Singapore theater debut for Bibeth Orteza

Bibeth Orteza with cast of Boeing Boeing. Photo by Wild Rice Publicity.

Film actor and TV director Bibeth Orteza makes her Singapore theater debut on Friday, June 23 as Rosa in the comedy play Boeing Boeing at Victoria Theater.

Produced by Wild Rice Theater Company, Boeing Boeing will see Orteza as the Filipino maid Rosa in the comedy with multi-racial characters.

“Of course, there is the usual pre-opening night jitters,” Orteza told Vera Files during a break from rehearsals. “This is good because in previous theater outing where I was too relaxed and not a bit nervous, the outcome wasn’t so good. So I like being nervous before opening night. The nerves help me to be on my toes and make me want to go out raring to try something new.”

A cancer survivor, Orteza said her last theater appearance was in the Mrs. B series, a monologue based on Edith Burgos’s search for missing son Jonas, staged at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Theater in Quezon City, in Naga, UP Baguio in both English and Pilipino. “I alternated with Gina Alajar, and Malou de Guzman. There are talks of bringing the monologue to key cities in the US and Europe.”

Orteza said it helped that her director, Pam Oei has played various Filipino characters herself. First order of the day was to get into her character and look like a household helper in Singapore, not in Manila. “It just got harder and harder to pass off as Filipino here in Singapore, where there are Filipinos all over. I am portraying my character as a maternal housekeeper. Director Pam created a backstory for me as one who took care of the lead character Bernard since he was a young boy. He sort of inherited me from his parents. So I tend to tolerate all his misadventures.”

Bibeth Orteza's dressing room in Victoria Theater. Good phone signal and wifi all the way to the basement. Photo by Bibeth Orteza.

The director’s husband, Ken Kwek, is a filmmaker who directed Epy Quizon in Unlucky Plaza, a film that also played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. “They are very familiar with Filipinos and they know the Filipino soul having been to Manila many times before. “It was Pam’s interaction with Michael de Mesa with whom she appeared in Rent that got him to recommend me for my role.”

The first week in Singapore had her chatting with a therapist at the Natureland Massage Center. “She impressed me with her Filipino, pati inflection, kuha niya, because ang dami raw niyang Filipino neighbors in their apartment block. She told me, though, that less and less Filipinos come here as domestic helpers because soon as their very own employers find out how well they speak English, they’re reassigned to be waitresses or mall salespeople by their very own employers.”

She soon found out rehearsals (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) are strictly serious business with rehearsal spaces rented out to theater companies away from the central business district. “We have a studio all to ourselves. The script was e-mailed to me last February, the final version last April. After a week of rehearsals here, drop scripts na.”

Later, she realized her Filipino character has to connect with the lead characters in the play. “I keep on saying this. The Caucasians’ expressions end mostly in consonants: ‘Shucks, ‘Darn!’ ‘Snap!’ We Asians express ours ending in vowels. The Pinoy ‘Nakuuuuu!’ The Singaporean’s ‘Aiyoooooh!’”

On the fourth week of rehearsals, they moved to Victoria Theater and Concert Hall, No. 9 along Empress Road. To her surprise, there is wifi and mobile phone signal all the way down to basement 2 of the theater.

Poster of Boeing Boeing

In this theater debut in Singapore, she discovered an active theater life. “Wild Rice just finished mounting La Cage aux Folles. Rodney Oliveiro directed Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, staged in the first week of our rehearsals. The Singaporeans take to theater very well I think. Monique Wilson and Sheila Francisco are here to do plays, as well. My director and I were in a restaurant, and the proprietor told her he remembered her performance in a play.”

For this Singapore engagement, Orteza had to advance her TV episodes for two months. “I was able to advance episodes of my TV show because I had a boss like Vic Sotto who understood why I wanted to do theater. Part of Bucket List was all I had to say.”

So what does she enjoy in theater and the one thousand and one chores that go with it?

“Audience reaction is fast. You don’t get that in film. It’s toughest part?

Everything. I’m 63 and my memory is kind of scary already. I’m hoping to get to appear in more plays before I really lose the ability to do lines. And blocking. My approach? I suppose it’s the same as acting on film and that is playing it out as truthful as I can. Future roles I am dreaming of? This question just made me confront fact: I can’t sing or dance to save my skin, so musicals are out. I am blessed to do this as I also enter my 14th year as breast cancer survivor. I can’t thank the Lord enough,” she enthused.

(Boeing Boeing opens at Victoria Theatre on June 23 with gala night on June 24. It runs until July 22, 2017. Ticket Prices : S$45 – S$70 (Previews: 23 June, 8pm & 24 June, 3pm) S$50 – S$75 (Tue, Wed & Thu, 8pm) S$55 – S$80 (Fri & Sat, 8pm; Sat & Sun, 3pm) For bookings of 20 or more tickets, please contact Ross Toh at 6292-2685 or


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