Why Giselle came back from US
DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2013 - 12:00am

Giselle Töngi-Walters, who recently returned to Manila after spending 12 years in the US, will make her professional Philippine stage debut in Atlantis Productions’ first offering for 2013, Pam Gems’ acclaimed play Piaf. Directed by Bobby Garcia and starring Pinky Amador as Edith Piaf, G will take on three roles including the pivotal role of film siren Marlene Dietrich, who becomes Edith Piaf’s friend and confidante. In this new version of Piaf which originated at London’s prestigious Donmar Warehouse,  Gems has reworked her classic 1978 play, vividly capturing the glamour and squalor, the rise and fall of the complex, fragile and enigmatic performer Edith Piaf, who continues to be remembered for her exceptional voice and extraordinary, troubled life. Piaf will run from March 8 to 23 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.

We caught up with G, amidst her busy schedule, to ask her a few questions about preparations for Piaf.

What made you decide to leave Philippine showbiz and move to the US?

“I decided to leave Manila because I was creatively uninspired and wanted to take my profession as an actress to the next level by dedicating myself to a two-year rigorous program where I was immersed by scene study, musical theater and on camera technique classes. Gusto ko lang lumevel-up kung baga.”

What was your life like in the US? How many years were you gone?

“In total, I spent 12 years in the US, three in New York and nine in Los Angeles from the age of 21 to 33. Prior to getting married in 2005, I really lived the life of a struggling actress. Running to and from auditions and casting calls, acting, voice and dance classes while bartending in the evenings. I enjoyed  being single to the hilt while exploring New York City and Los Angeles. When I settled down and started a family, life was quiet, peaceful and simple. I chose to stay at home for the first couple of years to take care of my children and then pursued my undergraduate degree in 2007. It took me five years to graduate but those where the best times of my life — being in college and raising my young family has really left an indelible impression on who I am today and reinforces what’s important in my life.”

Did you miss showbiz while you were in the US?

“I didn’t miss showbiz in general, however, I did miss the people and friends I had made along the way. I would always come back for a month or so before my children were born and always married showbiz commitments with my vacations.”

What made you decide to come back to the Philippines?

“After graduating from college last year, the decision to move back was both for my children as well as my being able to apply what I learned from school. My husband and I want our children to be able to speak Tagalog as it’s important to us that they recognize their Philippine heritage. My mother also lives here and she isn’t getting any younger as well. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was what was best for the interest of my entire family. Manila naman is and has always been home.”

You have branched out into producing, as well. What made you decide to do this?

“Producing has come very naturally to me as I am very drawn to putting like-minded people together. So I double minored in film and theater in school so that I could learn the ropes behind putting a project together. I have completed three short films, currently producing a webisode series called Chef Sake and in the midst of post-production on a TV series called the Balikbayan project. Producing gives me a sense of accomplishment and control from seeing an idea born into the final stages of production.”

How has the industry changed in the years that you were away?

“In a lot of ways, not much has changed. The genre has shifted from situational comedies to television novellas. The industry still has the same key players. Perhaps the major changes are the way reality TV has paved the way for showbiz hopefuls to break into the industry. With the current influx of manufactured stars and social media personalities, the playing field is spread thin being that there are only a few worthwhile roles to go around and yet more likely than not, the roles are still stereotypical. Having shifted to kontrabida roles has actually reinvigorated my passion for TV work.”

Do you think that there are ways that Philippine showbiz can improve itself?

“Guidelines could be implemented wherein all players benefit if working conditions are improved and professionalism is insisted upon but it will take a revolution and a movement to get this going.”

What made you want to perform on stage?

“I’ve done mostly TV and film work in the Philippines and ironically did mostly plays while living in the US. The camaraderie that develops from a theatrical performance and the energy and discipline entailed really nourishes the artist in me. Knowing no two performances or even audience reaction will be the same makes every second on stage personal and truly heartfelt.”

What made you decide to do Piaf?

“I’ve always wanted to work with Atlantis Productions and with Bobby Garcia as I have seen the quality of their productions over the past years. The role will also be a challenge as there are three of them as well as performing a duet in French but that’s what makes me all the more excited about being part of Piaf, to know it will take dedication and hard work which I am very willing to take on.”

What are your dream roles on stage?

“So many dream roles so little time. Agnes in Agnes of God, Karen in The Children’s Hour, Blanche in A Streetcar named Desire, Sally in Cabaret, Linda Low in Flower Drum Song, Miss Hannigan in Annie (maybe in a few more years). It would be wonderful to do at least one stage production a year playing really well-developed characters for Philippine audiences.”

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