Rediscovering Carla
- Joy G. Virata () - February 5, 2007 - 12:00am
When Repertory Philippines decided to include Song and Dance in its 70th season, it had a particular actress in mind. Unfortunately the actress was offered a role in a foreign production. Rep had other actresses in mind and called for auditions. Because they had other commitments and didn’t think they had the time to do justice to the challenging role of "Emma," one by one these actresses withdrew and when audition time came there was only one singer in the room. Carla Guevara-Laforteza. "Piranha," I thought, and smiled.

She had been nicknamed "Piranha" by Rep’s late artistic director Zeneida Amador. Good naturedly she had accepted the nickname knowing Amador meant it as a compliment. Why had Amador called her that?

"Well," she said, "in order to better learn my part in a play, it helped me to know everyone else’s part as well and since I seemed to have an easy time memorizing I would memorize other parts. So whenever Tita Bibot would get mad and fire someone suddenly from a play, she would say ‘Who can play this part?’ and I would always raise my hand. After I discovered I could get roles this way, I always studied the other actresses’ parts.

"I didn’t have a hidden agenda, I didn’t want them to get hurt, or get fired, but just in case…" We both laughed.

I hadn’t seen Carla for years. She had been with Rep for eight years – starting with the Rep Children’s Theater in 1993 then going on to take roles in various plays and musicals such as Camelot, Once on This Island, Annie, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, South Pacific, and others – always ready to take on any role, happy to have any role, waiting in the wings for any role – a "Piranha"!

In 1995 she left for London to join the Miss Saigon production there as an understudy for "Kim" (the lead) and "Gigi" (the support) while playing "Yvette" in the ensemble.

"I liked being an understudy because that meant I could play many roles." She said. "This made it more fun and more interesting and it gave me very good training. Then one night I was watching in the wings when I saw Maya (Maya Barredo – another former Rep actress) twist her knee because her scene partner was a second too late with his cue and her foot got caught in the moving set. Immediately, without anyone telling me, I ran to the dressing room and began changing into my Kim costume. I got to the stage and people were saying ‘Where’s Carla?! Get her changed.’ And I said ‘I’m here. I’m ready.’ And I went on without any delay in the show. After that I played ‘Kim’ many times."

A Rep actor kidded her. "I heard you just grabbed the headdress from Maya’s head and ran." She vehemently denied this. "No" she said. "I said ‘Are you all right, Maya?’ Then I said ‘Give me your headdress’ and I ran."

She left Miss Saigon after three years because she said "Playing in the same production for three years was driving me crazy." She came home and continued to appear with Rep and other companies playing leads and supporting roles in plays and musicals. She created the role of "Princess Sapphire" in Trumpet’s Little Mermaid.

She also began her television and movie career winning the Best New Artist For Television in the 2000 PMPC Star Awards and the Golden Voice Award for Popsiklaban, Center for Pop Music Philippines. In 2001 she played in her last Rep production as a soloist in Celebration III. Then she went to New York, got married, and had two lovely children – a boy, Bailey, and a girl, Sophia.

When she finished singing Tell Me On A Sunday that day in the audition, I breathed a sigh of relief. She had the voice. She was a bit rusty – not having performed for a long time – but she still had a voice.

As rehearsals went on I became more and more pleased. She not only had the voice she had the heart to play "Emma" – the English girl heroine of Song and Dance who is trying to survive in New York – a role she could understand having been a survivor in New York herself.

For almost nine years Carla survived in New York working in a bakery, becoming a medical assistant, a restaurant hostess, a restaurant manager for a top Italian restaurant, a top salesperson for a high-end shoe store, getting a degree in Hotel Operations and Management and taking courses at New York University in acting for television, film and musical theater while being a wife to Godfrey Laforteza, a former Powerdance dancer, who became a chef at Nobu, a trendy New York Restaurant owned by Robert de Niro.

"But," she said, "the nearest I came to Broadway was working in a restaurant on 55th Ave. and Broadway. I performed for Filipino fiestas and as front acts for Filipino artists but that was not enough. I got sick of life in New York and I became afraid after 9/11. I wanted to be on stage again. So Godfrey asked for, and got, a transfer to Nobu in Hong Kong and I came home. I go to Hong Kong once a month and am trying to build a career again in Manila. I heard about Song and Dance and asked to audition. I knew you had other people in mind but I didn’t care. I would be ready."

"Welcome home, Piranha," I said to myself.
* * *
Carla Guevara-Laforteza is appearing in the Repertory Philippines’ production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance opening at Onstage Theater in Greenbelt on Feb. 9, and continuing until March 4 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. Call 887-0710 or Ticketworld at 891-9999 for tickets, reservations, and information.

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