Theater artists take on a new medium, for a cause | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

(Standing, left to right) Susan Africa, Ernie Garcia, Frank Rivera, Diana Alferez; (seated) Perry Dizon, Len Ag. Santos, Divina Cavestany. PHOTOS BY JOJIT LORENZO
(Standing, left to right) Susan Africa, Ernie Garcia, Frank Rivera, Diana Alferez; (seated) Perry Dizon, Len Ag. Santos, Divina Cavestany. PHOTOS BY JOJIT LORENZO
(Standing, left to right) Susan Africa, Ernie Garcia, Frank Rivera, Diana Alferez; (seated) Perry Dizon, Len Ag. Santos, Divina Cavestany. ALL PHOTOS BY JOJIT LORENZO


Len Ag. Santos-Siasoco has long been known in  theater as a versatile character actor, as well as a familiar face in movies and television. Sidelined from acting by a slew of medical challenges, from lymphedema to renal illness, and with limited mobility—the rotund Santos now whizzes around on a mechanized scooter, as she has difficulty walking—she rediscovered an old love: painting.

“I have been painting since high school,” she recalls. “I love painting landscapes. I remember my dad asking me to paint the sky every time he saw beautiful sunsets. I didn’t know how to handle colors then, though, and my dad would comment that my colors were a bit pessimistic. I stopped painting after that. Then, 42 years later, I found myself enrolling in an art class while my children were having summer classes in music and ballet.”

Nowadays, Len has discovered a penchant for painting fire trees and fish, using canvas and acrylic, and revealing an incredibly light hand and a control of nuanced color.

Now, this much-loved theater veteran’s works are finally seeing a brighter light. Len joins seven friends and fellow theater artists Diana Alferez, Sonny Anecito, Divina Cavestany, Perry Dizon, Susan Africa, Ernie Garcia and Frank Rivera, with guest artists Lito Casaje, Evangeline Pascual, Rollie de Leon and 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa, in “Artist’s Hands: From Stage to Canvas, an Exploration of Space.”

The exhibition, produced by OnQ Production together with Solaire Resort and Casino, allows theater and stage artists to explore a new medium—or, in some cases, like Len, an old hobby that has been revisited—while simultaneously raising funds for theater practitioners in need of medical help.

Len Ag. Santos
Len Ag. Santos

Sharing with the industry

The exhibit opens on July 6, Wednesday, 6 p.m., at the Shoppes Hallway, Solaire Resort and Casino. Mitch Valdes is hosting the opening night program, and Mary Ann Venturina-Bulanadi is curatorial consultant.

Others on the production team are Joel Saracho, PR officer; Charyl Chan-de Guzman, production manager; and Sarah Maniquis, exhibit coordinator.

Director, singer and actor Franiel G. Zamora, overall project director, is a veteran at putting together such fundraising efforts.

“I guess it’s been my way of sharing with the industry where I belong,” he says.

So why are theater artists trying their hand at another medium? It’s a matter of survival, on more than one front, Frannie says. “For one, it’s an artistic outlet, so artists try to reinvent themselves. They are creative people who do not want to stop creating, so other venues are tapped. Two, some have more spare time to do it. Three, some have no work, and they need to survive.”

Len invited old friend Susan Africa, another stage and film veteran, to join the exhibit. “Len had been wanting to organize an exhibit before for (Bulwagang Gantimpala’s late artistic director) Tony Espejo’s medical expenses, but sadly, the plan came too late. Knowing the medical and financial needs of our theater brothers and sisters, I was more than willing to jump into this current project.”

Susan Africa
Susan Africa

Susan, a Fine Arts graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, has been painting on and off since college. “I like rendering tropical plants, as I am inspired by Bali paintings,” she says. “My favorite medium is tempera because of its vivid colors, and it doesn’t take too long to finish a painting using this medium.”

For Len, who has acted with many of Manila’s most prestigious theater companies, from the late Rolando Tinio’s Teatro Pilipino, to Bulwagang Gantimpala and Tanghalang Pilipino, it’s more a matter of “rediscovering oneself. Basically an actor always creates, and since I cannot act anymore because of these debilitating illnesses, I turned to a new form of creation.”

Len is able to draw some analogies between theater and painting as disciplines. “In preparing for a role, you read a script, research the character and rehearse. In painting, for me, it begins with an inspiration in my mind. The act of painting is like the rehearsal, where you can change colors, textures and the feelings you want to impart.”

Ernie Garcia
Ernie Garcia

Ample inspiration

“They are two very different processes, although both can consume when you’re in the middle of creating,” notes Susan. “Both processes also need an ample supply of inspiration!”

The sad fact remains, however, that more often than not, such fundraisers are necessary when a theater professional falls ill.

“I don’t think theater artists will ever be given enough priority, since we belong to an industry that doesn’t generate much revenue,” says Frannie. “And since this is the case, we should help in any possible way, most especially when it comes to medical problems. It is very sad that in an industry as small as this, you can still see disunity among its members.

“I am hoping that we become more socially responsible. It is best for us to always be united in causes such as this. We have to look after each other; otherwise, who else will?”

“It would be ideal for the government to generously support artists and their medical expenses,” adds Susan. “Theater is a passion that does not provide financial stability, therefore it takes a lot of luck and discipline for theater artists to be able to save for their future.

“It would also be good for stable theater companies to provide medical insurance, pension and retirement plans for their regular artists.”

Now on dialysis, Len, who is married to Shax Siasoco, technical director of the Theater at Solaire—the couple has two children—likens her medical debacles to an “emotional marathon.”

“Renal failure completely changed my life. I never thought it could create so much damage, so much pain, not to mention endless worries about chemical imbalances, my blood pressure, cardiac arrest, and, of course, wondering up to when we can afford this lifetime treatment.”

Still, ever the trouper, Len concludes, “Life goes on! I enjoy every opportunity I have to be the best person I can be. I am alive. I am blessed. I am in total gratitude. God is so good all the time.”

After all, He also gifted these talented actors with artists’ hands.

“Artist’s Hands: From Stage to Canvas, an Exploration of Space,” produced by OnQ Production together with Solaire Resort and Casino, runs until August. For inquiries, please e-mail [email protected].

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