For our Passion Issue this August, we’re all about celebrating the beauty of arts and culture. With that, we’re putting the spotlight on different artists from the region, who, as they strive to hone their crafts, inspire us to live a colourful and meaningful life following our passion-filled pursuits.
Pursuing a path in the arts isn’t always easy. People will say that it’s not practical, that it isn’t as lucrative as the more conventional careers, and it's more suitably pursued as a hobby. But some people decide to work through it, nevertheless, and choose the life that makes them happy.
One of those who followed their love for the arts is Missy Maramara, who has spent almost all of her life doing what she loves: acting. Now a seasoned actor and director who has taken part in numerous productions, local and abroad, Missy shares with us the ups and downs of her life in the theatre.
Where it all began
When did you start pursuing acting?
My first role was Anastacia the Step-Sister of Cinderella in my pre-school when I was 5. I loved that show very much. There’s a whole story behind it too, which I put in my one-woman show, Love Liz.
Later on, I joined the theatre group of my high school, where we did Shakespeare and original plays. It was so much fun! In my senior year, when I got cast in our neighbouring high school’s theatre group as Lady Macbeth, I knew I was going to do theatre for the rest of my life. Luckily, Ateneo de Manila University had just officially opened a Theatre Arts program, so that’s the course I took as my first choice. I was active in Tanghalang Ateneo, the longest-running theatre company in my university, and by my third year, I was acting for professional theatre companies like Tanghalang Pilipino in CCP and New Voice Company with Monique Wilson. I haven’t stopped since. After graduating from college, I continued acting professionally and directed student plays in two of the major universities in the country and ended up teaching in my home college.
What was the initial reaction of your family, especially your parents, when you told them you wanted to become a theatre artist?
My parents are not perfect but they did the amazing thing of supporting my desire to pursue theatre, not once questioning my decision and capability to succeed, nor the viability of my art. Halfway through college, the Asian financial crisis hit and they couldn’t afford to send me through my drama degree. Still, they didn’t tell me to stop. Because of what I learned in theatre, and because my parents were proud of me, I stayed gritty and resilient. I applied all my skills and worked on my weaknesses. Because I played soccer for the university team, a kind benefactor supported my education without once questioning my choice of major. Later on, in graduate school, I was given a scholarship to deepen my understanding of performance in graduate school and share what I learned.
To this day, my parents — and my benefactors every now and then — watch my shows, share my posts, and never fail to tell me how proud they are of me. My parents, in all their imperfections, are absolutely wonderful and I thank them, and the people who told me theatre is worth pursuing, for celebrating my dream.
The journey continues
What were the highs and lows of your theatre career?
It’s quite a tremendous roller coaster ride and a double marathon. It’s always so terrifying to audition and to get cast or not, figure out the role, become an ensemble player, make your director happy, face the audience night after night, get really invested in the role, the process and the company, then eventually let it all go. Then repeat. Within that whole cycle alone there are hundreds of highs and lows. It can get very frustrating, frightening, but always inspiring and fulfilling in the end.
I really put myself out there so I’m never without projects, although there was a year that I only had one play and that was such a tremendous low. I was finishing my first master’s degree, English Literature in Ateneo, and projects weren’t coming in, but luckily I was doing weekly improv with SPIT, an improv comedy group in Manila, so that kept my theatre sanity.
A great high was when I got the Fulbright International Scholarship and got sent to Arkansas for my Master of Fine Arts in Performance. That was great because then I did theatre day in day out for three years. I got to train and perform in New York City, I honed my technique, and I became a better actor and teacher, too.
When I came back to the Philippines, however, I had to rebuild my career. It was hard, because I knew all these things but having been away for three years meant I had to build from zero. Fortunately I was tenured in Ateneo and it was absolutely wonderful to get to teach everything I learned while I was away to young actors. I started auditioning again and when there weren’t shows being produced that needed me, I produced my own plays. Eventually, I got back into the mainstream of having regular acting and directing projects in different professional theatre companies. I also started Positive Space, a theatre group with my young graduates. That made me very happy.
Another great high was that I kept travelling for training and performance, too. I went to Paris to further my theatre studies — I got to watch so many fantastic plays and perform improv. I also had the chance to perform my one-woman show, Clytemnestra, in different cities in Europe. That same year, I went with blueREP, a university theatre group I was moderating, to perform an original musical we devised to Daegu, South Korea. The following year, I took my students to a theatre summer school for a month in Paris and they got to act there, too. It’s been great — not easy, but certainly fulfilling.
How do you hone your craft as an actor and get into your character?
I do a lot of research and script analysis by watching plays and reading theatre books that actors and directors have written. I participate in workshops. Other than that, I also read novels, visit museums, and travel. Regular exercise and writing a journal also helps a lot.
What inspires you to continue on this career path?
The work and the people I work with inspire me. I just love theatre.
Are you currently satisfied with the status of your career?
I’m very happy where my career is but I’m not satisfied and never will be because we can always learn, grow and give.
Were times when you thought of quitting and pursuing a more conventional path?
What's the biggest misconception about being in theatre?
That it’s about lies. Theatre is about truth — we have to be truthful to be a good actor. We have to grapple with the truth, be vulnerable truthfully, allow people to share in our truth and question it, allow it to make us be our most real selves as we move and make honest choices in imaginary circumstances. The fictional component of theatre is not lying, it is the manipulation of truth to reveal a greater truth.
What's your best memory as a theatre artist?
There are so many — too many! I am particularly fond of getting a hug after a show or a letter from an audience member saying the play got him or her through a difficult time in his or her life. Seeing my students perform is also an incredible experience.
What work are you most proud of?
I am proud of every project I do. It’s hard to choose favourites because each and every production is special in its own way, and I always learn tremendously from the experience. I always say that my favourite production is the one I’m currently working on, whatever it is because that’s what I’m giving my 100 per cent to at the moment.
Can you share your ultimate goals concerning your craft as an actor?
To keep actively acting and directing truthfully, creatively and clearly for as long as I can. Hopefully, write a book or two to help students in their journey as actors.
What's your advice to someone who wants to pursue acting?
Everything that comes into our lives — everything — can help us become better actors if we choose to let it. So don’t let that rejection notice get you down. It’s all about the work so keep working (if there isn’t actual work, then work on yourself by reading or taking workshops). Be professional, stay humble, listen and keep an open heart. Focus on what’s important to and necessary in telling the story. Find the courage to move through fear. Be a joy to work with, and find joy — the work is hard enough as it is. Learn about your country’s theatre history and the people who live it. Remember that we are always in the service of the art and its audience.
This interview was edited for brevity.
(Cover photo from: @missy.maramara)
Next, read about Annabel Law's journey in photography.