PalabasTayo sat down and went unscripted with the stars of Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group’s “The Band’s Visit”, an uplifting story of bridging two cultures through the transformative power of music. It has been lauded by both critics and audiences not only for its enduring message of love and acceptance but also its haunting score by David Yazbeck and book by Itamar Moses.

The talented international premiere cast in Manila led by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (Dina), Rody Vera (Tewfiq), Mark Bautista (Haled), and Nino Alejandro (Avrum) were present during the press dinner last March 4, 2020, and have graciously answered some of our questions regarding their experiences and insights to “ The Band’s Visit”.

The interview with the the cast of The Band's Visit
(L-R) Nino Alejandro, Rody Vera, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, and Mark Bautista

Palabas Tayo: The crux of the conflict in “The Band’s Visit” is anchored in the historical friction between members of the Nation of Israel and the Arab nations that surround them. It may be context that not a lot of Filipinos are familiar with. Are there any directorial or artistic choices that were made to reframe or address this possible issue?

Menchu Lauchenco-Yulo: Basically, not really, because the story does not revolve around that. In fact the tension is not even highlighted, and it’s basically about human need, which is basic to any race regardless. Whether you are Filipino, Chinese, American, Arab, or from Israel, everybody needs to be loved, everybody is lonely, everybody wants something in their lives, so that’s a basic human need that transcends any kind of race, so that is what The Band’s Visit is about. And how music connects them as a universal language.

Rody Vera: The Band’s Visit might really feel and sound foreign once you enter theater. But get past the first two to three minutes, you will get to relate not with the issues of Israel-Arab relationships, but with human and individual stories they hold and will reveal later. So in terms of directorial adjustments, wala siyang ginawa to make it clearer, making it more relateable in that sense because the stories of these particular characters, pag tinanggal mo yung kanilang pagiging Arab at yung kanilang pagiging Israeli, they become very relateable because they are human, human emotions, human stories that are very much relevant sa atin.

PalabasTayo: The original material is meant as a comment on finding the common ground between two completely disparate cultures and ideologies, do you feel, as part of this production, any parallels in a local context?

Nino Alejandro: Definitely! I think in any culture, any race, or any country, there are things that we feel that makes us different, when sometimes we’re just blind to the fact that we are actually very similar. I guess there are projected differences, but when it comes down to it; things like love and music, that’s a universal language.

Mark Bautista: Hindi nawawala yung iba-iba kayo ng ideologies, merong friction. Even sa atin like sa Mindanao. I think mas makakarelate ang mga Pinoy because of that topic: Even in Politics or Showbiz.

Rody Vera: Ang daming parallels. Especially when we relate to people outside our country. They come in and they get “lost”. The way we relate to a lot of foreigners, kahit Cebuanos, we have preconceived notions. Mas maiintindihan natin sila nag-open up tayo.

PalabasTayo: Another theme in the material is the concept of loneliness and the desire to connect with other people even if they may be strangers, can you recall any situation where you felt compelled to share things with relative strangers you wouldn’t otherwise share with people you know well?

Mark Bautista: When I did a show in the US, I think may times na kahit sa mga bago ko lang kakilala I think I shared some part of my loneliness, my issues sa buhay, kahit hindi naman major, pero may ganong moment na meron kang trust pa rin na ibibigay, because you know na you just want to share.

Rody Vera: I’ve never done that in a long time! With regard to relating or revealing my stories to strangers, I’ve never done that in a long time. But I think I can remember having done that overnight, I guess it feels a lot safer in a sense. I don’t know with the age of social media, but it feels a lot safer dahil hindi ka nage-expect ng judgment.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo: So the whole idea in (The) Band’s Visit is how they communicate with each other, at least struggle to, because of the language barriers. Have I ever been in a similar situation where I connect with a stranger? Not to my knowledge. I have never really experienced that. Although, there are moments, brief moments, where a stranger just randomly shows you kindness, and it’s something you remember. And you’re like “He didn’t have to do that, but he was nice enough to do that.” And it’s those little gestures that make you have faith in humanity, and say “Life is good. People are good.”. And people who show you random acts of kindness, they don’t even think it registered, but it does.

The Band's Visit actors talk about the show

PalabasTayo: One of the things the characters use to bridge the gap between their culture is a shared love of music, have you experienced forging a connection through music with someone who you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten along with?

Nino Alejandro: Music is definitely something I have used to connect with people that I don’t speak the same language with. As a musician and a singer, in different countries that I’ve been to, sometimes I’m working with Japanese musicians, or I’ve worked with Korean musicians, and we really had a language barrier. But the music, the notes on the paper, the chords that we were playing is what actually brought us together, we kind of understood each other, and afterwards we had gotten along better, and respected each other more.

Rody Vera: Using music to communicate with someone, especially those na hindi ko masyandong ka-relate. Well, that has never happened to me, but I won’t erase that possibility na maaring sa music kami pwedeng mag-usap o magkasundo kung sakali man. Pwede naming mangyari yun.

PalabasTayo: If you can pick a character from the show that is closest to you in terms of personality, who would it be, and what dish would you serve them for dinner if they were to spend the night in your house?

Rody Vera: Picking a character who I can totally relate with in The Band’s Visit would be The Telephone Guy. I totally get his loneliness, his anxiety, his longing; kasi nangyari sa akin yan nung bata ako. Kaya ipagluluto ko siya ng Beef Bourguignon ni Julia Child.

Mark Bautista: I think kung may character sa show na gusto kong ma-meet at pwede kong i-invite for dinner, I think Tewfiq would be a great character, mainly because he’s very mature, and marami siyang experiences sa buhay na pwede niyang i-share sa akin. For dinner, I think steak would be best because he’s a guy and that’s the easiest meal na pwedeng i-serve.

Nino Alejandro: It wouldn’t be my character, Avrum. It would probably be the role of Haled, played by Mark Bautista. I am a musician, I’ve been called a “Ladies Man” in the past. And I guess if he were to come over, I would prepare maybe some grilled meat and some hummus and some bread.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo: The closest to me would probably be Dina. Only because of her zest for life, and she doesn’t give up hope. She’s settled, her life is where it’s at, but she doesn’t give up hope. And it’s always constantly there: the possibilities of something happening in her life. And I think in that sense I’m very optimistic, I don’t let things get me down, I bounce back. I make a very good turkey: with the stuffing and if I can get some truffle oil, I’ll put it inside, because I want to show Dina the best dish that I can prepare for her. Something more American than from Israel. I think she will like that.

People are devastated that “The Band’s Visit” By Atlantis Theatrical scheduled to run from March 13-29, 2020 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati has been CANCELED due to fears of Coronavirus. Tickets will be refunded by Ticketworld.    

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