Behind a good actor, an excellent mentor

VERA Files
The Inbox
6 August 2012

By Pablo A. TarimanVERA Files

IF the proliferation of teleseryes in the three leading TV networks is of any indication, they confirm the observation that there is a big market for budding but good, sensitive actors.

As it is, mere good looks no longer count. These days, new discoveries are required to undergo acting workshops to make sure they do well on the boob tube.

For now, acting workshops are the order of the day and one such veteran of the trade is character-actress Vangie Labalan who was the mother of Nora Aunor in the CNN Movie of the Decade, Himala, and megged by National Artist for Film, Ishmael Bernal. She was also the desperate female prisoner in Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Alyas Baby Tsina; the food vendor in Lino Brocka's Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde; and the mother of a hermaphrodite in Chito Roño's Curacha, among others. "I started as a radio talent in Bacolod in 1962," she says. "At that time, radio was big time because television had yet to lord over broadcast media."

Labalan has logged 50 years in the business of training young talents starting from his voice workshops in Bacolod where good talents end up in radio dramas and commercials.

She is now one of the lecturers in the ABSCBN acting workshop which will commence in October. On top of these, she conducts workshops with small groups or even on a one-to-one basis. "I continue to rediscover the joy of teaching," says Vangie who was born Maria Cristina Labalan in Bacolod City some 60-or so-years ago. "When I see those young faces listening and believing in you, I feel pure joy. In my time, I had to learn acting my own way. There were no acting workshops in the '60s when I started as a radio drama talent."

Labalan was supervising the dubbing of the film "Aliw" when Bernal saw the natural actress in her "I owe so much to Bernal whom I consider my mentor and discoverer. I cannot forget how proud he was of me when he watched Abbo dela Cruz's Misteryo sa Tuwa. He told me when we met at the CCP for the 'Misteryo…' screening, 'Do not forget Vangie Labalan that I discovered you.'"

She stayed on the set of "Himala" even after all her scenes were shot to — in her own words — watch and absorb the art of Ishmael Bernal.  "When you come from radio and straight into a big film with veteran actors, it took some time to learn their language and their mind-set. They were talking about motivations in acting and I realized the stage actors were so good at their craft they were very confident. But what I did in Himala all came from pure instinct and common sense," she recalled.

"Acting for me is capturing what you see and observe. So as I did that scene by the tree and simply absorbed my surrounding and I added some dialogue to make the moment real. Luckily, my interpretation got the approval of Direk Bernal. Lahat na gawin ko tumatama and exactly what the director wanted," she shared that unforgettable moment.

Her voice and acting talent was also put to use in the infomercials of Lino Brocka and later in the films of Marilou Diaz-Abaya.

"Direk Abaya entrusted me to supervise dubbings of her movies at a time when dubbing supervisors were not yet around. She is a very generous teacher. She imparts to us her knowledge o n film at every opportunity she gets. I think so much of what I teach I got from her and from her good friend, Ishmael Bernal."

Others who availed of her services include Vic Sotto and Joey de Leon,  Tony Reyes and William Leary  of Viva Films. "Mr. Leary assigned me to train the then unknown Rostum Padilla (now BB Gandanghari) I also trained the sensational child singer from Cebu now known as Vina Morales.  I also coached the then newly discovered  Timmy Cruz, Bing Loyzaga and Cherie Pie Picache. I also conducted a workshop for Chito Rono's handsome teeners where where one of them told raw stories of his naughty stints in Quiapo as black sheep. His name is Jay Manalo."

For her regular workshops, Labalan usually prepares a comprehensive syllabus including acting exercises. But there are also cases when she has to do rush coaching jobs for new discoveries about to appear in new TV projects.

"One who conducts acting workshops should at least be good actors as well. It is important to really know what you teach. This is where you learn many things and UN-learn many things as well. In this acting laboratory, you get to be criticized and discover what will work or not work in acting. But attending an acting workshop is not a guarantee you will get work at once. You have to work hard for that as well," Labalan opines.

Thus far, Labalan's show biz years had been very rewarding.

"I'd like to think that the best teachers in acting are your basic instinct and you hone that by observing the good practitioners in the trade. Talent plus good experience will get you far. My role is basically to inspire and hone young talents. Even for veteran actors, there is always something new to learn by attending refresher acting workshops."

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")