The best advice that Joreen Bautista has ever received is, it’s best to come prepared, if not more than what is asked or expected of her.
But even she was caught off-guard, failing to anticipate a pivotal moment in her life.
After hours and hours of practice and study, there was still one thing Bautista didn’t prepare for.
All the success that would come her way after landing the lead role of Kim in Miss Saigon.
A whole new world
“I started this show when I was 17. And at the beginning of the story, Kim is also 17. She’s young, she’s innocent. I have a feeling she was also brought up in a somewhat sheltered environment,” Bautista tells Lifestyle Asia.
Just as how the fictional nightclub Dreamland proved shocking for Kim, everything Bautista witnessed around her was new.
“Now I used the parallelism there was between my life and Kim’s to draw out that sort of character she would have or any young girl would have when put in a place like Dreamland, where prostitution happens and where all sorts of things happen out of desperation to find a solution or perhaps a way out of the life they are facing,” Bautista recounts.
Additionally, the thespian attributed much of the magic she created onstage to the creative team, who helped her provide a fresh and original take on Kim.
Although Miss Saigon was by no means a new musical and its songs were no strangers to Bautista, who grew up loving musicals, it was a challenge in itself to stand alongside generations of actors previously cast as Kim—including Filipinos.
“Like with the different Kims, they will each have their own story to tell as persons… I would say finding my own Kim was not easy. And it never will be after hearing legendary actors from previous productions perform their take. But as I was saying, the creative team gave me such a comfortable space. I guess a creativity-inducing space to form the kind of Kim I can offer,” Bautista appreciates.
The different stage crew members made time to get to know Bautista, as well her unique experiences and stories. They were then able to incorporate her personal narratives in one-on-one workshops to help her find her Kim.
“Apart from my already existing similarities with Kim, us being both 17, innocent, and all that helped create my own version; I was guided by my directors, my musical directors, vocal coaches even—to draw past emotions, to channel what is required for effective storytelling,” Bautista credits.
How far I’ll go
From playing alternate Kim in the UK tour of the award-winning musical from 2017 to 2019, she is now preparing to take on cover Kim in Miss Saigon Copenhagen next year.
The upcoming production will be performed in Danish. This means Bautista will have to relearn everything in a different language and possibly even a new choreography.
Aside from learning another language from scratch, the actress sees her next project as an opportunity to address her room for improvement.
“My Kim felt like magic to portray, but it was far from perfect. First of all, my voice, as an instrument, I like to say it still develops and there is a continuous journey to get better. So I want to clean some rough edges in some of the songs. I also want to add layers to some scenes,” Bautista shares.
Taking an extra step to prepare professionally, she even applies lessons from her communications technology management course at Ateneo de Manila University. This specializes in marketing, particularly integrated marketing communications.
“In marketing, we would use this template that walks us through or gives us a deeper look into the lives of the consumer or the target market. The template gets us to list the consumer’s needs, their likes, their dislikes, their values, their insights, their motivations, and whatnot. I actually used the same virtual board to go deeper into the life of Kim. So I treated Kim like my consumer before I got into her character,” Bautista explains.
From there, she found herself rediscovering Kim and what the character went through that is not really acted out in the musical’s storyline.
“Like she lost her parents, her home was burned. These are things the musical does not show but are actually told. And I feel like it’s really important to play out these unseen moments of her journey,” Bautista analyzes.
She did, however, admit that she has yet to start learning Danish.
“I think what helps is this show is a sung-through musical. I wouldn’t be required to really speak much. And I think singing in a different language helps one learn the language better. It excites me even if it’s scary and intimidating,” Bautista cheers.
After all her experience, she has learned to worship the stage and everyone who’s part of it.
“I feel like there is that magic that can never be mimicked…the in-the-momentness of live theater or live performing. The heartbeat of having one shot at a particular show and the thrill of improvising if things don’t go as planned. And knowing that just meters away, there is a live audience. People in the flesh, there to watch, present to watch,” Bautista elucidates.
This newfound appreciation also translates to her greater respect for everyone in the theater profession. From the directors and actors, to the dressers and wig department, she learned that everyone has a larger role to play.
“I would say don’t make it difficult for them to do their jobs. Listen to them, communicate well with them. If you have your concerns, try to find that space where both parties are comfortable. So it’s like a give and take and make sure you are also doing your part,” Bautista advises.
Studying at Ateneo only reinforced her humanistic values. Here, she met many “amazing, talented” mentors including professors who became her friends.
“Ateneo always instills in its students to be a person with and for others. I don’t know what else the future brings or what new exciting thing God has planned out for me. But the very takeaway I have that will always be relevant no matter the industry I find myself in, is to listen, to respect, and to love the people around me,” Bautista reflects.
Into the unknown
Beyond Miss Saigon, the star has at least one other dream role in mind.
“I would love to voice a Disney Princess… that feels far-fetched. But it has never stopped becoming my dream since I was a little girl. I wish to be part of the Disney family,” Bautista manifests.
As the “main character” of her own story, Bautista decides to be “the girl who handled life with so much grace.” Though she wants to be strong enough to defend herself, ultimately, she chooses kindness.
“Now that I am certain that I will be tested in this life like every other person will, I know there will be moments that will force me not to be at my best thinking or my best behavior. I cannot even promise that I would be able to put myself together when these moments come,” Bautista admits.
Notwithstanding, she wants to strive to be gracious, even in defeat.
“I want the story of Joreen, outside of Kim, outside of any other role, to be about a girl who stood up with the strength of the Lord after being knocked down. A girl who after having her chin down, sophisticatedly put her tiara back on and sang again,” Bautista concludes.
That’s the one role where she will always come prepared beyond what is asked or expected of her. Not the Disney Princess that she aspires to be, but the Disney Princess that she is.
Photos KIERAN PUNAY of STUDIO 100
Creative Direction PAOLO TORIO
Art Direction MARC YELLOW
Sittings Editor CANDY DIZON
Styling ELDZS MEJIA
Assist CARL VINCENT ALBERTO
Make-up LILIAN YEUNG
Assist VERLYN VELOZ
Hair ARJAY ZURITA