What Pinky learns from Piaf
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Pinky Amador is celebrating her 30th year in the entertainment biz, taking on “the most challenging role for anyone” as the French music icon Edith Piaf  who lived a celebrated but tragic life  in the musical mounted by Atlantis Productions.

Has it really been 30 years since Pinky was plucked from the stage crew to tackle her first leading role as the spunky teenager Libby Tucker in Repertory Philippines’ staging of I Ought To Be In Pictures? And does she feel it? 

“With the rehearsals, yes,” said Pinky with a hearty laugh in an interview prior to last Friday’s opening night of Piaf, which is directed by Bobby Garcia and runs until March 23 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati. 

Pinky is summoning her wealth of experience and giving as much of herself to do justice to the Piaf role, so that when people troop to the theater to watch her, “they would think, pumayag siya? You’d really get shocked. I’ve done everything here.”

Yes, everything. “(Piaf) got beaten up. She was abandoned. She was cheated on. She lost someone. She got framed up for murder. I think everything that could possibly happen to one person happened to her,” Pinky said.

“Everything (every scene) is so heightened that it can be shocking to the system. I’m just thinking how would anybody else with less experience, less stamina or less determination (pull it through) because it seems only determination and sheer guts will what get you through. Usually roles about the life of a person, like Evita, are the most difficult. And they’re big characters and affect a lot of people to this day, so there must be a reason why they are like that.” 

For Pinky, there’s a lot to learn from Piaf as a person and as an artist whose life had been described as both a success and a mess. That her life story was very real and not a work of fiction — from her humble beginnings, artistry and drive, her loves and losses, to slew of sufferings (arthritis, morphine addiction and declining health) — is what continues to fascinate people and draw them more to her songs (La Vie en Rose, Jezebel, Padam...Padam, etc.) even 50 years after her death.

“How do you measure success? It’s not really by your accomplishments but how you cope with your challenges,” Pinky reflected. “That’s her quality — bangon siya ng bangon, kahit maapak-apakan at na-aapi na at lahat.

“She would get into road accidents, break three ribs and still do a show. Sometimes, she would collapse on stage. Towards the end of her life, there was what they called the suicide tour because they knew she was dying, and people would come to watch her because they never knew if she was going to cope that night.

“She really represented an artist who was very generous and who overcame a lot of challenges, and that makes good drama also. She was the quintessential artist who did things that normal ones couldn’t do anymore. They would say she really just lived to perform, which became quite literal.”

Asked if she can see herself in Piaf, Pinky answered, “They would say that she would keep her composers and lyricists up all night till morning hangga’t makabuo sila ng kanta. So there’s that manic perfectionism as an artist that I think all artists have.”

“Love life? Not the same, because she died married, we still don’t know if that’s going to happen to me,” she added, musing. “She had quite a few lovers, I’m not anywhere near her number (laughs).”

Piaf was said to have mentor/composers as love interests. As for Pinky, who once studied and worked in the UK, “Mentor, one, when I was in England. He was a director, actor and writer for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he was 10 years older than me. May pagkaganun, but not really in the sense that I didn’t really mix the people of my work with my love life,” she said.

Interestingly, there’s this myth going around (you can even Google it) that some actresses or singers doing (or attempting to do) a Piaf would lose their voice or get into car accidents (as if reliving the tragedies of Piaf).

Whether the superstition was true or not, Pinky together with direk Bobby went to Paris last January to visit the grave of Piaf to “ask permission.” “She was buried where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde were buried. We got there in 45 minutes, but it was an uphill climb, minus three degrees (weather)!”

It was Pinky herself who suggested to Bobby to produce Piaf, which was originally staged by Repertory Philippines 25 years ago (where Pinky played support).

“I suggested to Bobby two years ago. I suggested to Rep five years ago. But both felt that the play/the script we did 25 years ago with Rep may have been a little dated and a little long with a very big cast. But five years ago, the writing was reworked; it’s now down to 90 minutes with only 10 actors.”

Pinky added that it’s her first time to work with Bobby even if they had known each other for two decades now. “The way Bobby stages it, he really made it like an ensemble piece and actor’s piece... Establishing a good working relationship with everyone, setting expectations, he’s really mastered that.”

Now with the great reviews starting to stream in, Piaf is a great way, indeed, to celebrate Pinky’s three decades in the industry which all began in theater. 

In the early ’80s, she became part of the crew of Repertory Philippines’ The Visit that also required them to mouth a few lines. “I was moving the set around and had 20 lines. My Tita Bibot (her aunt, the late Repertory Philippines founder Zeneida Amador) got me as it was summer and I was out of high school with nothing to do.”

Then, for the company’s next play, I Ought To Be In Pictures, they needed someone to play the lead. The first choice had decided to go to the movies and the second one was pregnant. Her aunt was then told, “Why not your niece?” to which the formidable Zeneida reacted, “Marunong ba yan umarte?”

But Pinky was given a shot at it, and when the script was given to her, it came with an advice: “My aunt said, read the script once for understanding, twice for sense and thrice for memorization.”

The play went on to become “an overnight kind of hit and those were the days when Repertory would film its plays and show them on TV so much so that they gained a following. Those were the days when going to the theater was really fashionable. Rep shows at that time were really packed. So I came in at a very good time.” After that, in the same year, Pinky did Agnes of God and won an Aliw Award for Best Actress. In four years, she starred in 40 plays.

Her career (eventually branching out to TV and movies) was on a high when she won a post-graduate scholarship to study drama at the Bristol Old Vic Theater School in the UK. She left behind a five-picture contract with Viva and TV shows, “because I knew the training would be more important to me.”

And this is the advice she’s been giving to newbies nowadays, that “if they trained, something will happen. All acting is instinctive. Some people are really good even without really training,” said Pinky, who runs the Theater Arts Department of Meridian International College in Taguig, wherein she created a curriculum that combines her conservatory-style training and classroom learning. 

“The problem is when people say that when you train, you’re taking away all the instinct and originality, which is not true, because how can you create when the germ or that seed is not there? It’s important because it really gives you all the tools that you need and it gives you determination, focus and confidence. So you can imagine if actors trained, they will hardly ever be presented with a situation wherein they won’t know what to do, because they would have, if not the direct experience, some inkling or some idea of how to create something out of what the director wants, what the story needs or how the story is to told.”

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