of Princess Yasodhara, the wife of Siddhartha and the female lead of the play. Siddhartha: The Musical has since opened so many doors for JJ. The organization behind the play, Fo Guang Shan Foundation Philippines (FGSFP) and Buddha’s Light International Association Philippines (BLIA) has helped her become a better performer. She has been gotten the chance to share her talent not only in the Philippines but also in other countries. She also considers Ms. Daisy Baad as her best mentor.

“I had a tendency to hold back, like I was trying to take control of my emotions. She taught me how to not let fear hold me back and be courageous,” she said.

Importance of impermanence

JJ shared the lessons that she learned from her life in theater. “I learned to be open-minded, be patient with others and also with myself, and most importantly, I learned about impermanence. The only constant thing in this world is change,” she said. “Anything can happen on stage, so be ready for it. Deal with it, make the most of it, and make it part of the scene. Impermanence helped me to be more positive in real life. Now I’m more open to change.”

Aside from theater, JJ also does gigs with her saxophonist friend Jake Esquibel. She sings acoustic and jazz songs and sometimes performs her own compositions. In the future, JJ wishes to write more original songs and showcase them during her performances. She mused on how she has always been fond of watching singing contests on TV, but actually joining them is a whole different story. “I can say I haven’t mustered enough guts. But I’m still open to it though.”

Seemingly oblivious to the profuse talent that’s running through her veins, JJ Ang exudes a quiet confidence in her demeanor. JJ is no doubt a talented lady, but she remains humble about it. She recalls on how she got into theater and realizes that it was intuition that pushed her to grab the spotlight. “If you really want to be in theater, do it now. Try and don’t hesitate because it all starts there. There’s no harm in trying,” she said.

Photos: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome
Make-up Artist: Carlo Damolo
Hair Stylist: Jerwin Bastatas

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