Spanky Manikan returns to theater
Paulo Marquez (The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Like an old, sturdy warhorse, he has galloped to a field fresh yet familiar, taking in the scent of memories and reliving past glories. After nearly a decade of absence, Spanky Manikan recently returned to the stage via Tanghalang Pilipino’s Eyeball: New Voices in Philippine Theater. He starred in Maliw as Daddy, playing out one of the worst adult fears — the unexplained disappearance of a child. In the short performance, both Daddy and Mommy, played by Sherry Lara, re-define their realities and find the resolve to close that chapter in their lives.

Spanky is more known as a veteran film and television character actor. But only few know of his fervent zeal and the fire that lights his eyes and illuminates his soul, when on stage, and these few are fortunate indeed. His career dates to the early ‘70s with the Philippine Educational Theater Education (PETA) with works such as Kabesang Tales, Antigone, Caucasian Chalk Circle and the memorable Joe Hill.

In the ’80s, Spanky explored the sanctuaries of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Bulwagang Gantimpala and Teatro Pilipino with lead roles in General Goyo, The Boor, Mando Plaridel and Puntila and Matti, working with theater legends such as the late Fritz Bennwitz and Rolando Tinio. His last foray on stage was with the UP Repertory company in The Iceman Cometh at the turn of the millennium.

Because of fatherhood and the practical vicissitudes of domestic life, film and TV provided a channel to earn one’s daily bread. Yet the standards of excellence nurtured on stage continued as Spanky’s celluloid performances won for him an uncontested Best Supporting Actor from the Metro Manila Film Festival and the Catholic Mass Media Awards for Himala, and the Best Supporting Actor from the Bahaghari Awards for Parola.

Spanky also found a friendly road in the international circuit as he was cast in major roles in international projects such as Au Bout De Rouleau, directed by the renowned French artist Thierry Binisti, In Naam der Koningin” for Dutch television, and Behind Enemy Lines, among others. His most recent memorable role was in Amigo, directed by international indie lord John Sayles. “It was exhilarating working with a wonderful cast led by Chris Cooper,” shares Spanky.

Spanky also went on to do memorable roles on TV in Kung Mawawala Ka, Majika, Lobo, Tayong Dalawa and most recently, as Dawn Zulueta’s father in a short role in the ongoing ABS-CBN soap Walang Hanggan. He superbly portrayed a father forlornly accepting the fate of poverty.

The offer to go back to theater happened on the set of Walang Hanggan. Nanding Josef, artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino, was also in the cast of the ABS-CBN soap. “Nanding is a long-time dear friend since PETA days,” Spanky narrates. “When he offered me a role in Maliw, there was no way for me to say no.”

Of course, trepidation was inevitable when, on the first few days of rehearsal, treading the once familiar stage required shedding off habits required by the more intimate medium that is film. “I am truly grateful to our director Chris Millado for making me realize the lessons I have forgotten,” shares Spanky. “And in bringing back the theatrical spirit, it was Katsch Catoy, a colleague in PETA who raised his arm and shouted ‘Spanks, PETA!’ who brought back the fire in me,” he laughs.

Where additional support was needed, Spanky’s family rushed to the rescue with his three children pitching in to help him memorize his lines. “It seems that art runs in the family,” he says proudly. “The kids understand the demands of work, and are fully supportive of the eccentricities of an artist’s life.” His household reverberates with the operas of Richard Wagner and the concertos of Bach and Beethoven. He also finds time to share his decades of theatrical wisdom with the youth, particularly with the students of Naga College Foundation occasionally.

Spanky is never wont to plan his life. With that, he leaves the future to fates as he looks forward to spending more time with his children, along with continuous challenges that come with future roles on film and TV. When asked what message he would like to impart to those who would like to emulate him, he succinctly states with a smile: “Don’t follow my footsteps. Create your own.”

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