A STAGE director gets real about life, her advocacy and The Vagina Monologues
As a wife, mother and educator, I feel that it’s my responsibility to, at least in my own way, inform and educate about the plight of abused women and children. And through my passion, I hope to touch people’s hearts, open their eyes and move them to do something about it.
It was a typical hot, humid day. The sun glared, the open air felt grimy, and Rhea Fantonial-Bautista, on board a jeepney, wanted nothing more than to reach her destination right away.
She kept herself occupied by running her lines in her head. She got too caught up with her little rehearsal, though, because instead of asking the driver to pull over, the budding actress heard herself saying the lines of her script—delivered in stage-worthy fashion.
“It was embarrassing,” Rhea admitted. It surely must have felt that way at that moment, but recalling it already had a hint of fondness, since it was one of her earliest recollections of being a theater performer.
Fast forward a decade later, Rhea has extended her talent on stage, where she now weaves her magic as theater director.
Love for theater
Rhea’s passion for performing arts began when she played the lead role in a school production. She fell in love with it and eventually became involved with groups like Little Boy Productions and Crystal Cavalier, as well as worked with renowned director Daisy Baad.
“I was everywhere and I was theater hungry,” she said. Over the years, Rhea has played main roles such as Agnes in Agnes of God, Nena in New Yorker in Tondo, Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, and Popoya in The Boor and the Proposal.
As a director, she has brought to the stage classics like The World is an Apple, Soldier, and The Wedding Dance. Rhea has also directed originals written by Crispin Ramos, a three-time Palanca awardee. Her first try at directing was in 2005.
“I was six months pregnant that time, yet they still wanted me to direct. That was my first—with my big belly, in a rocking chair,” Rhea shared.
Describing her directing style as “very detailed,” Rhea said: “I want to portray the truthfulness of the lines by working closely on every thought, on every unit in the script. And actors should erase the stardom factor in their minds for them to perform well with this sense of truth and beauty.”
Rhea’s love for theater allows her to use it as vehicle in her advocacy: the fight for women and children’s rights. It is an advocacy that has accompanied her theater career since day one.
“The first role I ever played as a student was a woman with multiple personality disorder because she was abused and exploited growing up,” she said. “The character became so real to me that it started my advocacy of helping women and children in any way I can.”
This month, Rhea will take part in V-Day, the worldwide activist movement to end violence against women, by staging a local production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Together with her cast of five Cebuanas with diverse backgrounds, Rhea will direct a TVM performance on March 22 at La Belle Aurore Bookshop on Junquera St., Cebu City.
“As a wife, mother and educator, I feel that it’s my responsibility to, at least in my own way, inform and educate about the plight of abused women and children. And through my passion, I hope to touch people’s hearts, open their eyes and move them to do something about it,” Rhea said.
Many a woman
Aside from being a theater director, Rhea’s other roles include being a college professor, a school consultant, a volunteer in her church’s ministry and most importantly, being a mom.
A self-professed master in multitasking, Rhea said she finished her post-graduate studies in education with travel, breast feeding, work and stage plays in between.
“There was a time I got a hotel room near the theater venue, and I would rush there between shows to feed my daughter,” she recalled. Rhea takes pride in being a hands-on mom, and said she personally attends to the needs of her two little girls without the help of a nanny.
Meanwhile, she said being a teacher has given her the privilege to expose more her passion for creativity. “I always encourage my students to read classics and go to art exhibits. I take them to outdoor activities, where they express life, freedom and experience,” Rhea said. “With that alone, I am warming them up to appreciate theater and life itself.”
She prays for more support for the performing arts sector as well as for unity among the local theater groups. Rhea said: “I think if that will happen, artists and everyone in the field will improve on their work ethics, values and vision—and then the industry will surely flourish.”
It may take a while for a theater-appreciating culture to fully develop locally, nevertheless what keeps her going, she said, is “the beauty and truth in every character, as well as the message I am able to give to the audience.”