Bituin Escalante is happy to get mother roles

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Bituin Escalante
Singer and theater actress Bituin Escalante. Photo: JT Fernandez.

Life and art are inextricably linked for singer and theater actress Bituin Escalante



Bituin Escalante is a storyteller. 

And while she has been telling stories through acting and music since the late ’90s, the tale most associated with her is one of unrequited love— the poignant, sentimental ballad “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana.”

She originally sang the beloved OPM hit in 2002. Two decades later, it continues to be interpreted by a variety of artists (and by countless karaoke-loving Filipinos). It’s also still the most requested song in her shows.

It’s her rich, resonant tone as she riffs and runs on iconic standards and powerful belts that often follow the thought of Bituin Escalante—she’s not called the Stellar Diva for nothing, after all. She’s considered one of the country’s best female vocalists, known for (if only colloquially) being the queen of vocal acrobatics with several Awit Awards under her belt. 

And though this additional seal of credibility may be but fluff at this point, she is also currently a judge at Tawag ng Tanghalan on the noontime variety show “It’s Showtime,” as well as a regular performer on the divas segment of long-running Sunday musical variety show “ASAP Natin ‘To”—proof of the level of respect and trust in her craft she’s earned over the years.

READ MORE: Bituin Escalante on inspiring young artists as a judge

She just very casually proves all this, too, by effortlessly singing along to our team’s ’80s and ’90s diva playlist. When she comments on one of the songs, saying it’s among her jams of the era, we decide to keep the theme of the playlist. For that, we were handsomely rewarded: In between shots, while the team sets up shooting locations, and even as she’s on her way back to her dressing room to change clothes, we’re treated to the image of Escalante, hips swaying to the music, her voice reverberating through the empty backstage hallways.  

But more than the resounding voice, it’s the opportunity to be a storyteller that she takes pride in.

On stage, she’s portrayed a great number of roles, such as Effie White in “Dreamgirls,” Becky in “Waitress,” and the lead, a maid named Mely, in original Filipino musical “Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady.” 

But of all the roles she has had the opportunity to step into, the one she loves the most is closest to her heart: that of motherhood. 

“I’ve been really enjoying motherhood, and I’ve been getting a lot of mom roles,” she says, recalling her most recent theater credits. She’s played Rachel, mother of the hopeful Joseph the Dreamer; Saling, the protective adoptive mother of Elsa in “Himala”; the villainously vicious Mamakbet in Khavn’s “SMAK!” which premiered in Berlin; and most recently, in historical musical “Pingkian,” she fills the shoes of Josefa Dizon, mother of the young general.

“Although it’s a mockery to some, ‘yong mother roles ka na ngayon. I’m like, ‘yeah, give it to me. I love it!’”

READ MORE: History and revolution sound hip with ‘Pingkian’’s rock treatment

“Doing all the aspects of motherhood—the darkness, the light—lahat ng aspeto ng pagiging ina, the heaven and hell of being a mother, I love that exploration,” she says. “Things I wouldn’t do as a mother, things I should be doing as a mother. It’s such a learning experience to inhabit the roles I’ve been getting.”

She means it quite literally, when she says inhabit. The most important of all the mother roles she’s had is the real-life one: Being a mom to two daughters, Tala and Luna, has informed and inspired her various portrayals.

“I don’t think I would’ve been able to interpret those parts when I was starting. Everything feels real—the ache of losing a son to a war, a revolution, is real when you imagine your children. Meron na akong basis in real life eh.

“My experience informs the way I approach the role. Also, it’s nice to explore. When I did Mamakbet, she was a monster of a woman. I can’t be that in real life, but it’s so nice to explore. It’s nice to explore that dark side and how far you can take the anger and the power of being a source of life. Ang sarap mag-explore. To have that experience inform your performances, it’s real.”

“Although it’s a mockery to some, ‘yong mother roles ka na ngayon. I’m like, ‘yeah, give it to me. I love it!’”

Bituin Escalante
Photo: JT Fernandez.


Bituin Escalante and life’s work

As much as life beyond the curtain colors Escalante’s craft, so does the world and workings of the stage influence her on the personal. 

Living in the shoes of a character from a different time, race, or world, even for just a few hours a night, leaves a mark not just on the audiences that witness her and her fellow artists’ portrayals, but on herself, as well.

“I really like exploring why people do the things they do. Making us relate with a villain [for example], making us understand,” she says. While she feels strongly for mother characters, she shares that it is this opportunity to peer into the minds and motivations of complex characters that makes her still wish to play Judas in the rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.” 

“If you can explore that, when you make your own choices, informed ka eh. Tao ka. Will you make that [same] mistake?” 

Her reflection reveals a principle she seems to long live by: being kind despite, and because of, wrong choices. Seeing actors portray the lives of characters who would otherwise make vastly different decisions from us, moves us. As an audience, and even the likes of Escalante as actors, witness these different choices, and collectively, even if only for a moment, we are changed.

Bituin Escalante
Photo: JT Fernandez.

“It makes us kinder to each other when we make the wrong choices. It makes us kinder to ourselves. So I’m very holistic when it comes to work. It’s a life thing. It’s not just work. My life informs my work, my work informs my life.”

While some people might prefer to keep their professional and personal lives separate, Escalante openly allows both sides to bleed into the other. 

Doing the historical musical “Pingkian,” she says, is an opportunity she was so happy to get because it gave her the avenue to release personal feelings. 

“So many of my frustrations in the country, to be honest—everyone knows my politics, I think—the story of ‘Pingkian’ was so akin to what I was going through. To hear na hindi pa tapos ang laban, nothing is wasted if you live a noble life… It was affirming,” she says.

“If I hid my feelings instead of continuing to be vulnerable and face everything… It’s therapy to be able to play out your frustrations and put it all out there. Theater gives you a venue to scream and cry your heart out… and you help other people heal. You help other people see that you can hurt and you can heal.”

Bituin Escalante
Escalante as Josefa Dizon in “Pingkian: Isang Musikal.” Photo by Creative Sense, courtesy of Tanghalang Pilipino.

She thinks about the similarities her character Josefa Dizon bears with so many other real life mothers—mothers of activists whose children choose to fight for education of Indigenous people in the mountains over a comfortable life in the city, or mothers of those unjustly jailed without reason or due process (as in the case of the recently released filmmaker Jade Castro).


“It’s therapy to be able to play out your frustrations and put it all out there. Theater gives you a venue to scream and cry your heart out… and you help other people heal.”


“These are real stories. These are the real tragedies. It’s still happening,” she says. As soon as she says it’s stories like this that make her cry during the show, she pauses, holding back the tears. “‘Yan na naman,” she quips. “May pictorial pa tayo!”


* * * 


We take photos around the Samsung Performing Arts Theater (CPAT), a 10-story structure in Circuit Makati, which Ayala Land is positing as its next arts hub. The theater opened its doors in 2022 and had Escalante as one of the first artists to grace its stage. It has become a home to her ever since. And it’s evident: She shows no lack of comfort in posing against the marble steps, and leaning against its railings.

Besides performing inside the 1,500-seat theater, Escalante was also one of the artists chosen to launch the Jaime Zobel de Ayala (JZA) Hall as a performance venue. 

“Once, the Manila Symphony Orchestra had a small concert with Dan Gil at the lobby. It was the first time they used the space that way, tapos ang ganda because it felt so organic. It felt like a jam in an open space. So Chris (Mohnani, director of CPAT) thought, for Arts Month, we should introduce that as a venue. So we did it.”

The post-Valentine’s show, aptly called “With Love… Bituin,” transformed the lobby into both dining space and performance hall, and was met with critical success. But it was really a challenge and risk Escalante decided to take.

“I was kinda skeptical because if you look at the space, it’s marble and glass, and that’s an acoustic nightmare,” she starts. “Pero napatunog! And since it’s small, it lends itself to something quieter. So it was a quiet set, very personal. Intimate. Sarap!”

Bituin Escalante
Photo: JT Fernandez.

She found herself back at the JZA Hall a month later for another show entitled “Virtuosa, Bituin,” this time, in celebration of Women’s Month. And Escalante, ever a storyteller, took it as an opportunity to put forward voices she hopes more people can hear.

“It’s a celebration of women, but instead of just the artists, we also focus on the story. It’s some songs that have not been heard for decades,” she says of the show. One of which is a group she’s loved since high school: Inang Laya.

“‘Yan sina Becky Abraham. During the pandemic, she had this video singing ‘Paano Kita Mapapasalamatan,’ and her voice and her storytelling is something I admire so much. If there’s a woman to be celebrated… we have our own! We have our own storytellers,” she says. 

But while Escalante is passionate about celebrating “the women who we need to hear again,” she’s also not averse to the standards. 

“I think that’s also the magic of the space. In the first show, we were having conversations with the audience. That’s so much a part of it. It’s not like a concert where you have a setlist and that’s it. This one, you get a feel for the audience. Midway we’ll take (a song) out, put [another] in, ask them what they want to hear. It’s that kind of interaction. It’s a living, breathing thing. It’s nice,” she says.

Bituin Escalante
Photo: JT Fernandez.

Aside from “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana,” she often also gets asked to sing hits by the divas. “It’s always Aretha (Franklin), ‘Respect,’ ‘Proud Mary.’ It’s all the soul divas. None of the new ones, none of the Adele… minsan nga [naiisip ko], wala bang hihingi ng Billie Eilish diyan?” she laughs.

“I really love Billie. And Miley (Cyrus)! You take her for granted (because) she was Hannah Montana, but she’s good,” she stresses. “She has heart! She’s so gritty. She’s the real thing. She takes risks! She lives. I like that.”

At the end of it all, it goes back to the influence of being a mother. “It’s my kids’ music,” she says. “Si Laufey, mga anak ko, they love her. So I did [a Laufey song] last time. Wow, bumabata si mother! Thank god for children, they introduce me to new stuff!”


Photography by JT Fernandez

Creative direction by Nimu Muallam-Mirano

Production assistance by Martin Agustin

Produced by Angela Manuel Go

Special thanks to Mano Domingo.

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