‘Ang Huling El Bimbo’ triple threat Gab Pangilinan on playing strong female leads

‘Ang Huling El Bimbo’ triple threat Gab Pangilinan on playing strong female leads

In this Q&A, she takes us through her journey as a full-time theater actress.

There are actors whose stars are on the rise, and then there are firecracker comets shooting across the galaxy with so much brilliance all you can do is gape at the light they left behind. You count the days until their next appearance. Part of you wonders if you’ll ever see them again. But with breakout theater actress Gabriela Pangilinan, you never have to wait too long before she’s back on stage again and knocking the house down with each performance. 

When we caught up with Gab at last week’s Keds Ladies Unite launch for Women’s Equality Day, she had just finished rehearsals for an event in Okada, closed a successful run of jukebox musical Ang Huling El Bimbo, and was getting ready to open Rak of Aegis this week. Recently, she’s earned plenty of raves and glowing reviews for her moving, show-stopping portrayal of Joy in El Bimbo

We sat down recently with the sunny and charming Gab, who shared with us her journey into musical theater, the moment she knew she was in it for good, and how each role has prepared her for the next. 

 

Young STAR: Did you always know you wanted to be involved in theater? 

Gab Pangilinan: Yes, but I didn’t do it right away. When I graduated from Ateneo, nag-finance ako for a year. I was a broker. In the end, gusto ko talagang mag-teatro. I remember I was working at the office and somebody asked me if I was performing at that time, which I wasn’t. Sabi niya, Rak of Aegis is looking for an alternate, can you come audition? Kasi yung bahay ko at that time malapit sa PETA. So parang ako, okay, sige, why not? I was thinking it could be a side thing. When I got there, I auditioned. As in, naka-corporate pa ako. Tapos sumayaw ako, kumanta. Then they were like, the photoshoot’s ongoing right now, can you go home, get dressed, and come back here? So I would go to work from nine to five, then I’d rehearse from six to 10, and then wala na, I was completely in love with it. After that, I went straight into it and quit my job two months into doing theater, tapos tuloy-tuloy na. 

Catch Up: We sat down with theater actress Gab Panaligan during the Keds Women’s Equality Day Event

When did you realize that acting was something you wanted to pursue for the long haul? 

I think it was only after I had tried corporate work, because prior to that I would do it for fun. You know how everybody is like, oh, that’s just a hobby, you can’t really do that for a living because you won’t earn much. It was really ingrained in my head. But when I was in the office, all I could think about was rehearsing. Sakto rin yung timing ko. Theater was booming, companies were staging plays left and right. When I saw that I could actually do it full-time, I said, okay, game. I’ll do it. 

 

I was wondering about the mental and physical work that goes into building a character like Joy, who goes through so much. How did you prepare for that role? 

Joy was actually the most difficult. That’s why I find it interesting that I did Side Show first, then Mula sa Buwan, then Ang Huling El Bimbo. If I was scared for Side Show, I was even more afraid for Mula sa Buwan. And then Joy just took the cake. I think it was because of the kind of woman she represents. El Bimbo tells a real story about real people and there are women who go through what Joy did. Even after the show, there have been audiences who have messaged me and thanked me, because seeing what Joy had to go through was a form of healing for them. Sobrang rigorous yung process namin in making the show what it [was]. 

Gab as Joy in ‘Ang Huling El Bimbo The Musical’ | Photo by Myke Salomon

How was your experience on the set of El Bimbo and working with your fellow castmates? 

Rollercoaster ride talaga siya! It was the hardest show to put up, not just for me, but for all of my co-actors. Siguro because the story was so important, and working with this team—Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Dexter Martinez Santos, Myke Salomon—all of these people strive for excellence and won’t expect anything less. Lalo na with us, kasi ‘di ba there’s the young characters and the present characters, so we all had to work together to tell the story. If we didn’t, if we went on our own, wala talagang mangyayari. Sir Dex kept reminding us that we’re a team—nobody could do it alone. We had to listen to each other and trust each other during the entire process. 

 

How do you stay focused? 

In moments of doubt, you need a certain level of kapal ng mukha and strength and confidence to be able to do what you do, because when you’re onstage, wala eh, you have to be completely vulnerable and bare. That’s why it’s so tiring—you don’t have shields, you don’t have walls up. It takes practice and stamina. When you’re rehearsing, at first you think you know what you’re doing and then after two or three weeks, you’re like, what’s going on? There are days when I find myself crying for no reason because I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. But it’s really just never being complacent, always working hard, and trusting the people you’re working with. You can’t do it alone, lalo na in the theater, because it’s true that it takes a village. 

Photo courtesy of Atlantis Theatrical

There are days when I find myself crying for no reason because I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. But it’s really just never being complacent, always working hard, and trusting the people you’re working with. You can’t do it alone, lalo na in the theater, because it’s true that it takes a village. 

What advice do you have for young people who want to do what you do? 

Don’t give up, really. It’s cliché but it’s really what it is. You will experience rejection more than anyone. You audition, and there are times when you win some, there are times when you lose a lot. You shouldn’t be disheartened. Just keep practicing. When I’m not doing a show, I try to find ways to practice. Know how to assess yourself. And whatever you feel you need to work on, that’s what you work on. Read a lot of books: there are a lot of acting and theater books. But nothing beats practicing it. Go lang, promise! You’ll end up meeting people who will support you and push you to be better. 

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