It's all because we were discussing the results of a recent awards night that I found myself thinking. My friend and I were combing through the winners and we were led into a rather amusing discussion about what is considered good acting in this country.
Of course, in this nation where there are more artistas than any other existing profession ... and where pag-iinarte is often mistaken as ang galing umarte, we cannot help but feel amused.
Since every award-giving body in this Daang Matuwid Republic has its own standard for excellence, it is really hard to find that least common denominator that seems to bind together the wide variety of choices of annual acting trophy winners. For indeed, as there as many awards for Best Performances that there are a greater number of schools and traditions of Pinoy acting in films and television.
So let us try to cover as much ground as possible.
At this point, let me give a spoiler: we are not showing examples. That is, we will merely describe but not illustrate by naming names of actors and actresses who you, the reader, might feel best suits the qualifications given. So fill in the blanks as you wish.
Let us begin with:
(1) "The Buwis-Buhay School of Acting" : The title of this category explains everything.
The Buwis-Buhay School of Acting is when an actor does not merely capture the essence of the character: he or she outlives it. Speaking of living the life of the character --- or imbibing the qualities necessary to give form and substance to a role, the actor who decides to employ the Buwis-Buhay method pushes this to the limit. He or she is acting as if it were the last day of his or her life.
In other words, there is no such thing as subtlety. There is no such thing as shading. There is no such instrument as gradation.
To use the vernacular, "Putsa, magkamatayan na kung magkamatayan. Emote kung emote. Basta ibibigay ko ang lahat sa ikagaganda ng eksena ... at manigas kayong lahat, mga ulol!"
That means every line of the dialogue is so heavily enunciated, every feeling so well-marked that the entire body of the actor becomes an exposed nerve, a live wire --- an electrical conductor.
No, this is not over-acting. It is going beyond over-acting because the actor looks like he or she is having a nervous breakdown even during the happy moments of the script. He does not give a monkey's s--t about his co-actors because this is about his moment and not theirs.
The biggest tragedy is when two actors belonging to the Buwis-Buhay school end up in the same scene and try to outdo each other. You can find this regularly in emotion-wringing, mind-boggling, logic-defying telenovelas aired in the afternoons or during prime time where tears and nasal mucus fall to signal a commercial gap.
This school of acting is also the cousin of ...
(2) "The KSP (Kulang sa Pansin) School of Performance": This style of acting is often mistaken for the Buwis-Buhay School but certain points need to be clarified.
Note that the Buwis-Buhay performer actually believes he is doing good and that what he is doing is mastering a technique of the craft. In other words, give the Buwis-Buhay performer plus points because, at least, he is sincere. He may not be talented or very smart ... pero at least naman he is sincere.
But the KSP actor is there not to act but to be seen. Sometimes, acting to this person is as alien as skydiving, pole-dancing or even speaking in French. Thanks to luck (or, in the long run, a joke of fate) and perhaps the coincidence of such good genes, the KSP actor thinks that his career can be encapsulated by:
(2.1.) Striking very disturbing cliched poses that have been done since movies were still black-and-white. Those were the years when men still wore glossy and sticky pomade on their pompadours and women sported eyeliners as thick as their lipsticks. KSP actors actually believe they have signature looks and end up resembling creatures who are caught in a split second of a very bad pictorial rather than part of a living and breathing scenario. Aside from the knitting brows and pursing lips, KSP actors never want to look bad onscreen. Ask any production person and the anecdotes will fly out of the window as to the level of vanity of such non-performers in making sure they look good rather than act well.
(2.2) Impersonating their idols who they want to succeed or are yearning to emulate to the level of dementia. That is not difficult to spot for just go through the roster of young performers who think they are the doppelgangers of Robin Padilla ...or Robert DeNiro ... or Vice Ganda. These are the performers who are legends in their own minds, perhaps pampered by their publicists or managers and would bark off their sponsors (who generously provide ex-deals for everything from their clothes to their underwear inclusive of the Milagrosa rice they serve on their dinner tables as well as the hospitalization of their grandmothers in some far-flung barrio in the Visayas). These are the actors who are acting for the sake of packaging even if there is really absolute nothing inside the box.
(3) The Workshop School of Acting: Fresh from the latest escapade into the world of acting workshops, this kind of actor wants to show to the world what he has learned and... my God ... the miraculous degree of improvement he has acquired from virtually shaking hands with Konstantin Stanislavski or Eric Morris.
Sometime in the history of Philippine media, somebody fed the madlang people with the biggest swindle e-verrrr. That is, a three day workshop can actually give a corpse in rigor mortis the ability to really act and perhaps even win the Urian. That is why the key to every neophyte who wants to break into the industry is the classic line, "Magworkshop ka muna ...."
There seems to be this unfounded that promise that the moment you take an acting workshop, you will --- like Lazarus --- rise from the dead and start rendering scenes like you can go one-on-one with Christopher de Leon or Janice de Belen. Uhm, NOT!!!!
How may young people (or their corresponding equally-if-not-more-enthusiastic parents) push their kids into all kinds of workshops hoping that such a participation can yield the next Piolo Pascual or Judy Ann Santos of the post-digital generation? How many of the wannabes out there really (and sincerely and utterly) believe that workshops are like rays of light that come straight from heaven to bless the eager, willing and dedicated with just the right talent to impress studio heads, directors and talent managers?
But what is far worse is when an actor, fed with new knowledge about the equipment of acting, bring this to the set rather than imbibe the tenets in his system. Suddenly armed with terms like internalization or abandonment or being, the actor feels utterly superior, like a Born-Again Christian who has been given an exclusive front row to the first trip to heaven through the Rapture.
And when this over-enthusiastic creature goes to the set and expects everybody to level up with the mumbo-jumbo he just learned from the Planet Thespis, what follows is a predicament that is exasperating if not downright debilitation.
Let me illustrate:
DIREK: (Peeved) Saan na si _____? Kanina pa naghihintay
ang lahat sa set!
ASSISTANT DIREK: Direk ... nag-iinternalize pa raw po.
ASSISTANT DIREK: Hindi raw po niya matempla yung level ng
kanyang characterization sa eksena kaya medyo
DIREK: (Now mad) Saan na ba ang lecheng yan, ha?
ASSISTANT DIREK: Nagkulong po sa banyo at pinagsususuntok
yung toilet bowl.
DIREK: Ano naman ang atraso ng toilet bowl sa kanya
at inupakan niya?
ASSISTANT DIREK: Abandonment raw po yon, Direk.
DIREK: Anak ng p---! You tell him to go to the
set now. Ano ba ang iniinternalize niya, eh,
wala naman siyang dialogue sa eksena. Sabihin
mo hihiga siya sa kabaong dahil tigok na siya
sa eksenang ito, ano?
ASSISTANT DIREK: Yon nga daw po ang mahirap, Direk. Wala
raw po sa realm ng kanyang experience ang
mamatay. Hindi raw niya alam kung papaano
bibigyan ng being ang patay dahil di pa raw
DIREK: Ano ang gusto niya? Patayin ko siya
para magkaroon siya ng being?
ASSISTANT DIREK: Mag-iinternalize na lang muna raw siya.
Ok, so you get the picture when the Workshop Actor suddenly takes his profession all too seriously that he looks for a motivation each time he coughs ... or when he answers "hello" to a phone call included in the script("Direk, how shall I say the hello? May pain ba?").
You somehow wish that after all this act of self-flagellation that there is some reward obtained but chances are ... oh, well.
Let me just put it bluntly: No amount of workshops in the world can turn a slab of meat into a functioning, breathing and credible actor.
(4) The Autopilot School of Acting: Otherwise, it is known as the De-Pindot School of Acting. This is the usual consequence of actors appearing in telenovelas the involve eighteen to thirty-six hour tapings where they are treated like braying cattle and made to cry at 4 in the morning even if their tear ducts have already been abused since 8 am of the previous morning.
Eh, kasi naman. If you have to finish fifty-two sequences and have to change locations six times within a single 24-hour period, no amount of Cobra, Lepovitan or Gatorade can possibly energize any naturally born homo sapien ... not unless, of course, one is actually a cyborg especially designed by the technology of television to perform in marathon soap operas.
So one cannot really blame actors if, after a while, they employ the Autopilot School of Acting that is nothing more than the iyak-tawa dichotomy of performance? Blame it on human fallibility --- or fatigue, but the let us also face it: telenovela scripts are not exactly true exercises of acting nuances since everybody is expected to bawl their eyes out until blood and not tears start falling ... or scream until their vocal chords snap to suggest effective emotion. Intelligence and logic are not necessarily the backbones of what are deemed as effective in soap opera scripts --- so actors just literally go through the motions --- and take home the money.
There is yet an actor out there who will say that the training in telenovelas is to hone and fine-tune the acting craft. If anyone makes such a claim, then he or she is either mentally-challenged or mouthing the lines fed to him or her by the publicity and promotions department of the network. Autopilot Acting best captures the age-old reason for the name of human existence: This is just work ... and it's not going to exactly kill me.
It is therefore not surprising but merely a survival technique that the push-button school of acting has come a standard practice. I mean, who really wants to still approximate the genius of Meryl Streep if you have been on your feet for twenty-four hours and your executive producer is still demanding sixteen more sequences before taking your lunch break ... on your second straight day of work? Magpakatotoo na lang tayo.
But the really sad part about this is that many a great young actor or actress have been ... uh, ruined by telenovela acting. After a while, the freshness is gone ... the predictability settles in. All the posing and posturing. All the squeeze-it-dry sort of emoting for the close-ups required by management.
There comes that point in an actor's career when he becomes such an automatic emotion machine that he ceases to resemble a human being --- but turns into a caricature of himself.
(Yes, at this point, you are entitled to name names.)
(5) The Bells Palsy Acting Method: Excuse me, this requires utmost sophistication and kill, ha?
The Bells Palsy Acting Method is when you can go through fifteen different emotions and seventy-six sequences of a single film or tv episode without changing your facial expression.
Imagine the kind of skill and challenge required for any single actor to go through an entire gamut of emotions, thrown right into the pit of conflicts and situations --- and the face does not change at all.
Some call this as the height of subtle acting --- the perfect contra-punto to the KSP or Workshop Schools of Performance. Here, what matters the most is the total ability to control facial muscles as if they have been molded out of wax or anything approximating such pliability. This is the sort of acting that wins awards ... because there is no hysteria and everything is internalized ... or imagined.
Many attribute the delicacy of the Bells Palsy Acting Method as a result of deep intelligence or premature stages of comatose.
Others also point to the external intervention of certain age-defying drugs based on the venom of reptiles that paralyze muscles --- including those on the face. That is why the much celebrated subtlety of performance is actually the side-effect of science as a beauty preservative, resulting to the face as physical handicap.
And finally ...there is the oh-so-popular-because-it-is-all-too-mabenta ...
(6) The Pamatay-Pagpapakyut Method of Pangkilig Acting: This method does not require any workshop whatsoever becomes it comes all too naturally to young actors. All that is required is a toothy smile, a relatively cute face and the star behavior that has been a tradition since the heyday of The Menudo.
Pagpapakyut almost comes naturally with anything young --- which also includes puppies, kittens and baby alligators. There is something so particularly endearing about kids barely out of puberty and discovering the joys of the birds, the bees and YouTube. That is why everyone, regardless of age, seems to be swept away by the sight of young people ---very young people, that is --- who are in love. Of course, this works best when the said minors are not your children.
In a Perfect World where everybody looks like a students garbed in blazers and tartan pleated skirts from a Korean soap opera, kids are all freshly scrubbed, oozing with sweetness and innocence and discovering the joys of being horny. That is why the awkwardness strikes a familiar chord --- and, well, our tween performers need not act. They are actually living their roles --- including all the confusion of discovering their sexuality while having to perform for the public that they are in love with their ka-love team.
But then, when one looks at the way all these kids behave ... channeling all the tried and tested ways of generating kilig to incite the fanatic screaming of their fans, one realizes that there is really nothing new with all this.
The style of acting of kids today (complete with their Smartphones, Ipads, Ipods and digitized hormones) is no different from that of Perla Adea and Romy Mallari or even Rosemarie Sonora and Ricky Belmonte ... or even so much earlier with Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa.
In other words, the kilig school has been around even at the time of Mary Walter --- and the acting style has always been the same: diabetically sweet, naughty enough but definitely still nice to be professionally innocent --- and credibly virginal in character.
Well, as I said --- this is all make-believe. But all you have to do is watch a single episode of PBB Teens to realize that indeed --- innocence in kids can now only exist in fiction or how we imagine a perfect world.
There will be another round of acting awards next year. Most likely, the winners will come from the independent cinema scene ... and even more likely, the ones you least expect will go home with the trophies because we all have varied standards as to what makes good acting. But in the meantime, on with the show ... and all the imaginable style of performance your numbed mind can possibly conceive.
That, I believe, is the ultimate trip. And sometimes, even a laugh trip at that.