Piolo Pascual: 'There's An Ibarra In Each of Us'

Original Filipino musical ‘Ibarra’ runs at the GSIS Theatre, June 8-18.

By: May. 16, 2023
Piolo Pascual: 'There's An Ibarra In Each of Us'

Manila, Philippines--At 46, Piolo Pascual, the Philippines' ultimate heartthrob, has proven his bankability as a star in TV and film. But in June this year, he gets to revisit where his love for acting began.

Pascual takes on the role of Crisostomo Ibarra, Jose Rizal's protagonist in his novel "Noli Me Tangere," via the original Filipino musical "Ibarra," produced by Tanghalang Una Obra.

His last portrayal of a character written by Rizal was Simoun, Ibarra's new identity in the novel "El Filibusterismo." He played Simoun in Lav Diaz's 2016 film, "Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis" (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery).

It took 30 years before his return to the stage, and the opportunity came at the right time and place.

Theater: An Impetus for His Acting Career

According to Pascual, he started in theater in fifth grade when his school had some guests coming to conduct a workshop. It was his first exposure to theater, and he got intrigued with it.

"So, I joined the theater group, Teatro ni Kiko, since I studied at Saint Francis School [in Santa Ana, Manila], and then it carried on through high school. When I went to college, I took it seriously.

"I auditioned for Teatro Tomasino at UST in my first year of college. From there, I did a couple of plays, and that was it. That was my last until 'Ibarra' came along [which is almost 30 years in the making]."

He confessed he always loved theater.

"Whenever there is a chance to watch musicals here or in New York and London, I would take my time to watch. I've always been interested in returning to the theater. So, when this came along, and my schedule opened up, I said yes right away."

For him, his most memorable theater productions were "Juan dela Cruz" and "Sa Sabado sa Sams," his first and last non-professional outing on stage.

"Tickets got sold. It was the first time I did a play, and people had to buy and pay for it to watch the show. I was in my first year in college.

"Then my last one was 'Sa Sabado sa Sams.' This was still in the late '90s, and I enjoyed it because the response was instantaneous. I enjoyed the whole process of it."

Piolo Pascual: 'There's An Ibarra In Each of Us'

Theater Acting versus TV and Film

He differentiates the three art forms: "First of all, with theater, you have an audience. With TV and film, you talk to the camera. Your audience is the camera. It's a different medium.

"The reaction you get from doing theater is instantaneous. You're done as soon as you're done with the show, but with TV and film, it's a long process, especially with film. It's one big story, and you probably do it 20-30 days to shoot, whether chronological or depending on the logistics.

"With theater, it's the exact story, but you keep doing the same to a different audience every time. Preparation-wise, when you do film and TV, you get to know the character as you go along--of course, you research and everything. But with theater, it's all there.

"You have to understand the character while memorizing your lines, and it's a one-time deal. It's because you vary your approach every show. You know what you're doing from the start of the show till the end. It's different because it's live, and there's no room for mistakes."

When asked if he's open to doing stage productions in the future, he replied, "Yes, I'm pretty open.

"I'm sure 'Ibarra' will open more doors for me, given the right time for schedule and preparation. I'd probably do a straight play next time, which was my introduction to acting."

Also, he got asked if someday he'd venture into producing something on stage from his previous films, apart from "Dekada '70," which would he adapt?

Though he hasn't thought of it that far, probably at the top of his mind is "Don't Give Up On Us."

"It's a good love story. It has good locations, too, and it's very Pinoy in many ways."

"Don't Give Up On Us" is a 2006 Filipino romantic comedy film directed by Joyce Bernal and was the fifth and last screen appearance of TV film superstar Judy Ann Santos and Pascual together.

Ibarra, in His Eyes

In this modern-day retelling of "Noli Me Tangere" through "Ibarra," he perceives it as timeless and still relevant to today's young generation--the GenZs.

"Novels such as 'Noli Me Tangere' and 'El Filibusterismo' are timeless.

"It tells the story of our country, culture, identity, and roots."

Through Rizal's Ibarra in the story, he told a cautionary tale about the events that happened during his time, which are still prevalent in Philippine society today.

He encourages people to read the novel, and he's confident the readers will get to relate to the story. Doing the show is worth telling, re-telling, and even introducing, re-introducing to the new generation to instill the love of the country and a sense of national identity.

"There's an Ibarra in each of us. As a Filipino, you can tap into it if you love your country, especially if you know the history of Rizal and his novels.

"You know, there's a vicious cycle of what's happening in our country, corruption, and the like.

"I can relate to the character (Ibarra) as a Filipino. I see what's happening around us--the disparity between the rich and the poor and what's happening in our society."

This year's staging of "Ibarra" commemorates the 125th year of Philippine independence from Spain. "Noli Me Tangere" is one of the instruments that initiated Filipino nationalism that led to the 1896 Philippine Revolution.

"We just have to know what Rizal was fighting for. And if you have a revolutionary heart, you definitely have an Ibarra or Rizal in you," said Pascual in closing.

"Ibarra" is a re-working of Jomar Fleras' prize-winning play "Kanser." The original play has been staged since 1980 and is one of the longest-running plays in Philippine history.

"Ibarra," the 2023 production, will be its 40th anniversary, with music by Joed Balsamo, direction by Frannie Zamora, choreography by Paul Morales, and scenography by Mio Infante.

The show runs from June 8-18, 2023, at the GSIS Theatre. Proceeds will support the various feeding programs of Rise Against Hunger Philippines.

Photos: Tanghalang Una Obra


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