For all of its focus on shifting perspectives and the constant doubt that can plague relationships, it’s admirable how much Changing Partners has remained loyal to its foundations. The musical, written and composed by Vincent de Jesus and directed by Rem Zamora, is returning to the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) Theater Center—where it was first staged as a full production in 2016—and features the original cast: Agot Isidro, Jojit Lorenzo, Anna Luna, and Sandino Martin. There have been some changes, of course, such as a larger, more fully furnished set, new arrangements and additions to the score and libretto, and a cellist to accompany de Jesus’s piano. But every tweak over the years has helped the team get closer to their ideal vision of Changing Partners, without compromising the core experience of heartbreak that curiously keeps audiences coming back.
Changing Partners peeks into the relationship of Alex and Cris, two lovers with a wide age gap between them. The musical tells a single, linear story, but both partners are played as male and female throughout the show. The idea is that, even if the production is mainly concerned with something very specific (generational conflict), the use of multiple perspectives should allow the central relationship to be more universal. There are different nuances to the ways Alex and Cris are performed by the four actors, but the ending is inevitable every time. The result is at once steeped in the tradition of local media that explores the difficulties of romance, but is also much more raw than most of these stories are willing to go.
We sat down with de Jesus, Zamora, and the cast of Changing Partners to discuss stage vs. screen, the process of coordinating performances, and how the musical keeps finding new audiences to hurt.
Rogue: What’s new about this production of Changing Partners?
Sandino Martin: First of all, we’re playing Changing Partners in a bigger venue. It has a 400-person seating capacity. Syempre, nag-iiba ‘yung feeling ng play.
Rem Zamora: We’ve got a bigger set—a real set with a real set designer. Vince has made new arrangements for the entire musical.
Vincent de Jesus: We have a cellist now.
RZ: We’ve added a few lines here and there. Yes, the blocking will change by virtue of the new space. We have one new song [“Yung Pakiramdam”] that I love, and love even more because it’s been broken up. I love songs that are dialogue; I’m a stickler for those things.
VD: When I composed [the song] for the movie, [it was] as one unit. For the play, dinivide ko in half: one for Agot, one for Jojit.
RZ: And more importantly, I think the actors have grown. We were able to take a step back and look at the past. We saw stuff na hindi namin nakita dati.
Anna Luna: Mas nag-mature itong run na ‘to. Kasi andami naming dinaanan. So nag-evolve.
SM: It’s still a work in progress, which is good.
AL: Kahit paulit-ulit namin siyang ginagawa, paulit-ulit din kaming may nadi-discover na bago.
Jojit Lorenzo: Nagkaroon kami ng bagong context, nagkaroon ng bagong layers o interpretation sa character. It’s the same story pero nagkaroon kami ng bagong attack.
Agot Isidro: It’s interesting. It’s different. Even going through the rehearsals feels different for me. Last rehearsal namin, we ran on full emotions—nasaktan pa rin kami, ah!
JL: Humanda kayo!
Rogue: For the actors, how do you treat each version of your character? Are they all still the same person, or are they completely different from one another?
AI: Ako, I treat them as one.
JL: Same here.
SM: Feeling ko it’s always the same person.
“Ibang masaktan ‘pag live. Kasi syempre, sa film, na-tape na ‘yan. Ito, harap-harapan nasasaktan ka.”
AL: Same person.
SM: That’s what’s brilliant about this script, this material. It’s a story of a couple told in multiple perspectives. So gusto naming ipakita na maski kami hindi naco-confuse. Kasi ‘pag na-confuse kami, baka ‘yung audience din ma-confuse.
Rogue: Since you treat them the same way, what sort of agreements did you reach in terms of how to interpret the characters?
SM: One of the agreements na napagkasunduan namin [ni Anna] was we wanted Cris to be as fluid as possible, in the sense na you don’t see the discrepancy of gender. Because nowadays, our generation—we are more fluid. Mas open.
JL: From sa’kin papunta [kay Agot], kailangan alam niya pinanggagalingan ko, alam ko rin pinanggagalingan niya para coherent.
AI: ‘Yung film kasi, [in] five minutes, all four couples come out na. This one, hindi. Fifteen minutes or 10 minutes, [it’s] one couple. And then it passes on to the next. So it has to be the same energy getting into the next couple.
Rogue: What makes watching Changing Partners on stage different from watching it on screen?
AL: Ibang masaktan ‘pag live. Kasi syempre, sa film, na-tape na ‘yan. Ito, harap-harapan nasasaktan ka.
JL: Kasi ‘yung energy namin mararamdaman mo. It’s a live show. It’s a passing of energy through actors and as audience. ‘Yun ‘yung wala sa script.
AI: ‘Yung screen kasi parang you’re watching it and you’re not feeling the same way. It’s just there. It’s like it’s another person. But when you’re inside a play, you’re like, “Oh my god, I feel it.”
JL: Para kang nasa balkonahe mo at may nag-aaway sa kabilang balkonage at nakikita mo. It’s a firsthand experience, so mas ramdam mo lahat.
Rogue: This is the fourth incarnation of Changing Partners, following a stage reading, the initial stage performance, and the film. Do you enjoy making audiences hurt over and over again?
AL: Gusto namin ‘yon. [laughs] Masokista!
SM: Masaya e!
AL: Ang sarap gawing paulit-ulit itong materyal na ‘to.
SM: Tsaka hindi pa kami sawa doing this. As in.
AI: We like hearing them sniffle and blow their noses. Kidding, no. Actually, hindi. Nasasaktan kami for them, seriously.
RZ: [laughs] Of course, no. But I think if you really look at that question, there is a truth to it. Example: we sort of get a kick out of—every time we have friends who are total wrecks. When we say total wrecks, hindi talaga sila makapag-pagpag. So in that humorous way, yes. But it only goes to show how powerful the material is. It strikes a chord, whether you’re an Alex or a Cris. There’s a universal truth that the musical speaks of. And yes, it’s gratifying to see people affected. Kasi kung manhid ka, wow, tough crowd, man.
VD: All the lines are based on real stories. Talagang cinollate ko ‘yun. And having been through that experience… separation is separation. It’s the same thing. Some can be more subtle, some can be more obvious. And they always laugh [about] it because now we can.
RZ: I think that’s the thing—that you can actually laugh [about] it. So in a way, no, we don’t enjoy hurting people in our daily life. But when it comes to this material, I think it’s nice to see how people react to it. It’s a validation.
VD: What we did was based on truth, and hopefully, watching this—watching yourself being stupid in love—will teach you. [laughs]
Changing Partners runs from May 11-13 and May 19-20 at the PETA Theater Center. Purchase tickets at ticketworld.com.ph.