Friday, February 19, 2016

My letter to Anne, part 4

In 2002, I applied for a scholarship in the University of the Philippines Theater Arts Program and passed. I studied for a few years, and then went on to become the actor I always wanted to be. I worked in customer service for the money, and at night, I went to rehearsals.

Anne, you continued to write and write more books, but I thought I was too grown up to go back to them. I would run my finger down the spines of Merrick and Blood and Gold but never buy them. I would tease myself by reading the first page, and instantly get drawn again to the language, the words. Then I'd close the book shut. They reminded me happily of my high school years, and I relegated them to that part of my life. Maybe I was still afraid to go back to your books. And I turned my attention to reading purely non-fiction. Books about the acting craft. About theater.

In 2005 Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt came out. You shocked the world with that offering. I purchased it and read it. When I read the last page, I prayed to Christ. I felt the beginnings of faith in him again, in his Person, not God-as-told-to-me by someone else. But Jesus, for who he is.

Two years ago I joined a production of Aeschylus's Orestea. I've had several acting stints to my credit, have had trainings and workshops, worked with and learned from the best Filipino theater directors, but I was having so much difficulty in a particular speech in the tragedy. Young actor that I am, I asked help from Frances Makil, a celebrated and respected actress here, and who was playing Clytemnestra. We were walking home from the theater after rehearsals one night.

I said, "How come during rehearsals it seems you have a sixth sense as to how to say a line right, and where and how the character stands and moves... almost by instinct? It's almost as if every time you make a choice on stage it's always, always right. I know... many actors have told me 'it's there in the text,' but I keep looking and looking and I feel I'm missing out. Is there a secret?"

Frances smiled, and graciously replied. "Read novels."

That's what she said. I thought she was going to say something like, "Take a breath before you speak on stage," or even recommend an acting tome by Stanislavsky or Meisner or Hagen or whoever. To read fiction was the last thing I expected to hear.

She clarified for me, "You see, if you only read plays, you only get the dialogue, and it's up to you to figure out the characters' motivations and inner life. But the novel gives you all of that and more. It brings you inside a character's mind, and the plot in unfolding events. It gives you the setting. It feeds your imagination and your heart. And don't care what other people think! If you love an author, you love an author, even if it's a horror writer like Stephen King."

"I love Anne Rice," I confessed to her.

"Then read her," she said, smiling. Actors are known to be generous, and helpful towards fledgling artists. I am grateful to Frances for two things: for her expert advice to me as a young actor, and also for giving me permission to read your books again.

I began collecting your books again. I read them secretly at first, and then more openly. I met Toby O'Dare. I met Reuben Golding. And then Lestat returned. Lestat. The Prince taught me how to act after all.

I found the Anne Rice Philippines group on Facebook. Louella is, of course, part of it. And through Todd Barselow I received from you a signed paperback of The Vampire Lestat! I wanted to have all your books in hardcover, hopefully first editions. Thank God for Amazon, and booksellers everywhere, that I was able to acquire beautiful editions of your earlier work. And my friends—the characters you created—returned to fill my world and inform and fire my work in the theater. I began a blog to chronicle and celebrate my reading of your work. And thanks to your encouragement to go where the pain is, to go where the pleasure is, I am also now penning my own novel.

Happy Birthday, Anne!

With love,

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My letter to Anne, part 3

I took up Economics in college to please my dad, though I really wanted to be in the theater. At that time I was reading The Vampire Lestat, and I secretly wished Lestat would come and teach me how to act. I would audition for plays in the university guilds but wouldn't get in. My dad was a bully and a drunkard, and during the nights when he was particularly nasty I imagined Lestat arriving on a horse-drawn carriage with flair, and with his walking stick bidding me to join him. Lestat rescued me many times in my dreams.

I soon dropped out of college, not having any interest in Economics, and feeling like an utter failure. I was afraid to tell my dad. I went away and joined a community theater group that put up religious morality plays throughout the year. They provided a place for us to stay in and I began to live with the troupe. At last, I was becoming an actor!

The artistic director, John (not his real name), was studying to become a missionary pastor in a theological seminary. He wanted to use the theater as a powerful medium to share the Gospel. I thought I found my salvation in that troupe. He had taken a special liking to me. He was ten years older than I was and began mentoring me closely. I was happy. I found a brother and a friend.

One day he saw I was reading Memnoch the Devil before rehearsals. He was shocked. He said the book was evil. I protested, even volunteering to lend him some to read, but he said no. In his pompous religiosity he pronounced reading your books was wrong and a sin. I should read my Bible instead. Too fearful to lose my friendship to him and my new home, not knowing any better, I obeyed. I gathered all my paperbacks to throw away. My best friend Joan offered to receive them for safekeeping instead, but John said I would be infecting another person with the lies of the devil. Burn the books! he said. I couldn't bring myself to do so, but placed them in a trash bag and left them at a dumpster.

I wept that night saying good-bye to Azriel and Jonathan, to Guido and Tonio, to Rowan and Michael and Mona, to Maharet and Mekare, and to Louis and David and Lestat. Especially to Lestat, who would never again come on his carriage to whisk me away.

Something terrible happened. After some time, John began molesting me sexually. Every Saturday night after rehearsals we would study the Bible as a group, and when everyone else was asleep he would rape me. I was so afraid to tell anyone, fearing that they might lose their faith to find out Brother John was a pervert. I was thinking of everyone else's welfare and kept the whole thing secret. This went on for years until John married one of the actresses and migrated to Singapore where he now works as a youth pastor for a Baptist church. To this day I never had the courage to tell anyone, except my wife, Marivic, whom I also met in that theater group, and my closest friends.

At the time that it happened, I felt so low and worthless. I left that theater group. And I lost my faith in God. Jesus did not stop the repeated rapes. Neither did Lestat. I walked away.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My letter to Anne, part 2

I was a fourteen-year-old boy when I first read Interview with the Vampire and the year was nineteen ninety-one. (That sentence was meant to be read in Brad Pitt's voice.) I noticed my English teacher carrying a paperback novel along with his textbooks and class records. When I asked what the title was, it turned out to be a Stephen King novel. I have always loved the horror genre, not because I was immune to being scared, far from it, I wasn't a particularly brave boy, but exactly because I loved getting scared in the movies. My dad indulged me with VHS movies of the supernatural and the macabre. I had a grandmother who told scary stories. The next day my teacher loaned me Cujo and Pet Sematary. I read them and got sick to my stomach. These stories were scary all right. I thought I'd read more.

One day I was reading Salem's Lot when Louella saw me. Louella belonged to the honors class, where the brainy students with good grades and bright futures were placed. I, on the other hand, was right smack in the middle of mediocrity: placed in the third class in a caste system of five classrooms. Louella told me, "Oh, that's King's book about vampires. If you want a real good vampire novel, I'll lend you one tomorrow." That tomorrow was when I met first Louis, and Claudia. And Lestat. Oh, Lestat!

Interview with the Vampire terrified and fascinated me. It had lots of scary scenes. But its monsters were not the stock villains in the films I saw as a kid. They were seductive and powerful and beautiful. And they spoke as if from the depths of their souls—though Louis might think he has lost his to eternal damnation and Lestat, I imagine, might even laugh at the idea of vampires having souls. When I finished the book (I devoured it in four days), I was stunned. I remember it was dusk when I read the last page. I closed the book and stared out of the window for a long time, aware only of my breath and the rise and fall of my chest, all thoughts silent in my mind.

The next day I returned the book to Louella. I wanted to say I was hungry for more Anne Rice, but all I managed was, "Thank you." She smiled and slowly nodded her head, knowing that I've just been through some religious experience reading Interview, quite the same as she had. She was in the middle of reading Cry to Heaven, and when I looked I saw a lot of them in the honors class were reading Cry, too, and were surreptitiously whispering about the plot points, not minding the Science teacher who was explaining the wonders of Physics up front. I made a mental note to save my allowance so I can read Cry myself, and when I did I was startled to find no vampires in it. It was a historical novel! I wanted to sing with Guido and Tonio!

I met up with my best friend, Joan, one weekend. She attended an all-girl school run by nuns. I told her that I was reading books by Anne Rice and she squealed. She knew you to be the real A. N. Roquelaure. She had not read your other books yet. She handed me her paperback of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, a novel that neither had vampires or castrati, but gorgeous male slaves with erect organs, and Beauty, luscious Beauty. That book fed my teenage sexual fantasies and I must have lost ten pounds reading it!

I read other popular writers at that time, too. I read Sheldon's thrillers because everybody else in my class did, as well as Archie comics and Choose Your Own Adventure books. But there was a beauty to your language, the prose in your books, that left all these other pop lit a little dry. Your writing was akin to the classics my Literature teacher made us read and submit reports of: Dickens, Wilde, Chesterfield, Hemingway. Your books had substance and gravitas.

I believed in your stories. I believed in the Talamasca. I believed that your stories held truths masquerading as fiction. I believed you to be privy to some arcane, ancient knowledge, and you were cleverly revealing these histories to the world in the guise of the novel.

(part 3 tomorrow)