Leaving home and the people you love isn’t always an easy thing. But when opportunity beckons, one has to make a choice to follow and live the dream. Joaquin Pedro Valdes, an actor currently playing Lun Tha cover in the international production of The King & I shares the good and the bad of being a touring thespian at Christmastime. See our interview below.
When did you become a traveling thespian?
My life as a full-time actor began in March 2018 when I officially joined the UK/International tour of Miss Saigon. It was a year’s contract, and halfway through that contract, I auditioned for The King and I UK/International tour scheduled for 2019-2020. The latter would start just as my stint with Miss Saigon ended. So I’ve been on tour for almost two years now.
How was your first Christmas in the UK?
My first Christmas outside of home wasn’t in the UK, the tour brought us over to Zurich, Switzerland where we would be spending 7 weeks including Christmas and New Year. It was absolutely stunning. It was my first time to really experience snow – not just touch it, or play in it, but to really negotiate with it as if it were an everyday occurrence. My flat was approximately a 10-minute walk to the theatre, and I would have to check the weather the night before or early in the morning to know the snow situation and to dress accordingly.
I distinctly remember the first time I experienced snowfall. I think we were in the Theatre all day during our first week moving in, and after work, I step out and there it is, all the trees and streets are covered in the falling snow. It was really quite beautiful. Switzerland is basically a Christmas Card come to life. They pride themselves with the most festive and celebratory Christmas Markets. The streets are lit up with extremely elaborate lights and decorations, and everywhere you look you can find a market or “markt” selling all things Christmasy- chocolate, pudding, waffles, donuts, macaroons, hot chocolate, funnel cakes, sausages and mulled wine! I think everyone who loves Christmas should go to Switzerland at least once. It is definitively the White Christmas from our childhood.
My first official UK Christmas will happen this year. The King and I is spending Christmas and New Year in Birmingham (the setting of Peaky Blinders). Birmingham is known to have the largest Christmas Market in the UK, and I get to be with my wife which is going to be absolutely wonderful.
Do you still perform during the holidays?
Yes definitely. If anything, we get either a day off on Christmas Eve or if we’re lucky, Christmas Day but we still have shows thereabouts. Same with New Year. It’s the time of the year where families would love to go see a show together and spend time and money…so there’s definitely work. The entertainer’s life!
Are there any special preparations for this time of the year (as a performer)
I think everyone in the industry knows the challenge of being away from home during the busiest time of the year. So the company really makes an effort to organize some festivities for us. We the usual parties, drinks, and exchange gifts ceremonies- but its really the daily contribution of good cheer and kind gestures by everyone that fill us with spirit.
Are there any challenges performing during these times?
None really. By this time of the year, the company would have done multiple venues and gone into an efficient method of fitting in and running a show. Sometimes the change of weather and sudden drop in temperature takes its toll on the body, but nothing that isn’t easily overcome. Ultimately, Christmas is a time you’d love to spend with your loved ones, but there’s an unspoken pact amongst actors and theatre-makers who have chosen this profession to be family to each other, if at least for the duration of the contract. It’s really a wonderful thing to spend the holidays doing what you love with people you love.
What are the things you miss about Christmas in the PH
The food and the gatherings. Despite the stress of traffic and crowded spaces leading up to Christmas, I appreciate the fact that we are culturally “forced” into spending obligational time with friends and family. It’s a habit and practice you can easily take for granted when you have to live so far away. Out here, Christmas isn’t so much an obligation more than it is a welcome option. You won’t hear Jose Mari Chan blasting through every known public sound system. So those who really want to celebrate it do so because they choose to…not because it is expected. It’s a nice contrast and makes you appreciate what you have back home a little more.
How long have you been away?
Almost two years since March 2018. I’ve been home in Manila for a couple of short instances but really only to fix papers and documents before flying out again.
This is your #th year to spend Christmas far from home
What helps you cope with being away from the family
The Internet. The world is getting smaller and smaller because of all the tech. And we are better for it.
They say London is a gloomy place. Have you ever cried or felt very lonely during the Christmas season in UK? What was the reason?
It can get gray and gloomy. London and the UK hardly get snow. It gets cold and wet but it is still quite gorgeous. The first time I really felt the SADs (Seasonal Anxiety Disorder) wasn’t in London but in Koln, Germany. It was in the middle of winter long after Christmas and New Year and the weather was cold, snow was slushy and wet, and the days just gloomy. Similar conditions in London but there were other factors that contributed to the SADs other than the weather and the environment.
Mental Health is so under-discussed especially back in Manila where you’re just expected to “suck things up” and “deal with it”. But it’s easier to cope with it when you have a regular influx of hot piercing bright sunlight as we do in the Philippines. The weather conditions contribute immensely to your state of mind – it can magnify it or, it can actually modify it. But I don’t think the weather is the sole cause of it.
How does your wife support you in all this?
My wife is my anchor. She is the sole reason I am able to wake up inspired, ready and eager. She is the hot, bright, piercing light that I need every single day. There are many reasons to feel down, lonely and depressed, but she eclipses them all.
What was your first Christmas in Europe together like? Are there any challenges?
It was peaceful. We took a train from Zurich to Paris. It was both our first time in Paris. We spent Christmas day walking around the most romantic city in the world. And for some reason, Christmas isn’t so commercialized in Europe, so it seemed like all the Rues and streets of Paris were empty. The moon was full and it was really rather perfect. We got lost in the streets at night, and ate some excellent Chinese food. It was perfect.
What keeps you both sane?
Each other. You know the saying “we live in a crazy world?” We really do. And I mean that in both good and bad ways. There are so many things that we are discovering together about this world we live in that we wouldn’t have otherwise known if we were stuck in our little comfort zone. It was a scary decision to go on this wild adventure, but we have absolutely no regrets since. When it gets sticky, we just hold each other tighter. When it gets scary, we just kiss each other longer. When it gets dark, we just look at each other deeper.
What is the best lesson you learned as an actor on tour? Will you encourage other actors to do the same?
I learned how to really separate my work life from my private life. This is something that proved to be life and career-saving for me. Having a deep and profound life outside of work will actually improve the quality of your performance. I understand now how important holidays are and how to utilize them properly. I also have a deeper understanding of who I am as a performer, a company member, a colleague, a friend, and a husband – and of the fine fine line that separates each identity. Understanding the delineation makes you a better actor, a better professional, a better friend and ultimately makes you a better human being. I learned this the hard way, but it’s a lesson I will keep forever.