Drama has been a part of director-playwright Anton Juan’s life since childhood.
What led him to the theater? “The child’s eyes led me to it and the blood running in my veins,” he says. “I come from a family of dramatic lives.”
His mother was a dramatic soprano whose dreams of being a diva were shattered by World War II. He had an aunt who was a coloratura who ended up teaching in a public school in Tuao, Cagayan. But they held concerts after dinner, singing old Spanish songs and arias, and Filipino (Tagalog-Cebuano) classics like “Sa Kabukiran” and “Nasaan Ka Irog?”
“In the middle of ‘Nasaan Ka Irog,’” recalls Juan, “with no miss, my father would come rushing by the piano, gyrating in a sweet parody of love. When he lay dying, and all of us in the family took turns singing the songs he loved, he chose to die at the moment my mother sang ‘Nasaan Ka Irog.’”
Then there’s his sister, Avyn, who was adjudged best actress for playing Sisa at the University of the Philippines High School, an award he describes as “totally unpredictable.”
Juan promised to himself that he would play that role someday. And he did! In Amella Lapeña Bonifacio’s Noh version, “Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa.”
Twice knighted by the French government, with a Ph.D in Semiotics from the University of Athens, and as senior professor at the University of Notre Dame and so forth, Juan speaks (or rather writes) in a literary style bristling with images and metaphors, viz: “From the balcony I watch clouds move, evolve from horses to daemons, to heads of so many faces, watch till manes turn to wings and dragons to angels, watch till noses fly off and eyes melt into roses. I blind myself to sleep and ecstasy.”
As a playwright, Juan looks “for the transfer of essences to action.” And as a director, he searches “for the evolution of shape—the embodiment of essence in word, sound, movement, memory, action and ideology.”
Playwrights who have influenced him, among many, include Euripides (“…to make you feel the pain”); Shakespeare (“I am not what I am”); Sartre (“nothing…”) Tennessee Williams (“I don’t want realism, I want magic!”); Jean Anouilh (“I spit on your happiness”); Beckett (“Could it be that in the night we slept he came?”); Brecht (“The few up there refuse for many down there to rise!”); Nick Joaquin (“To remember and to sing; that is my vocation”); and Jean Genet (“I belong to the police, they, too, belong to the world of outcasts”).
Pinoy actors whom he respects and admires include the late Behn Cervantes, Lolita Rodriguez (“ah, the quiet wail”), Gigi Escalante, Nieves Campa, the late Bibot Amador (“immovable—like a mountain”), Frances Makil-Ignacio (“unafraid of any text”), Ricky Abad (“honest to the moment, simple yet musical”), Topper Fabregas (“generous of spirit, plus that energy!”), Jay Valencia Glorioso (“gives herself totally to a role”), Rachelle Gerodias (“total giver and listener”), Bart Guingona (“eye to eye, teeth to teeth, breath to breath”), and Ron Capinding (“a giver, great backstage”).
All lessons learned are good, says this celebrated director-playwright, including the right to make a mistake, begin again from zero, and suffer humiliation and pain.
He advises the young to “work on the body and embodiment, work on space and the wash of landscapes of memories, listen to your inner music, the mind’s eye, enjoy the toil, enjoy the chance to work, and READ [underscoring his].”
Then, suddenly, Juan barks an order: “Stop acting already, just do it! Don’t join expensive workshops even if they claim they’re from some ‘signature’ theater. Knowledge does not depend on anyone’s signature! Be careful whom to follow; especially beware of acting theories that may not work for your processes of signification. And carry your valuable mentors on your back.”