The two-time Aliw Awardee for Best Actress and a Philstage Gawad Buhay Awardee for Best Female Featured Performer in a Musical, Liesl Batucan breathed into her most challenging role ever as Susy Henderson in the first offering production of Repertory Philippines 2014 theater season, titled ‘Wait Until Dark’.
Her portrayal in Tanghalang Pilipino’s ‘Stageshow, where she gave a powerful rendition of Ester’s character; she fleshed out the role and that was an entire exciting journey itself for her—from learning to perfect the nuances of the Filipino language and the ‘Bodabil’ era to the musical and technical precision it required, especially in the tap dancing.
The same level of discipline and intense performance is evident in her current stage assignment.
Tackling Her Latest Role
Batucan credits her effective portrayal of a blind woman to her uber talented director Miguel Faustmann.
“I’ve worked with him in myriad productions over the years and I am a huge fan of his, onstage and offstage. As an actor, Miguel is so instinctive, highly creative, and is such a natural. As a director, he has my love and complete trust. Miguel kept reminding me that, as a blind person, my ears now become my eyes. And he was with me all throughout the process. He watched me like a hawk. Nothing escaped him.”
Doing the role of Susy, which was once tackled by Audrey Hepburn in its 1967 film version and earned the Hollywood star a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress –is the most complex for Batucan. According to her, the difficult to execute was the last scene with Roat, the leader of the thugs who terrorized her character.
“The role is such a huge challenge as I’ve never portrayed someone visually impaired. To play Susy, it was surreal, and I just felt so blessed because the said play was my mom’s favorite movie.
“Every minute detail had to be perfect in its timing and execution—the lights, the sound effects, the blocking, the fight choreography, the energy and the precision. If anything faltered, the climax would be compromised. A lot was riding on all these elements.”
Even if everything fell into its perfect place, she and the rest of the cast still get to rehearse the last scene before each show to make sure all the lines, the blocking and its technical elements are in synch.
In doing Plays both in Filipino and English
Since Batucan grew up literally via Repertory Philippines and her first production was the 1993 musical ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ with Cocoy Laurel on the lead as Joseph—it is easier for her to do English plays as opposed to Filipino plays, but she is an artist who believes in generosity of spirit.
“I always pour myself wholeheartedly into every role, whether English or Tagalog. Or whatever other language or accent may be required.
“I believe in jumping into the role with relish and abandon, and everything you’ve got. Give truth, give honesty, give respect, give energy, and give love. Theater deserves nothing less than your all. Otherwise, don’t do it. Theater is really demanding. But when you love your craft, your joy is complete,” she shared.
The late Bibot Amador and Baby Barredo took her under their wing and trained her, honed her, and sharpened her as an artist. She gives credit to these two ladies who made her for who she is right now.
“I learned everything about theater and truth in acting from them. They pounded me and molded me and put me through fire, and I am grateful to have had their trust and love.”
Her tips as an Artist
As an artist, she learned to trust the purity and truth of her instincts. That’s one lesson she learned from Amador and Barredo.
Her being Susy, the things she learned from her mentors helped her effectively portray the character even if it’s as complex as a blind woman.
“I think an artist ‘feels’ more deeply, more sensitively… and has a heightened sense of intuition. An artist learns to ‘listen’ more and to ‘connect’ more and to ‘communicate’ more,” she enumerated such traits.
Also, for budding and aspiring theater artists, she has three main tips: First, is to know one’s craft. Second is to love one’s craft. And lastly, respect one’s craft. She believes that the rest will follow if one would start from there.
Liesl has performed Off-Broadway at the prestigious La Mama theatre in New York, as well as performed in various concerts/musical productions in Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. She also hosted an interactive television game show in Budapest, Hungary.
‘Wait Until Dark’ opened on January 17 and closed on February 9 at Greenbelt One’s Onstage.