An Actor’s Craft, #2.1: Jenny Jamora
Has it been that long since I last posted? Thanks to the blitz that was APEC and catching up work missed thanks to what pretty much an enforced holiday, I’ve been keeping mum (or more of, keeping afloat!) But I’m glad to return to posting with a discussion on more theatre craft with artist Jenny Jamora.
I’m very grateful to Jenny as she gave me my break as a dramaturg; it was late 2014, and, desperate to do something with theatre, I messaged any people that I knew to ask if they needed someone who liked research and writing (i.e., a dramaturg) for any of their productions. Jenny was the one who messaged me back and said, “Actually, I’m doing a show that needs a lot of that.” And six or seven months later, off we went to do 33 Variations.
It’s been a few months since that heady experience, and I was lucky to catch up with Jenny one late afternoon to talk shop. Below, here’s what Jenny had to share:
Jen, when did you know that you were supposed to be a performer?
I think it was Miss Saigon, but maybe it was a little bit before that. I started, I was about ten years old, and I started acting in the bathroom. I used to watch the Oscars every year, and tape these on Betamax. That dates me! (Laughs.) And then, I pretend I’d receive an acting award. Aside from doing my acceptance speech in the bathroom, I’d do my scenes. I’d try to cry in front of the bathroom mirror, and stuff like that. And then high school came along —
Where was high school?
High school was in St. Paul-Pasig. And then the Miss Saigon documentaries, on how it was cast, came out, and then I was like…boom, “I want to do that.” It was just so exciting, to see Lea, Michael, Monique…
Though it sounds like you were more a film girl than you were a theatre girl, because the first inspirations were the Academy Awards, doing scenes from movies. Even now, you do film, Ang Nawawala is your film.
Yeah, but even now, I haven’t done a lot.
It’s a medium that calls to you?
Yes it does, actually. But the pull of theatre is a lot stronger for me, because I really do enjoy undergoing the journey as whole, rather than piecemeal, the way we do film and TV.
What then was your first theatre experience? Was it a summer workshop? A school play?
We did, I think, a musical, that was never mounted, for school. But auditioning for that, it was already the start of the experience for me. I was nervous. I would rehearse. But still, it never deterred me from going in there (to auditions) and giving my all. Though the thing never happened anyway.
One of the summers in high school I attended an acting workshop in CCP. The only thing I remember from that is doing an animal, a really long animal session. Animal work.
Animal? Like crawling around like a cat?
More like bounced around like a monkey. And this went on for quite some time, because we all had to do it, we were all in a circle. And then I don’t remember the output of that workshop, actually.
Would you remember your teacher?
(Jenny laughs.) Uh, never mind. Yeah, so let’s not…(She laughs again.) Significant. Significant then!
I guess the first significant one was really with New Voice. The summer of 2000.
This was just after they had done Rent, and about to do The Vagina Monologues. I remember that this was a big deal, that The Vagina Monologues were about to be done and it had a caused a fuss, as people were uncomfortable with the word, “vagina.” And you were one of the members who first did it. How did that happen, were you part of a workshop first, or auditioned first to become a professional actress?
I started off with a summer workshop. They started off with short workshops on television, and I started with that, and I had Monique (Wilson) as a teacher. That was an intensive.
It seemed like, that the feedback from her, and when I would watch my stuff on video, it seemed that I wasn’t atrocious. So I’m like, “Huh, okay, there might be something here.” So I went on to do their full-length summer acting workshop with Andrew Vergara. And that was a whole lot of fun. There were only 4 of us in a class. Andrew got to work with us very closely, and after that, they got me as a company member.
After that, I got to do my first V-Day, I think it was the first V-Day ever, also. It was special.
The first global V-Day?
I’m not sure global, but the first V-Day here, where one monologue was assigned to one actress. I got the Vagina Workshop.
Then I got to work with Rito Asilo, all the artistic directors of New Voice at the time. Just working with the three of them, it was a great experience. I had an ideal work and learning experience to start with in theatre.
They were your first teachers?
They were my first teachers. I also did an Actors’ Actors master class with Bart Guingona.
And you were a college student then?
I was done with college already. I had finished my M.S. (Master of Science) in ’99.
So basically, here you were, a scientifically trained, logical person, with a post-grad degree in Food Science and Technology from Texas A&M, one of the schools for food tech –
It was number two at the time, yes.
And then you go back home, “Hey I’m going to be an actress.”
How did your family take it?
It was difficult, since I had not really expressed a whole lot of interest prior to that. At least, I hadn’t expressed it to them. They thought, “Well, if you hadn’t been doing this since you were a kid, maybe you weren’t really meant to do it.”
This was a late passion.
A passion that’s always been there, but only invested on after school?
So no college theatre performances?
Nope, I focused on school in U.P. Diliman. I took B.S. Food Technology. (She was so focused in fact that she had graduated valedictorian of the College of Home Economics, magna cum laude. —Ed.)
In a way you were destined to work in some place like El Bulli or something like that!
It wasn’t even El Bulli yet, at the time it would’ve been Purefoods, Nestlé, Frito-Lay! (More laughter.)
The fact is, you could’ve been there, with Alton Brown and molecular gastronomy just around the corner. And you decided, “I’m going to be an actress.”
I’d like to conclude this section to point out that Jenny didn’t take the traditional route (as traditional it is to do theatre here, at least) of going through high school or college theatre. From what I gather, she orbited the scene, but didn’t dive into it after she had finished her substantial education.
This only goes to show that theatre has space for all sorts to enter at any given point in time. The industry is inclusive to late-starters if you’re willing to put the work in. Today, Jenny’s work has brought her to co-founding her own theatre company, Red Turnip Theater, with four other friends (Rem Zamora, Cris Villonco, Ana Abad Santos, Topper Fabregas), whom many credit for resuscitating straight English theatre on the map.
Picture care of Jenny Jamora. Used with permission.