An Actor’s Craft #2.2: Jenny Jamora
Continuing from where we left off, artist Jenny Jamora shares her journey through acting and directing.
That’s the first time I ever saw you! It was in Music Museum, where you were, I forget her name–
The long-suffering wife. The partner of Jake Macapagal —
No, I was the partner of the doctor who diagnoses Wizzer (Macapagal’s role.) The lesbian lover. The kosher caterer.
So that’s why I thought you were in musical theatre. What happened after that? Because you had said before, that after that, it became different for you, you were doing different things at the same time.
New Voice was very nice in that they never pigeonholed me, into what you would call the (distinction between) straight play versus musical theatre actress. It was more like, “No, no, you do everything. You do your monologues, you do you musical.” Even while I was “I can’t sing, I can’t sing.” But they said, “No, you do it.”
That’s so not true.
But that was my mindset before!
Maybe because you’re an alto, and not everyone thinks altos can sing.
Yeah, especially myself! (Laughter.)
Okay Jenny, false humility doesn’t become you. You were featured in ONS.
I swear, I swear! The first time I auditioned for Miss Saigon Manila, nothing came out. It was really…not a peep. It was just air. It was amazing. It was an amazing experience. What an amazing experience—in humiliation. (More laughter.) I didn’t even wait for anybody to say anything, I just said, “Thank you!” And I let myself out.
It’s kind of hard to believe now, that Jenny Jamora auditioned like that. That you have some auditions you can laugh about now. But at the time—
Yeah, but at the time…though fortunately, I wasn’t crying on my bed. I wasn’t debilitated. Which is actually quite amazing. I’m sure if that happened now, I might be just…
Well but now, you’re someone else entirely. You have expectations of yourself now, not that you didn’t have expectations of yourself before. But now it’s like, you’ve worked too hard, twice as hard since.
Well, I had nothing to lose back then. No one knew me also. Which is why I went nude in Blue Room back in 2004. With Jamie Wilson. This was the second one. The first one was with Jamie and I think, Pheona (Baranda). The second one was done in the Republic of Malate.
I didn’t watch that one. I don’t think I’d be comfortable now speaking with you had I seen your parts. (Laughter.)
That was amazing. I performed that with my ninong watching in the second row. Sitting beside my father. After that, I thought I could go through anything.
You paid your dues.
Yeah, I paid my dues. (Laughter again.)
What was your theatre training and life like up to that point? Mostly workshops?
Yes, mostly workshops. After New Voice and AAI, in 2002, 2003, I was encouraged by Monique (Wilson) to take on the RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art)’s Acting Shakespeare, 8-week course. That was my Mecca. I paid for it on my own, blew my savings. It wasn’t cheap, but I said, if I’m going to go somewhere, I’m going to my Mecca.
But it wasn’t just RADA, you also have a New York experience right?
Oh yeah, that was before that. Sorry, my timeline! 2001. That was actually just before 9/11, actually. I remember because I went home from that summer. I took a summer at the American Academy of Dramatic Art (AADA), where I encountered a bit of Meisner. (Theory of acting.) September 8, I went home. And then three days later, it happened.
When I was in New York, I did the AADA 6-week course, and then I took Shakespeare classes with Geoffrey Owens at Herbert Berghof. I’d heard a lot about him, that he was good Shakespeare teacher, and not just an actor from The Cosby Show. He was really good.
Would it be safe to say that your training, for actors abroad, is something for them to say, “I’ve done that.” But for actors here, you wouldn’t call it conventional. Because you actually had to leave, and then find the means somehow to do AADA and RADA.
Yeah. When I was there in London, Monique helped me go to the Actors’ Centre for classes in Meisner, audition work. Cold reading work, because that’s also an art form. It’s a bit of a mish-mash.
It sounds like you made your own program.
I was already in my mid, going into my late twenties, and I didn’t feel like, after undergoing a 3-year Master’s program, that I was going through another three year program and not be able to do any practical work in between.
Since then, you’ve done a number of musical theatre shows. Legally Blonde, Aida, The Little Mermaid.
A Little Night Music. Those would be my more memorable ones. Cabaret.
You had all these musical theatre roles, which reinforces the notion that you’re a musical theatre actress. All the shows we’d just mentioned were that, while the straight plays were Blue Room—
Stop Kiss. A bunch of Vagina Monologues, so many that I had done all three roles already. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan…
That brings us to now, which is you create Red Turnip with your friends three years ago. Then it’s straight play after straight play, and suddenly we’re six straight plays in. How does that feel?
I don’t quite believe it. Especially after doing This is Our Youth. Because I think I encountered it in 2001 when I was in ADAA. I had read the script and loved it instantly. Actually I was just thinking about it today, that we (Red Turnip) kind of do the things that we’ve always wanted to do.
So now, how would you describe your theatrical makeup? What makes up the actress that is Jenny Jamora?
That’s a tough question. Okay. That, there’s a lot of, I’d like to say, there’s a lot of hard work. Compared to other people who have quote-unquote “made it” in the business, I haven’t gotten the breaks that propel people into stardom, becoming household names. Never have, despite being in the business for a number of years of now. Despite working hard, and I think being a respected actress–I think I am respected, I believe in my talent—for some reason, it has never been super-easy. It’s never been a breeze. So whenever I get featured roles, I really savour them. When I get lead roles, I can’t believe it. (Laughter.)
I don’t think it’s so hard to believe. As Woman in Cock, I think it got a lot of people talking. But when people would ask, “Why hasn’t Jenny acted as much,” it would shock me. Because in my head, it’s going, “She’s been around for at least fifteen years, are you guys kidding me? What’s up with that?”
Richard Jenkins comes to mind, that character actor? One year he gets nominated for an acting award (Richard Jenkins was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in the movie The Visitor. –Ed.), we go, “Oh Richard Jenkins, he’s someone we always saw on T.V., but then afterwards, he’s back on T.V.
I don’t know if you’ll like this, but it’s almost like being Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. For the longest time, she’s the American Idol girl, then she wins an Oscar. Then when you next see her, she’s the assistant of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, and then we don’t hear from her in a while, she’s back recording. Then she’s Shug Avery in The Color Purple revival. It’s like, but you know she must have done something in between, right? These can’t be the main lynch pins of her career. So I guess it’s interesting to note that even people who have submitted good work are challenged constantly.
But you know, it keeps me working hard. It keeps me grateful, and never to take anything for granted.
Let’s look into technical stuff. The three biggest shows that are important to you are The Vagina Monologues, probably Cock, I’m guessing, and This is Our Youth, which you wanted to do quite badly, but you didn’t act in (anymore.) Is there any other show which you feel that has influenced you, the experience of having done it, that as an actor, you refer to it to get to a role?
Mind’s Eye, with Joy Virata, and directed by Jaime del Mundo.
How would you say your process as an actress is like now?
I always go back to life need, scene need, all the time. It’s something that was really streamlined for me by my sister, Marie Jamora, when she took a Directing for an Actor class. I got to read the book they were using, by Lenore Dekoven. And I just think it’s the simplest and most effective way of really boiling down what an actor does, which is recreating behaviour, and bringing it down to a life need and scene need and the different actions that one takes within a scene–to get to those needs. That’s the basic thing that I do.
That sounds very deliberate. Would you say you program yourself, and then let instinct take over? Or would you say you’re cerebral in a scene, like as you’re rehearsing or just before a scene, do you tell yourself, “My life need this, the scene needs this?”
I read a script and I’ll try to figure out the life need first, so that I’m not reading blindly. Then I’ll probably go through several readings, because I really need to read it out loud, that’s so important, reading it out loud and getting it into the mouth and body. That helps. Way before I used to assign actions already, per line? But I don’t do that anymore.
I would say it’s instinctive first, and then, I’ll put everything down, just so I know which of my lines is still unclear. Because if I can’t put an action to line, I’m like, I probably don’t know what I’m doing.
When you say you put an action to line, do you literally then, say for example, in the line “I love you,” is the action point-on-the-word “you.” Is it that detailed?
It’s the verbs, like “to beg,” “to plead,” “to dominate,” stuff like that.
Then it’s more of an intentional action, as opposed to a literal action. Because some people go so far to as to program that out. So it’s more of you map the intentions out, write the subtext?
No, I don’t write the activity, but yes, the subtext. And then I get an idea of how the scene flows, where the arc of the scene goes. This is also something I learned from a directing class with Anton Juan. He always talks about vectors. It’s really an arc though, I think arc is really important to the tightness of a scene. Where’s the up and the down, how am I building.
Let’s do talk about approaching a character. How about Jane Austen’s Emma, that story about an interfering girl in the lives of other people, as popularised in the 90s with Clueless. If you were to do Emma, how would start off making the character of Emma, knowing what she is, as an interfering girl who knows far less than she pretends to?
Really read that script first. Then I would get all my givens. And I will also write out a biography.
Do you journal?
I do. Because I may not recall it in the final scenes, but it’s very important for me to know that I know their life, down to the names of their siblings, the name of her mom.
Then when does approach happen?
I don’t like to assign emotions or anything first. So reading it first with the cast is very important. I won’t do much work before that.
Then the rehearsal process for you is about learning more about the character.
Yeah. And seeing how they interact, because that’s super important to me, how they interact with all the other characters.
Would you say your method is more cerebral, starting from the mind, then it gets more and more emotional until it’s second nature and instinctive to you? Or would you say that there’s always a little bit of you that knows that you’re acting, and it’s able to steer to you to where you need to go in the midst of performance?
It’s really more of that sixth sense. It’s a sixth sense, it’s a balancing act. I’d do a reading without any preconceived notions of anything. And then I’ll start writing things down. The next time I’ll try it, I’ll try what I wrote, see if it works. If it doesn’t work, then I’ll throw that action out, and then try another action.
I don’t think that I’m that cerebral that I have to, need to write everything down.
Though you’re describing a fairly thoughtful process that happens in your mind where you’re putting things into words quite a bit.
That’s true. I just, I guess I feel like it gives me confidence when I know that I know what I’m doing. (Laughter.)
So if you can explain it to yourself, you know that you know it. If you can’t explain it—
If I can’t explain it, I’m flying blind. That’s what I feel. I feel that as an actor, the character might not know where he or she is going, but the actor needs to.
Did you did do that for Cock? The play has no ostensible name for her. Does Woman have a name in your journal? Have siblings? Does she have a name?
Yes. Yes! Her name is Jane. It’s kind of close to me. (Laughter.)
The timeline was really important to me, also. I really needed to plot. What was Monday? What was Tuesday? How long did things take? When did I see him again? Details are very important to me. I’d write on script, on Monday we did this. Just on my script, it would be M-did this, T, W, Th. Monday, me, John, bam.
It’s cerebral but it’s also very imaginative. Here you are making something that the director might not be aware of. Was Rem (Zamora) aware of this?
No, he wasn’t. He didn’t surge into my process. Which is great.
Would you think your process is hard to replicate for other actors?
Yeah, I think actors’ processes are so idiosyncratic. Especially when they’ve experienced a lot in the business and they’ve gleaned from various experiences and sources already. It gets more and more specialised per actor.
Mind’s Eye was very important to me because in 2007, during Dogeaters, and Nicco Manalo will attest to this, both of us were Methoding (Stanislavsky) our heads off—he’s puking into a bucket by the door, I’m in another part of the stage, I wet myself, go under the draft of an air-conditioner so I feel like I’m raped and stuff like that—you know, it’s tiring. And to do that thirty minutes before a show, it’s very tiring.
I was doing that until Mind’s Eye, around 2009. I was being very Method, like, please don’t talk to me thirty minutes before the show. I was doing that in the first run of Mind’s Eye. For the second run, I said, you know what? That was really tiring. I think I’m going to Leo DiCaprio this. That’s my term for just being able to jump in the scene, when you’re done, you jump out.
And it worked so much better for me. I was able to save a lot more energy, to put my focus in the scene when I was in it.
Sometimes the preparation can be overly prepared, there’s just so much energy being spent on preparing that it affects delivery. At least for you, it made delivery suffer?
Yeah. I think I can prepare as much as I can. Nowadays, I will prepare as much as I can beforehand. But if I’m in the rehearsal hall already, or preparing to go onstage, I should be just relaxed and having fun in the wings, knowing that I’ve already done my work.
Then I just go in, be focused in the scene, live in the moment, then go out.
That sounds so fun. It sounds like Jenny Jamora is the actor who prepares so that she can stay in the moment.
I like that.
It’s very Anne Bogart, A Director Prepares. Preparation is the work, but when you’re done, you’re done and you just do the thing.
Well, you know, it was useful to do a bit of Meisner, do the repetition stuff? Getting the point behind those exercises. And of course, the whole British way of doing things. Being very reliant on the text, to bring you where you need to be emotionally.
That’s another thing I’ve learned, to rely on the text. Even at the first reading, that’s what you can do. You don’t even need to prepare emotionally, as long as you can hook into the words, it will bring you somewhere.
This segues us into talking about directing. You’ve transformed this year, from never having directed a full-length—you had done Labfest, one-acts—but this year you’ve done not just one, but two long-form shows. 33 Variations and Jon Santos’ Wala Talagang Forever Sa Malacanang.
With Jon, it was more of a collaborative directing.
You’ve mentioned how the text is so sacred to you. Personally for me, it was great and challenging, as your dramaturg, because at one point, I was: wow, Jenny is asking me to get the actual book dimensions of the Wittgenstein Sketchbook. (A text heavily featured in 33 Variations.) It was, wow. We’re going there.
That’s important to my acting prep too. Details like that very important.
I like it because you weren’t telling people what to do. You were more of a director who’d go, we need to figure out how to get from A to B, and let’s chart our paths, and I’ll tell you when you stray. But you basically let people agree on how we’d go about going from A to B.
I took a cue from a conversation I had with Missy Maramara, who has worked with Moises Kaufman, with moment work. I’m not even entirely certain if I’d even grasped what moment work exactly is. But the way she described it to me, and what I took from it was every member in the team is an artist in their individual right. They go on their own journeys as well and we meet at certain points. Those are the moments you create together.
I took a cue from that, I wanted to do that. It made sense because I was working with veterans. I was a first time director working with people like Teroy (Guzman), Shamaine (Centenera-Buencamino), Roselyn (Perez), Paolo (O’Hara), Rem. They know their stuff! I think it worked very well. And then you had people like Ed (Lacson) with the set, a director in his own right. John Batalla, with lights.
Having everyone have the space to be the artist they wanted to be for that material worked. I just made us meet at those points.
I think our biggest challenge at that play were the moments in the script when people would talk on top of each other in that show. What bothered us the most was the end of Act 1, that cannoning script where everything interjected with each other. That was the moment where we had to plot our meeting as a team.
That is an example par excellence of the work we were doing in that play. We were going about it organically at first, and then Topper (Fabregas) tells me, this isn’t as neat as it could be.
We had to record each part and splice it, then play with the piano cues. I’d never seen a team have to do that in a play before.
Neither have I. Thank God we had the structure of the (musical) septet to guide us through that. Then Topper told me, you have to rehearse this like a musical piece now. And I was, oh, okay. Because I didn’t want to go there at first. That was a lot of work, a lot of layering.
That last scene took four days. Or one week.
We only just got it the day before preview.
That was a hard scene to deal with. But it brings it back to how you are as an artist, which is a very thorough sense of what should happen, which we all agree on. I think your process became our process in the sense that we all made a path to what we wanted. Then it was substantiated with acting, set, lights, research.
Though I also had to do workshops too. Training had to happen too.
That brings me to ask: what is complete training for someone in theatre?
First and foremost, it’s being an authentic individual. That’s really the basis for a good actor. You know who you are. We all have our pretenses, but you know, basically, you’re self-aware.
Well, I think the biggest example is I don’t think you can be truly a great actor if you’re closeted. It’s just practical. I really think you have to be authentic, because if you don’t know yourself, how can you expect to get know your characters?
If you’re not ready to share your real self, how can you share a real character?
Maybe it’s not so much closeted. Maybe it’s about being in denial? There’s a difference.
Yeah, that’s better. In denial. You need to be authentic to who you are, even to the level of your sexual preferences.
How about at a technical level?
Definitely voice work. Voice into speech. Shakespeare. People should do a lot of Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a great way to fall in love with words, and not take words for granted.
Would you say a good actor reads in his free time?
Yes, he does. He doesn’t have to be a bookworm, but he needs to find pleasure in reading. Reading all sorts of things, from books to plays to magazines.
What else? Actors need to do everything that has to do with their actor’s instrument. And just keep working. It’s very hard to find your center, your physical center, unless you work a lot. I remember my early days, just kind of feeling my arms flailing around, flailing around my body, because I didn’t know how to just stand, centered and still. It’s very important to find that.
Do you think you need to find more training yourself?
Oh yeah. I recently did a day of Viewpoints at Peta with John Malloney (?) It was great, because we did some improv again, and I hadn’t done improv in a while. It’s so helpful, both for acting and directing, and I would love to do more work like that, because I have barely done that kind of training compared to other people.
Is there a role which you’d like to do, but you feel you’re not ready for it yet, and that’s why you still have to prepare and get more experience before you can do it? For Ricci Chan, it was King Lear. He’d like to do it, but he thinks he’s not ready for it yet.
That’s a good question. Hmmm. What comes to mind…because I sort of know, that anything is possible. Maybe not cast, but anything is possible. Especially after this acting workshop with Anton Juan, he assigned a scene with Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire). For me, it was no way. “I am not a Blanche, I am not and will never be a Blanche,” I told him.
He said, “No, no, I want you to do it.”
We worked through the scene in class. And just because I trusted him as a director, and did what he said, I got through it, and had my own, very specific interpretation of what it was. I think it flew. (Laughter.) For that moment, it was Blanche.
So you feel, by hook or by crook, there’s a way to do it.
Even say something like Lady Macbeth. Not that it’s one of my favourite roles, it isn’t. But it certainly is a fascinating role. Something that I wouldn’t see myself doing, but I think there’s a way to make it my own.
Any dream roles? For a while it was Jessica from This is Our Youth.
Well, I will get to do one soon. It’s not really a dream role, but something I really wanted to do.
That would be revealing the next season.
So if we see Jenny Jamora acting next year, we’ll know.
Pictures care of Jenny Jamora. Used with permission.