Arts & Culture News

Vince Tañada : Between theater and lawyering

Lawyer-actor Vince Tañada . A passion for theater at an early age.

Garbed in his costume as Felipe in his new musical Sindak 41 set during the Japanese Occupation, Vince Tañada is at once the actor blending easily with his ensemble. You try to look at the face of the young lawyer you saw years back and there is none.

In this presscon announcing the cast and creative team of his new musical, Tañada answers all the questions with heart and mind. And with candor about his place in the theater sun.

Seated with his co-actors, Tañada opens with a no-nonsense description of hisfamous surname. “I know my family is associated with the famous Tañada clan of Philippine politics but we really belong to the modest lineage. I fell in love with the performing arts early in my life and my father knew what that meant. It means a life of deprivation even as you enjoy the audience applause.”

From the very start, his father’s wish was clear to him: finish law first and then pursue his passion later.

His father turned out to be right all along. It was the call of theater that sustained him but it was his litigation cases that put bread on the table.

On the side, he became an educator as he taught humanities and labor laws in a law school and at the same time dean in the college of law in another law school.

Looking back at the theater group he founded (Philippine Stagers Foundation), Tañada reflects on a personal passion that spanned 18 years to this date. “My first love was writing but I have realized since then that putting that passion in the service of theater is the best combination.”

And thus was born several original plays and musicals from his prodigious pen.

It must be noted that some years back, he won the top prize in the full-length play category of the Palanca awards for his play, “Ang Bangkay” (The Corpse).

An enthusiastic audience in Dumaguete City for Philippine Stagers’ outreach program.

The latest output is a new musical called Sindak 41 which is set during the Japanese Occupation. “We are all hung up on the heroes of the Spanish and American regime but the truth is there is a lot of heroism in the ordinary Filipino who survived that tragic chapter in Philippine history. This musical pay tribute to heroic Filipino during that time. I went to Japan in 2014 to make a research and boy did I unearth some incredible data on people we like to look up to as heroes. One of which is that Gen. MacArthur received $500,000 from President Quezon just to return to the Philippines.”

The character of Quezon is not in the musical (he didn’t want to cash in on the success of “Quezon’s Game) but the heroism of the Filipino during the Japanese Occupation is the highlight of the musical.

He is wary of criticism about him wearing many hats as lawyer, actor, director and librettist. But he noticed the same criticism does not exist when applied to American actors. “When Clint Eastwood wrote Flags of Our Fathers and Gran Turino and act in them as well, nobody complains. But when a Filipino does that, some would say swapang. My passion knows no limits. In theater which doesn’t translate into stable jobs, you have to multi-task. Let me be clear about this. I have no monopoly of intelligence. Some are brighter and probably more insightful than others because of experience. I am still young and I know that with more experience, I could still strive to be better. But the thing is we need to bring the theater experience to the countryside. How the young people react to my productions away from the big city is what keeps me going. That’s when I realize theater can do a lot not just as entertainment but as a vehicle for transformation.”

He admits there will always be critics and criticism on what he does but he knows how to deal with them. “First, I try to learn from them if the observation is valid. Nevertheless, my education has taught not to confront critics but to learn from them. I meet some of them all the time but it doesn’t exert effort to be congenial. I feel I must co-exist with most of them. But then that’s the beauty of theater. You win some and lost some. That is the reason my passion has to remain afire for the sake of future audiences of theater. I like to think I remain focused because I am by nature selfless in this endeavor.”

(The musical “Sindak 41” opens on July 11-12 SM North Edsa Cinema 6, 8:00 am, 11:00 am, 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 pm.)