Playwright and Director Pat Valera on the Many Layers That Make Up the Latest Adaptation of Mula Sa Buwan
As playwright, theater director, dramaturg, events organizer, and managing partner of an advertising agency, Pat Valera has more surprises up his sleeve.
Nov 10, 2018
(SPOT.ph) "If you ask me what I do for a living—I do a lot of things," starts Pat Valera in an interview with SPOT.ph. You'd immediately think of the popular adage "jack of all trades, master of none;" but with the success that he has acquired in various fields, it's safe to stay that there's definitely nothing wrong with being a multihyphenate.
Two-time Palanca awardee Valera is both the playwright and director of Mula sa Buwan, a musical based on Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac and Francisco "Soc" Rodrigo's Filipino translation of the French classic. But he also infused it with three things: Theater, history, and ideals. And now, what you have is a sarsuwela-esque production set in 1940s Manila where Cyrano and Christian are ROTC cadets amid a war and Roxane is a blushing colegiala. It premiered in December 2016, had a rerun in February 2017, and is now having another restaging until November 25 at Hyundai Hall in Ateneo de Manila University.
First Love Never Dies—Cliché, We Know
Valera started dabbling in theater at a young age of 10. It was in fourth grade when he joined Ateneo Children's Theater, the official theater organization of Ateneo de Manila Grade School. "If you join Ateneo Children's Theater (ACT), you get to miss classes," the actor-at-heart quips. Of course, he’s joking—or not.
His first play was Mga Bata ng Himagsikan (1998), which was part of the group's celebration of the Philippine Centennial when they presented a trilogy that also included Batubayani: A Play on Rizal (1996) and Gregorio Del Pilar: Ang Batang Heneral (1997). He also bagged the lead role for Tony Perez’ Tolda in sixth grade. "I was a weird child; artistic," Valera admits, and he easily found a home in ACT.
In high school, he started exploring other media. He was into photography, which as we know still uses film back then. "Ako 'yong nagtayo ng photography org sa high school," he recalls. He was still very much into theater, thanks to Ateneo de Manila's comprehensive communication arts program for high school students. They were trained to write and perform sabayang pagbigkas in the first year, create a radio play in the second year, do a one-act play in third year, and finish a movie in fourth year; and compete as a class with the other sections. "We never won. Siguro masyadong weird 'yong pinaggagawa namin." But it was Valera's first taste of how it was to direct and be at the helm of a theater production. "I was also class president," he adds.
With this theater-filled CV, you’d think that he would immediately decide to take up theater arts in college—or, at the very least, a humanities course. But like he said, "when you're young, you never really think you can make a life out of arts e, di ba? Especially in this country." He ended up pursuing Entrepreneurial Management at the University of Asia and the Pacific.
In between learning about business models and market research, he still immersed himself in the world of theater and joined arts and culture organizations where he met a professor who "introduced [him] not to your run-of-the-mill theater, but to Rolando Tinio, Shakespeare." He eventually caught himself going all the way to the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City or the University of the Philippines - Diliman in Quezon City after class or during the weekends to watch plays. "All of those plays really, really inspired me. But one play that made me shift to UP was Floy Quintos' Fluid. Imagine yourself, you're in-between, and then you watch that play. It tells you the condition of your art," he explains.
After three years of Entrepreneurial Management—about a year short of a business degree, Valera explored his options at the theater program of the University of the Philippines - Diliman in 2006. "Buti na lang my family is very supportive. I'm privileged, I wouldn't deny that." Afraid that his grades weren't enough to be a transfer student, he first applied to the Certificate in Theater Arts at the College of Arts and Letters. This two-year program requires a talent exam and a comprehensive background in theater—all of which Valera nailed. After completing the course, he continued with the laddered system with the aim of completing a bachelor's degree. "You deny it, it really haunts you. Sabi sa'kin, parang pagpapari daw 'yan e, pag tinawag ka tapos sinuway mo, you'll regret it. Babalik at babalik ka rin," he tells about returning to his first love.
"You deny it, it really haunts you. Sabi sa'kin, parang pagpapari daw 'yan e, pag tinawag ka tapos sinuway mo, you'll regret it. Babalik at babalik ka rin," he tells about returning to his first love.
At the state university, he was mentored by Dexter Santos and Anton Juan. He served as the assistant director and dramaturg alongside Anril Tiatco and Katte Sabate for Dulaang UP's Orosman at Zafira. “Bata pa kami non, binagsakan kami ng 300-page Balagtas script. Tapos 'O let's make this into a musical and condense it to 60 pages.' That was my first training," he says about his first official UP production.
Under Juan, he worked on Hinabing Pakpak ng Ating Mga Anak. “Do'n ko nakuha 'yong foundation ko about social relevance and about theater being a political tool."
Finding Theater in Advertising (and Vice Versa)
But it wasn't all smooth sailing for Valera who was juggling work and school at the time. "When I entered UP, I was 21 na. By the time I left UP, not because I graduated, I was already 25. You know at that age, that's the age when you really think about your responsibilities. You have to work e. Not that I gave it up. Pinahinga ko muna." He went on a leave of absence in 2010, and started doing other things—from putting up a music festival to opening his own advertising agency.
"My brother owns Travel Factor [an adventure travel company]. I said, 'Gawa kaya tayo ng music festival.' Since ako naman, I came from theater, marunong ako magtayo ng theatrically nice events, creative events," he narrates about the birth of Summer Siren Festival in 2014. It is now one of the country's biggest music festivals that promotes the beauty of a local beach destination and presents the best of Original Pilipino Music. Valera took over mounting the production while his brother was in charge of curating the musicians. "Kakaiba ‘yong stage namin kasi there were set designers I got from the theater; tapos even my staff, they all came from theater."
He also opened his own advertising agency, Black Box Collab, which specializes in creatives (branding and design) and experiences (brand-focused events and festivals). His team is mostly comprised of his classmates from Ateneo High School.
“All of these things that you take under a humanities class, it's surprisingly more novel, more human than understanding a person based on statistics," he explains.
Valera also reconciled his background in both the arts and management. In August, he was invited by the Philippine Marketing Association to talk about theater in advertising. He discussed “how [he] gets to—there's no other word for it, it's so anti-UP—capitalize what he learned in theater and apply it in advertising.” For market study, he has character analysis; for building a brand, he has a story’s conflict. “All of these things that you take under a humanities class, it's surprisingly more novel, more human than understanding a person based on statistics," he explains.
The Return: Part 2
By 2017, he was ready to come back to school. Hoping to finish the course as soon as possible, he compressed the remaining two years into one—"42 units with thesis and work and life." So far so good, and he's expected to graduate this school year. "Ang buhay ko for the past year, I was waking up at 5:30 [a.m.]. Magka-class ako ng 7, matatapos ng 11. Magtatrabaho ako hanggang 6. Magre-rehearse ako hanggang 10." He wishes to eventually teach with a diploma in tow.
Valera created Mula Sa Buwan as an ode to this life in the arts, which seems to be full of leaving and returning. It was originally titled Cyrano: Isang Sarsuwela in 2011, and had a rock-and-roll vibe for its first version. He revisited the play when he was about to take a leave from school. "I was just at the point when I was already questioning theater and my ideals." By late 2016, it was time for Valera and his co-lyricist William Elvin Manzano to make it into "a bigger musical, a bigger piece." For him: "It's not about Cyrano lang anymore. It's not [just] about sarsuwela anymore. It's not an academic project anymore. It's about checking your beliefs."
And so Mula Sa Buwan was born, where Rostand's Cyrano is transformed into a brazen ROTC cadet who can weave verses while Christian is a pure-hearted man who has fallen in love with Roxane. "There's a love story, there's question about war. But in between the lines, it also talks about virtues, what you fight for, what you give up. Andaming layers so nache-check ko rin—ano na ba 'yong na-give up ko?" he talks about the play that’s now up for third staging.
He also put in a few changes into it, now that they’re more mature, he says. "Andami nang nangyari sa akin in two years. Going back to the play, it reminds me na ito 'yong mga pinaglalaban ko noon. How do you negotiate that with who you are right now? May gano'n na siyang impact sa akin," he muses. The writer also saw the importance of emphasizing Cyrano's realizations within the story. "The original Cyrano text in Rostand, it's problematic. Cyrano could be a stalker, punong-puno ng hubris na hindi niya matanggap 'yong yabang niya." Now that things are clearer for Valera (and, subsequently, the character he created), there’s a scene where Cyrano “points to himself, that his greatest enemy is kayabangan."
"There's a love story, there's question about war. But in between the lines, it also talks about virtues, what you fight for, what you give up. Andaming layers so nache-check ko rin—ano na ba 'yong na-give up ko?"
When asked about who his favorite character is, the Mula sa Buwan creator said that it used to be Cyrano for obvious reasons. But now, it’s Christian. "When you're younger, you date the crazy, crazy artistic people everywhere. But then, when you grow older, it's not that you settle, but because you see the beauty of things that are calm." And we couldn’t agree more.
Now that we’re seeing Mula sa Buwan again with a more mature outlook on life (we hope), we can’t help but wonder what it’s going to reveal to us this time.
Mula sa Buwan runs from November 9 to 25 at Hyundai Hall, Areté, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Tickets, priced from P800 to P1,400, are available through Ticket2Me. For more information, visit Mula sa Buwan's website.