Way back in 1947, a young and newly-married Naty Crame-Rogers was sheltering herself from the rains when a stranger materialized from nowhere and asked politely, “May I share your umbrella?”
It was none other than the playwright-director Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero (much later to be a National Artist).
And that was the start of her acting career, for Guerrero (incidentally an uncle) cast her in his play “Forever.”
“That play recognized the rights of women,” Naty recalls. “It was a breakthrough in the history of Philippine theater. I want to revive it.”
The appropriate time to do so would be in March, Women’s Month.
Naty, 89, is a theater icon: actress, director, teacher, writer and researcher. She turns 90 on Dec. 23, can walk without assistance, and her colleagues and protégés in her Aming Tahanan Sala Theater (which performs regularly in her living museum of a residence in Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig City) will celebrate with a “Naty at 90” Pista sa Nayon-cum-birthday party.
The veteran actress has appeared in a slew of plays in many drama companies, but is best remembered for her roles as Candida (and later as the more sedate Paula in her mature years) in Nick Joaquin’s classic “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino), and as Leonor Rivera in “The Love of Leonor Rivera” by Severino Montano.
She is the oldest of five daughters born to Don Ramon Crame, a jazz player known as “the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. of the Philippines” (he played with the Tirso Cruz Band at the Manila Hotel), and Espéctatión Cabezas, “a disciplinarian who imposed a sense of order” in the home.
At the age of 11, the precocious Naty directed a play at school: “Directing was more important than being class valedictorian, and I wonder where I got that nerve. It was very rich childhood; I was in love with life.”
When she grew up, her mother wanted to marry her off to a widower older than her (Naty), and to escape this dreaded fate she applied as a Philippine Airlines stewardess and was accepted. And then she met the copilot, the dashing Col. Joe Rogers, an American mestizo whom she married “because he was Filipino-looking.”
The main thing
As far as theater is concerned, Naty believes that “the actor is the main thing. It’s the actor who mainly creates the artistic product, suspension of belief, what the French call mise-en-scene (dramatic situation). Plays are not just words; a play is pantomimic.”
She adds: “I belong to the old group for whom honor, prestige and leadership were more important than money.”
And she is disappointed with the youth today: “Young people have little values, as I see it. I am really calling the attention of the youth to the wonderful world of books. It’s so different when you have a book in hand.”
As a woman, what has she learned from life?
“As a woman,” she observed, “the most important thing is to fill your life with love, love for the opposite sex, love for being alive in the morning, love for God especially, that should be first (she is especially devoted to Our Lady of La Naval, as glorified in the Nick Joaquin play) love for experience.”
And as an artist?
“I am glad you made that distinction, as a woman and as an artist,” she says. “I think you are the first to do that. It’s very important to continue studying in your life and never think that you are an accomplished artist. Whatever you have achieved is inadequate, because you are seeking perfection.”