Basti Artadi, the stage actor, is being devirginized for a lot of things at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The CCP has recently opened its doors to live performances with Virgin Labfest, the annual festival of one-act plays. It officially started on June 16 at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute (Studio Theater).
Basti topbills “Fermata,” which had its debut staging on Sunday, June 19. Written by Dustin Celestino and directed by Guelan Luarca, “Fermata” is a story of coming to terms with your past, dealing with childhood trauma and trying to move on.
It only has two characters, Alex played by Basti and Ben by actor Xander Soriano.
Alex is a middle-aged retired musician, who is now running a jazz bar and leading a quiet family life. Ben meanwhile is the son of Alex's friend, a celebrity musician.
The VLF synopsis goes: “A famous musician dies. A news outlet asks the son of the musician – Ben – if he would like to write an article about his father; a tribute to a ‘music icon.’ Ben wants to use the opportunity to investigate rumors about his father. The play is about Ben’s visit to Alex, a childhood friend, to talk about the sins of his father.”
Basti is no stranger to theater. Previously, he's done two full-length musicals in English: the 2001 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” for then called Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group now Atlantis Productions, and “American Idiot” for Globe and Nine Works Theatricals in 2016.
But “Fermata” marks a series of firsts for Wolfgang's lead vocallist. It is Basti's first play at the CCP, it is his first play in Filipino, and it is his first straight play and his first one-act play.
Playwright Dustin Celestino, known for his magnificent one-act VLF plays like 2020’s “Doggy,” and the twice-staged “Mga Eksena Sa Buhay ng Kontrabida” (2018 and 2019 for Revisited Set), only had good things to say about Basti.
“When Guelan told me that we should ask Wolfgang vocalist Basti Artadi to play one of our leads, I laughed, because I didn’t think Basti would ever do it," Dustin recalls.
"Why would he act in a small play written by an unknown playwright that paid very little? I had this idea that Basti was an aloof rockstar who only starred in big productions like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘American Idiot.’”
So it came as a surprise to him and Guelan when the rockstar agreed. “Guelan and I were honestly surprised--and thrilled, of course," he said.
"During rehearsals, I got to know Basti a little and learned how warm, humble, and genuine this guy truly is. When he’s working with us, I sometimes forget that he’s the front man of one of the biggest bands in the country. A fact about Basti that was a revelation to me -—something that may have been overshadowed by his rockstar status — is that he is a disciplined and patient actor who devotes time and effort on his craft,” Dustin continues.
As part of this year's VLF Set D, “Fermata” runs with Ryan Machado’s “Huling Haraya Nina Ischia At Emeteria" and George Vail Kabristante’s “Bienvenuta Al Lido Di Venezia.” They will all have their second and final shows on June 24, Friday, at 2pm and 7pm.
Artadi joined us for a Zoom conversation a few days before VLF opened and here’s an excerpt, edited for clarity and brevity.
For the record, “Fermata” is a lot of firsts for you as an actor but let us explore on it being your first play in Filipino, though it was written in Taglish?
It was actually written in Tagalog, but when they were testing me, they noticed that it wasn’t being delivered naturally.
So they were like, Oh…I mean, It’s the smart thing to do, right? Dustin was very generous about this. And there was…You know what, they even asked me, to help me out, to make it easy for me, to make it natural for me. So, I appreciate that. But the story is still the same.
How is it being directed by Guelan Luarca and working with Xander Soriano?
Great. Doing something like this for the first time, going out of your comfort zone. I'm a grown ass, man.I won’t say I was scared, [maybe] worried, 'cause I never worked with Guelan in this capacity or any capacity. As a director, I don’t know his style. But I heard a lot of good things about him. You know some director…(gestures his two clenched fists bumping each other).
So, I was worried about that. What if I make a mistake or something? But no, it’s been great. Everybody has been great. Everybody has been patient with me and open. And very fluid. This process has been very fluid. It’s like this was the script, even Dustin. This was the script, and then as we go along, we develop it and then we discover things along the way. Maybe the character is not like that, maybe the character is doing this.
Even Dustin, as we went over it, not just directing you in movement. ‘Oh maybe the character is doing this. Because Guelan is — it’s great watching his process. I like watching his process.
He’s not only just directing you on movement and getting deeper into it and trying to understand the character and the character’s intentions.
And the reactions to characters intention. So you really get a mouthful of the character and get into it. And what the character is all about. With this process.
And another thing you’re gonna understand is we’re not working with a lot of time. Unlike the other productions, where we were rehearsing every day until the actual show, the one, we have specific days; twice a week lang that we have to rehearse.
On top of that, we’re dealing with the whole COVID situation. There’s the protocol. We have to rehearse with masks and stuff. So, there’s a lot going in. As somebody doing it for the first time. It’s like, holy shit.
But thank God, Guelan, Dustin and Xander, man.
Tell us about your past works on stage. Some may have forgotten you did two musicals. And how would you compare doing a one-act play in a more intimate venue and, technically, working with just one actor on stage.
The most recent was with director Robbie Guevara for “American Idiot” in 2016. The first was “Jesus Christ Superstar” with Bobby Garcia. Those were big productions, a lot of rehearsals, dancing, lots of bells and whistles.
Oh, especially that. That’s another thing. Moving set pieces and going to a certain place at a certain time but without music. That was hard for me too.
When you’re watching, you just take it all in as one thing. But when you’re practicing, there’s so many things going. Like at a certain time in the dialogue, the actor has to be at a certain spot. And then the other actor has to be doing a certain thing, and then when the actor hits his cue, he has to move somewhere else.
It’s like a machine...(laughs) everybody is doing stuff at a certain time to do something to get to certain point to get create a certain effect.
And there’s only two of you on stage…
That’s another thing. There’s a lot of bells and whistles in the bigger productions [“American Idiot” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”] that can captivate an audience while here, it’s basically just me and Xander. And the lights. It’s really up to us talaga to do this.
How would you describe Alex, the character you’re playing?
He is a jazz musician. Music enthusiast guy. Owns a jazz bar. He is self confident. Self-assured but he has internal scar that he hasn’t fully dealt with.
Through his chance meetings — because he thinks it’s a chance — His friend comes with some motives. They had this discussion and they got to this issue.
So it’s around how many minutes, being a one-act-play?
We’re trying to go 45 minutes. Under an hour, let’s call it that, para safe.
And you’re going to do this…
Four shows. Two a-day-and-a-night shows for two consecutive weekends.
At the same time I think you’re excited to do this because it’s an intimate venue. You’ve been to Tanghalang Huseng Batute before this?
Yes, am super excited to do this. I’ve watch shows there before. A long time ago, but a lot. I’ve watched in every theater: RCBC, the one in Ayala. I grew up with Repertory! Meralco Theater, I watched. I like watching. I’ve been around.
When you were in high school, were you a member of a theater group or acted in class play?
No, no theater anything. It’s really Jesus Christ Superstar talaga [in 2001]. That was my first. I am a fan of that piece, I’m a fan of the musical. So when Bobby Garcia asked me, it was an instant ‘Yes!’ And it was really cool because he also got the band, he got Wolfgang to be the musicians.
But I remember, there was one cameo you did also for Bobby Garcia. Forgot the title, or was it just a voice recording?
Ah yeah, yeah. “Rock of Ages.” I did that. Yeah, that was cool.
If I may ask, what did you do in those two years of series of lockdowns. How did you survive?
Oh, I survive. I did it by producing and selling art. So, I also paint. There’s this little sculpture thing I do. I was selling that. Every now and then I do an online gig. It’s great that people comment. That kind that gives you the feeling of people interaction. I made sure to make myself busy. I wrote and recorded a whole album. Which is gonna be coming out soon.
This June or July?
I don’t know yet. The thing is, I haven’t figure out how I wanna release it. If I wanna release as an actual CD, physical or if I just wanna put out songs every month or every two weeks. I gonna figure that out. I don’t even know, this online thing is so confusing.
Anyway, yeah, so that album is exciting because one, I'm going back to heavier background. I don’t know if you know this but I did three albums prior that were not heavy music.
It was just all these different genres all across. I did a country album with a band called Plan of Fools, which was with Louie Talan, Bea Lao and all these other guys.
Then I did my first solo record and did my second solo record, which was called “Phantom Maker.” The songs range from pop, jazz, folk, we got saxophones, and then for this…you know…I miss doing the heavy stuff.
Now I have a new album in the making. It’s titled “Black On Black, Blood On White.” It has nine songs.
Then one of the cool things was there’s this painting by Lourd de Veyra. He does paintings and drawings too. So I asked him, ‘Hey man, can I use this as cover for my new album’ and he said ‘yes, sure, go ahead use it. That’ll be my first album cover.
And wait, that’s not all men. Another thing I did. I made this (shows a book with illustrations in pen-and-ink). It’s a book. And it’s based on the song “Darkness Fell.” So it’s all the lyrics of the song. The drawings were done by this fantastic artist named Ramona de la Cruz Gaston. This is gonna be out soon.
Am also working on a board game and it’s gonna be called Bandland. The whole pandemic, I kept busy, man (laughs).
Tell us about the rock musical you’re doing with Nelsito.
Yes, am working on a musical based on the songs of Wolfgang. With Nelsito Gomez, hopefully we start promoting that too.
Back in 1993, I wrote an album for Wolfgang titled Wurm and it was inspired by “Tommy” the rock opera with the songs by The Who. But rock musical wasn’t in fashion then. Now, with all the jukebox musicals, it has become like a trend.
It is being revised and am involved in the writing of the story as well. Am the librettist. Basically, it’s only Nelcito and me. But at the end of it, he should be directing it. It’s a well-established story but I don’t want to give that yet. If only I can get some money man…(laughs)
We already have the concept, the story. Nothing is really finished until it’s done. We’re still in that stage where it’s organic.
So after doing the Labfest, will you be open to doing plays in Filipino or, as you said, in Taglish?
I'm open to anything as long as it’s interesting and it fits. It has to fit. I can’t be doing this just for the sake of, you know, selling out. But if it’s interesting and it’s nice and enjoyable then yeah. Definitely.
Like what I said in [the beginning of] 2020, am open to anything. And then the shit hits the fan and the world closed (laughter). ‘Am open to anything but the world is closed!’
Too bad so sad. But that still goes, you know. I think as an artist, I owe it to myself. To keep trying out stuff. Seeing how far I could push this thing of mine while I still can do this thing as far as possible and see how many people I can impact before I die. — LA, GMA News