Mae Paner’s life is more colorful than that of her alter ego Juana Change.
She was a Psychology major from the University of Santo Tomas when she entered theater in the ’70s. From there, doors opened in advertising, where she started as an actor and production assistant. By her mid-20s, she was directing AVPs and was taking home a paycheck big enough to support her five younger siblings and bedridden mother. Her father and eldest sibling had passed on earlier, making her the sole breadwinner of the family.
“It was all me—tuition, bills, grocery, medicines. The wayward ones, I bailed out of jail and sent to rehab for drugs,” Paner says. “When you have P100,000 in the ’80s, that’s big. So I always think of work in terms of money. I was a slave driver; I don’t say no to a job, but I’ve always had theater on the side.”
It was her acting background in the Philippine Educational Theater Association that got her into starring in commercials—and she was discovered while playing an uncanny role, a gasul.
“We were doing one of those rivalry AVPs for Petron, and I was cast as ‘Shellane’—the enemy—because I was huge. They got so impressed with my acting and asked me what else I could do,” she says.
“I told them I was also a stage manager for Peta, so from there, I became assistant director for 10 years, until I became a director and partner in a firm.”
Paner has always been a performer. It’s her “second nature,” she says, since she was a kid directing mini-plays and singing in the school glee club. She joined Peta’s world tour for the play “Panata sa Kalayaan” in the late ’80s as actor and head stage manager, and by the end of the trip, she was promoted to tour director.
“Sa theater ako na-politicize,” she says. During martial law, she would march on the streets with theater colleagues to protest the Marcos dictatorship. She was arrested and jailed in 1984, but was released shortly.
Social activism is something she has always been into, which led to the creation of Juana Change, the boisterous character who chases after corrupt politicians to demand a better government.
Paner is now focusing on being a “performance activist” after letting go of her advertising job, more because of circumstance than choice. She says some people find the Juana Change image too strong, and it’s also a reality in advertising that clients always want fresh ideas and new blood.
Funny and timely
With the the 2016 presidential elections approaching, Paner is starring in a musical satire that aims to empower Filipino voters—“Pinatay si Mayor!,” to be staged by the De La Salle University Harlequin Theater Guild from March 26 to 28 at DLSU’s Teresa Yuchengo Auditorium.
She plays the character Mayor Vangie Palaban, the incumbent trapo who runs—and wins—term after term until a pig defeats her in an election. Theater veteran Raffy Tejada, Harlequin Theater Guild artistic director, is directing the show written by Rody Vera. The rest of the cast and production staff are students from La Salle.
“‘Pinatay si Mayor!’ is funny, and very timely,” she says. “I wish this could be performed in the Senate or House of Representatives so that politicians would see how we perceive them. They may be challenged to do things right, or end up criticizing us, but it’s okay as long as they watch it.”
Criticism is part of any performance, she adds. “It makes me realize that I have flaws and a blind side. I take them in, as I myself am a big critic of the President and so many other politicans—and Kris Aquino.”
She now spends her time giving talks and cooking at home, which is a shock to her siblings who are used to seeing her traveling leisurely, driver in tow.
“I don’t have a day job! I’m so broke, I’m so poor,” she says laughing. “Nagiging Juana Change na talaga ako. But I am happier now; there’s more quality to what I do, a deeper purpose and, so far, the universe provides.”
At 52, she is single and living in the present. “I made my own identity through creativity. When I die, I want to be a known as a ‘creative patriot.’”
She has been egged to run for public office but she laughs it off, saying politicians only ask her to run so that she would stop haranguing them.
But really, what would make Mae Paner shut up?
“Genuine change. I don’t have to do this for the rest of my life. We activists always say it would be nice if we cease to exist because there’s positive change, and we can finally keep quiet.”
“Pinatay si Mayor!” runs March 26-28 at the Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium Theater, De La Salle University, Manila. Call Geordina Uy at 0917-5463401; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.facebook.com/dlsuhtg.