May 18, 2011
Compelled to create
Cathy Azanza-Dy, theater actress, theater director
Catherine Anne Azanza-Dy has been acting on stage since she was 16. "I joined a teen summer workshop at Repertory Philippines," she recalls. "And, like most stories go, once I was bitten by the theater bug, it was pretty hard to imagine doing anything else!"
Aside from being a theater actress, Cathy has also begun to venture into directing. In fact, she has recently teamed up with Michael Williams in Defending the Caveman, a one-man show running this month starring Joel Trinidad.
"Michael and I have been collaborators for a long time—as co-actors and co-workshop teachers. It felt like a very comfortable next step to be co-directing Defending the Caveman with him," she explains adding that the nature of the play's material required female and male points-of-view to properly flesh it out. "The piece, after all, aims to draw a "treaty" in the battle of the sexes, allowing men and women to celebrate their differences."
Although the May 2011 run is the third re-staging of Defending the Caveman, Cathy says she still loves seeing couples in the audience nudging each other when the topic shifts to a situation they themselves have experienced. "It's nice to see people connect with the material in a very real way, and see themselves in it."
Cathy and Michael are collaborating again on another show called Love, Loss, and What I Wore which is based on the bestselling book by Ilene Beckerman. The play, written by Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail) and Delia Ephron (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Hanging Up), is a collection of funny and heartwarming stories of different women who remember key moments of their lives through the clothes that they wore. "Aside from directing the show, I will also be appearing in it, along with some good friends from the industry," she announces.
In the blood
"Theater and production were always interesting to me. My mom was a Speech and Drama major so she made it a point to take me to shows whenever she could," shares Cathy whose dad, although a businessman now, also did a lot of plays in college. "He also loved to show me lots of classic films. I think I watched The Bridge on the River Kwai when I was 10 years old! My dad, of course, had to guide me through most of those kinds of films, but I learned to love them."
Cathy confides that her father was really her first great inspiration. "Back in college, he appeared in a number of plays at Ateneo, playing characters like Cyrano de Bergerac and King Lear. When I was a kid, he would always tell me about his experiences onstage and all that went on behind the scenes," she reminisces. "He would tell those stories with so much passion that I fell in love with that world without ever having experienced it for myself."
Her mom, on the other hand, collected pictures, programs, and articles about Cathy's dad's theatrical exploits and placed them in a scrapbook. "I loved flipping through that scrapbook with my dad. While he was always quick to point out that being in a show was a lot of work, he also showed me that you had to have a great sense of fun. You've got to have the courage to laugh at yourself."
A winning formula
Cathy affirms how she always enjoys working with her husband Paolo, a film and television commercial director. "I think we have very complementary creative sensibilities. More importantly, there's a trust there that allows us to share ideas and quickly build on them," she describes. "Paolo says that working with me taught him how to speak to actors in their own language and create a safe environment that actors need to do their best work. And believe me, I know a lot more about camera angles and lighting ever since I met him!"
Recently, the couple and a friend joined and won Best Film at the 24 Hour Brooklyn Filmrace Competition. "Creative License went on to win First Place at the US National 24 Hour Filmracing Tour, besting the top films from cities all over the United States and Canada," she happily reports.
"When Paolo told me about the competition, we both got excited because it sounded like a really fun idea. You get 24 hours to write, shoot, and edit a film, based on a theme emailed to you the previous evening. There's also a surprise element that you have to incorporate into the film somehow. In our case, the theme was "exaggeration" and the surprise element was a pizza."
Their entry was inspired by their conversations with many Pinoy friends living in New York and elsewhere. "While they were all willing to sacrifice a lot to build a better life, their families back home inevitably worry. The character in our film experiences this same phenomenon and decides to get "creative" to appease his worried mother," relates Cathy.
She adds that it was important to them to make a film that was sincere and carried their voice, "which is why I wrote Creative License in Tagalog. Our hope was to tell a story that was Filipino, but also very human—something people could relate to no matter what the language."
Surprisingly, they were able to make the film on a US$30 budget! "There were only three of us in the production team: my husband Paolo, Topper Fabregas, a friend of mine from Repertory Philippines who had been staying in New York these past years, and me," illustrates Cathy. "The three of us did everything. Topper helped us scout for locations and also appeared as our lead in the film; Paolo shot the film and edited it; I wrote, food styled, and recorded the sound. It was a fantastic experience—nerve wracking, but fun."
The three submitted their film in the nick of time, just 10 minutes before the deadline, "thanks to this gypsy cab driver with a lead foot! He got us to the finish line in a flash," recounts Cathy who admits that they entered the race knowing that it was going to be a long shot for a three-person team of Pinoy artists entering a Filipino-language film in a US competition to make an impact.
Thus, "We feel immensely humbled and blessed that the Film Racing community appreciated our work, connected with our story, and saw fit to honor our film so generously," expresses Cathy. "If there's a lesson from the Filmrace that I want to share, it's this: Be brave, go out, and tell your story."
Job well done
For Cathy, everything is all about balance. "We don't have 9-to-5 schedules so it's a conscious effort on my part to make sure I get to do everything that needs doing [such as] prepping future projects, taking care of current ones, keeping myself healthy, getting enough sleep, and spending time with friends and family," she enumerates.
"I try to reserve some time for 'useful daydreaming' [where] I think up new things I want to pursue," she discloses. "And once in a while, my husband and I try to find time to travel and take inspiration from wherever we are and whomever we meet."
Two months ago, Cathy found herself standing in a field in the middle of Kennedy Space Center in Florida watching a Space Shuttle launch into space. "[It's] something I've always wanted to do since I was seven. Who knows, the next story I write might be about that."
When asked about the rewards she gets at the end of each day, Cathy reveals that when it all comes down to it, artists do what they do for three reasons. "We do it because we are compelled to—something inside us needs to create something beautiful, something truthful, something that makes a statement. We do it to keep improving, to keep honing our craft, and making a daily effort to master the art that we've chosen. But, most of all, we do it because we want to make a difference. We want to make audiences laugh, cry, feel, and maybe even learn something."
"If, at the end of the day, my craft and my art have touched even one person in a real and truthful way, then I can call my job done."