Daily Tribune (Philippines)
‘THEATER WORK AWAKENED ALL HER SENSES’
Cathy Roxas Rodrigo was six years old when her aunt, the preeminent theater actordirector-producer Naty Crame Rogers, cast her in a play. From then on, Cathy’s life was enriched due to her close association with Naty, whom she fondly called Ma Naty.
Naty — a great grandniece of Gen. Rafael Crame after whom Camp Crame was named — pursued her love for theater till her twilight years. She died on 1 February at age 98.
In this email interview, Cathy recalls being infected with Naty’s artistic passion, as well as the life lessons she learned from her.
Daily Tribune (DT): When did Naty introduce you to stage plays? How did you like it?
Cathy Roxas-Rodrigo (CR): I was six years old in 1976 and I was in the play Bakit Babae ang Naghuhugas ng Pinggan by Filomena Colendrino held at the Philippine Normal Hall. I didn’t know what to think of it then. I was just following orders from Ma Naty to cry and act frightened. I just went with the flow. It was a funny, crazy play. I just had one line,
“Inay, natatakot ako (Mom, I’m afraid).” I was the young daughter of a pregnant
tsismosa (gossip) who comically almost gave birth at the height of the play.
DT: Did you join Naty at the Sala
Theater which she founded? What was it like to do plays in a home setting? CR: In 1984, Ma Naty established the Philippine Drama Company (PDC) Amingtahanan Sala Theater at her beautiful home in Kapitolyo, Pasig. She had a round-shaped sala or living room with an opening to the garden, the dining area, the stairs to the bedrooms, and the main door entrance.
Its round shape was perfect for the many kinds of entrances and exits that we do in our plays. Ma Naty’s PDC Sala Theater was the venue for everyone who wanted to experience theater either as an actor or as backstage production staff.
Ma Naty built my confidence as an actor and gave me the opportunity to shine and be in touch with my artistic side. She did that to all the PDC Sala Theater members.
Her passion for theater was infectious! She didn’t just direct, she also educated us about the play’s literature and meaning.
We were invited to other people’s salas, as well as the legit stage at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and at St. Scholastica’s (Marikina and Manila), University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo and the United States.
I strive to keep the Sala Theater alive. My aunt gave us her blessing to continue her legacy. We are producing two of her favorite Filipino plays, Bakit Babae ang Naghuhugas ng Pinggan and Panhik Ligaw. If not for the pandemic, we would’ve had our playdate last May 2020.
DT: What were some of the memorable plays you saw or appeared in at the Sala Theater?
CR: She cast me in several of her play productions like Rajah Malakas and Dewi Maganda (Philippine Normal University), Angel at the Senakulo of Barangay Pineda, Pasig, Junto Al Pasig (PhilamLife Theater), The Love of Leonor Rivera (MET, CCP and Sala Theater), Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (CCP, Ateneo and Sala Theater), Parting at Calamba (Sala Theater and Nayong Pilipino), Parting at Camiling (Sala Theater) and Midsummer Night’s Dream (Kapitolyo, Pasig Park 6).
DT: What was she like as a director? CR: She was strict in the details no matter how minute. She would make sure there were no lapses in character and setting. We needed to be “in character” during rehearsals and performances. If we didn’t get what she’s trying to make us do, she would act it out. She was also very particular in pronunciation because she was a linguist.
DT: What was she like as an actor? CR: Ma Naty was a dedicated stage actor. She was always on time for rehearsals and came in prepared. She’d stay up late memorizing her lines and studying her character as well as the play itself. She often looked at herself in the mirror to “internalize” the character she was playing. She mastered the technique of “building the energy” as the play progressed.
Most importantly, she made sure her voice came from the diaphragm and not from the throat. She knew how to throw her voice to the audience She was a real actor in the true sense of the word!
DT: Why do you think theater was her passion?
CR: I’ve learned from her that theater is the highest form of art. Ma Naty was a voracious reader. She was enamored by literature. She grew up in a home filled with music and dance. Her mother Espectacion Cabezas and grandmother Lagora Bernal molded her to be a performer. I guess it was really in the blood. Since she was very bright, she turned out to be an exceptional actor and educator.
DT: What was she like in private? Did she have hobbies that were not theater-related?
CR: Ma Naty and her husband Col. Joe Rogers both loved gardening. They had a big, beautiful garden with various potted plants. She had a vast collection of orchids which she tended to each morning. Even if she was not feeling well, she would make sure she’d water her plants. She also had a beautiful collection of Thai furniture, paintings and statues which came from their home in Thailand where they lived for many years in the 1960s. She was also a research fellow on Asian Art and travelled around Asia.
She likewise did a lot of writing. She was an awesome writer and her penmanship was one of a kind!
DT: Why do you think she lived till 98? What was her lifestyle and diet?
CR: Believe it or not, Ma Naty would say that the reason people got sick was because they were not in theater. She attributed her long life to her theater.
I took care of her full-time in her twilight years and witnessed that though her body got weak, her mind was sharp until the very end. I think her theater work awakened all her senses and made her feel strong and inspired to live a long life and enjoy it.
Her diet was to start a meal with sliced avocado and some salt. We always had avocadoes because we had a big avocado tree. She loved good food, good cooking and a good restaurant.
DT: What life lessons did you learn from her?
CR: Don’t settle for anything but the best. No to mediocrity. I learned the value of education and hard work from her — no shortcuts!
She was an over-achiever! Because I came to know her beautiful mind, I looked forward to learning something new each day. I learned to put my best foot forward no matter how simple my task.