Manila Bulletin - - Lifestyle - By REGINA DE VERA Por­trait by KAMOLE ORENSE

It ac­tu­ally be­gan with a ran­dom for­tune read­ing ses­sion. I was seated on a long ta­ble with a cou­ple of ac­tors and pro­duc­tion staff. The man seated ad­ja­cent to me ran­domly lifted a small pile of black hair­pins on the ta­ble and dropped them lightly.

He looked at them, and then looked at me. “Do you have plans of go­ing abroad?” he said. I replied, “Yes!” To this, he an­swered, “You’re not ful­fill­ing what you’re meant to be ful­fill­ing.” I was like, “What?!” In my head, I al­ways ful­fill what I am meant to be ful­fill­ing. I know that much about my­self. But he re­it­er­ated it. I ex­plained that in­deed I had dreams of study­ing abroad, but not now. I had a five-year plan, and I was only into my sec­ond year. The “abroad” thing was sched­uled on the fifth year. Still, I got no as­sur­ance from him. Af­ter more prod­ding and weirder for­tune telling through a bunch of black hair­pins thrown ran­domly on a ta­ble, I fi­nally asked, “What brought this about?” He said, “You’re ready. For a jour­ney.”

I quickly dis­missed this sce­nario be­cause I thought it was fool­ish. How could any­one have in­sight into a per­son’s present state by read­ing a con­fig­u­ra­tion of a pile of black hair­pins thrown ran­domly? It was some­thing not meant to be taken se­ri­ously.

Un­for­tu­nately, this event con­tin­ued to haunt my con­science weeks af­ter it oc­curred. Af­ter about a month, I de­cided to speak to a re­li­able coun­selor—some­one who had taken me in dur­ing a very rough time—and I told her about what she thought about me leav­ing the theater com­pany I’d been with for four years (at that time) and ap­ply­ing for grad­u­ate school. The re­ply I got was, “What are you wait­ing for?”

I was not wait­ing for any­thing any­more. Less than a month be­fore I spoke with her, I won “Out­stand­ing Fe­male Lead Per­for­mance in a Play” dur­ing the Gawad Buhay PHILSTAGE Awards for the Per­form­ing Arts. Af­ter that, I was no longer get­ting parts that show­cased my range and was afraid I had reached a plateau. My coun­selor pointed out to me that maybe this low pe­riod in my work was meant to give me time to work on my grad­u­ate school ap­pli­ca­tion.

I re­mem­ber feel­ing sick to the stom­ach ev­ery time I drag my­self to even visit the web­sites of my tar­get schools. I knew that this step would be so cru­cial to the dreams I have nur­tured since high school. Know­ing that the time came for me to ac­tu­ally do some­thing about them made me sick to the stom­ach. Dreaming is fun. Ex­e­cu­tion is deadly, in­con­ve­nient, and down­right fright­en­ing, es­pe­cially when it costs a lot of money. I knew there was no way around get­ting into any of the top drama schools with­out a live au­di­tion. The prob­lem was, I have never trav­eled in­ter­na­tion­ally (be­yond Asia) be­fore, nor do I have a US Visa. Nev­er­the­less, I de­cided to go about this jour­ney one step at a time, not telling any­body ex­cept my par­ents and a cou­ple of peo­ple I asked for help with my ap­pli­ca­tion. If the path paves the way for me then I will trudge on. But if the path proves ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, I would take it as a sign that this would not be meant for me.

A few days af­ter I sub­mit­ted my pre-screen­ing video last Novem­ber, my mother spoke to me in my room. She ex­plained to me that our fam­ily was not rich, and that this would not be a good time to shell out funds for some­one to go all the way to New York City. I might have to de­fer the ap­pli­ca­tion to an­other time. Af­ter the con­ver­sa­tion, it was as if my heart had stopped.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, I re­ceived an email from Juil­liard Drama Ad­mis­sions. It said, “Dear Ma. Regina, The Drama Di­vi­sion fac­ulty have re­viewed your pre-screen­ing ma­te­ri­als and would like to in­vite you to an in-per­son au­di­tion for The Juil­liard School's Ac­tor Train­ing Pro­gram. Please note, this is not an of­fer of ad­mis­sion, nor is it a guar­an­tee of ad­vance­ment in the call­back process.”I quickly called my mother and broke down in tears. I did not ex­pect to re­ceive the pre-screen­ing re­sults this quickly. I re­mem­ber think­ing, “Oh God, maybe I do have some sort of tal­ent af­ter all.” I told my mother to not worry about money, I will use my child­hood sav­ings to fly to New York. Deep within, I felt that the uni­verse has spo­ken. This was a sign for me to trudge on.

How do you know meant for you or not?

When I en­tered the room where the Juil­liard Drama Di­vi­sion fac­ulty gath­ered all 200 ap­pli­cants sched­uled to au­di­tion on Jan. 24, 2015, I be­gan to cry silently. Richard Feld­man, as­so­ciate direc­tor of the Drama Di­vi­sion, fa­cil­i­tated the ori­en­ta­tion for the ap­pli­cants sched­uled to au­di­tion that day. In his speech, he pointed out, “You are not here to im­press us. We are here to find you. We do not know what tal­ent means, but what we do know is there is hard work.” The more Richard spoke, the more I con­tin­ued to cry. I was prob­a­bly the lone ap­pli­cant seated near the end of the room, silently bawl­ing while ev­ery­one else got ori­ented.

I re­ceived a call­back from Juil­liard drama on the evening of Feb. 14 this year. I learned of my ad­mis­sion to the MFA pro­gram two days be­fore my 26th birth­day last March. All this time, I did not tell any­one, with the ex­cep­tion of my par­ents. There was still a fi­nan­cial hur­dle to over­come, and I wanted to pro­tect my jour­ney from judg­ment.

My ini­tial plan was to keep si­lent about the en­tire story: get the stu­dent visa, go to school, wait a cou­ple of months, and then make an of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment. I wanted to come out ac­com­plished, com­pleted, and ful­filled. Un­for­tu­nately, af­ter nearly two months of painstak­ingly seek­ing fund­ing from fam­ily mem­bers, in­sti­tu­tions, and pos­si­ble bene­fac­tors I have not even man­aged to raise a quar­ter of the amount of fund­ing I needed to meet the school’s dead­lines.

I was an­gry. What kind of a uni­verse ex­ists that would al­low some­one to get this far and then not be able to go be­cause of money? I de­cided that what­ever hap­pens, I will fin­ish what I have be­gun even if it meant hav­ing to come out in public— even if it meant com­ing out un­fin­ished.

An alum­nus of Juil­liard Drama ad­vised us dur­ing fi­nal round call­backs that we were not there to im­press the fac­ulty, but to re­veal our­selves. It was prob­a­bly my self-rev­e­la­tion that got me in, and it might also be self-rev­e­la­tion that will ac­tu­ally get me to go. I was afraid of com­ing out un­fin­ished, be­cause I was afraid to fail un­der the public eye. Now that I have come out, there is no point living in fear. The uni­verse al­ready paved the way, and my turn has come to fin­ish it off.

There is one quote that best ex­plains what is hap­pen­ing to me right now. It’s from Nana Kofi Ac­quah: “The world is ob­sessed with des­ti­na­tions: Where are you? Where are you go­ing? But mean­ing is found in jour­neys, the in be­tweens, the stops, the in­ter­sec­tions, and ev­ery­thing that hap­pens on the way.”

This has been the cra­zi­est in-be­tween that came my way.

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