5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Ching Valdes-Aran

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Under the aegis of Diverse City Theater Company, The Pearl Project Theater Festival is currently running until July 25. If all that sounds a bit nomenclature-laden, here is the point: four plays are receiving their world premieres in the festival, running in a repertory called the Red and Blue series:

Blue Series: Jorshinelle Taleon-Sonza’s The Encounter, a full-length directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III, dramatizes an unexpected visit by the incumbent president of the Philippines in his political rival’s prison cell; and Kristine M. Reyes’ Something Blue, a one-act directed by Andrew Goldberg, which follows an estranged father’s quest to reconnect with his daughter on her wedding day.

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Red Series: Eric Gamalinda’s Resurrection, a full-length directed by Michael Sexton and starring Obie-winner Ching Valdes-Aran, which examines how the unexplained suicide of a young woman triggers a series of relentless changes in a family, tearing it apart; and another Reyes one-act, Quarter Century Baby, directed by Adam Fitzgerald, which tells the story of a parents’ surprise visit to their Filipino daughter and her American boyfriend — a visit which causes turmoil and reveals painful truths.

By description, reputation and word-of-mouth, all four plays are rich with provocation, exploration and introspection. Still, when Valdes-Aran appears in a play, that is special cause for paying attention. An actor and director, she won an Obie in 1997 for her performance in Ralph Pe√±a’s Flipzoids; her Broadway credits include Michael John LaChuisa’s The Wild Party and playing Lady Macbeth opposite F. Murray Abraham; her Off-Broadway credits are so substantial that it would be best for you to click here.

Offered the opportunity to interview Valdes-Aran, therefore, was a treat — especially as the play she is in as part of the Pearl Project Theater Festival is Resurrection, which is set in Manila and deals, per the description above, with suicide in a family and its aftermath. Her answers is pretty interesting.

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The Pearl Project Theater Festival runs through July 25 at the Harold Clurman Theatre (410 W. 42nd St.). For more information or tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit www.ticketcentral.com or click here.

And now, 5 questions Ching Valdes-Aran has never been asked — and a bonus question:

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“When you are working opposite someone you truly abhor, and the scene requires you to be ‘in love,’ how do you maneuver it to make it believable?”

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How can you memorize those lines?”

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3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Is this your ‘job’?”

4) Resurrection examines a family unwilling or unable (depending on one’s view) to face a daughter’s suicide. Does the pain of losing a child differ among cultures — between East and West? Are there elements of your character that are definably Filipino insofar as how death is handled? Or are all elements of your character noticeably universal?
I can only imagine how painful it must be to lose one’s child. I don’t think the feeling of loss differs at all in any culture. It is a human experience unless one is a…sociopath.

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I believe all elements of Anita, the mother, is universal in dealing with the suicide of Anna, her daughter.

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5) With so many acting credits to your name, plus accomplished work as a director, what are the biggest challenges for you in creating new roles? How do make sure all your prior experiences don’t crowd out the opportunity to truly learn something new?
The biggest challenge for me is to come into a role and become a complete “innocent”…to be a blank canvas…not knowing anything, seeing a world through a child’s eyes, to be curious to all the possibilities provided by the playwright and to let the script guide me to “be” the “character” I’m playing. The two- or three-week rehearsal period that our nonprofit theaters in this country can only provide makes the process almost impossible for the actors, playwrights and directors to achieve the task to it’s utmost excellence. But we try to do it. We’ve got no choice — but it is still exasperating, yet thrilling, to be challenged to create a character in such a short period of time.

Bonus question:

6) Although you are playing one role in one play, the festival consists of four plays in rep. As a theater lover, what is the value of repertory for audiences? What is the value of repertory for actors, playwrights and directors?
The Pearl Project Festival, in particular, is of great value especially for the Filipino-American audiences who hardly get the opportunity to witness their own stories on stage. It is important for the Filipino-American playwrights to get their voices heard.

The value of a repertory would be to build a safe environment for the performing artist to be free to discover, play, fail, experiment, etc., and make a “family.”

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