eing "Miss Ampalaya" was not hard . . . but it wasn't easy either.
When all of us at Iskwelahang Pilipino [Bedford Massachusetts] first heard about the musical by Michael Dadap being prepared for the 25th anniversary celebration, everyone was talking about it. A lot of people wanted to know who would play the main character, "Ampalaya," the bitter, green vegetable, I secretly wanted the part. I knew I could sing. I wanted to show everyone! But of course I was being cocky and over-confident. I didn't say anything about wanting the part. I just wished and hoped I would be able to get it. But I didn't know what I was getting myself into.
It was casting time. It was the day they would announce who would play the parts for "The Legend of the Ampalaya," and I was on edge. Everyone was lined up in their rows. Our director, Tita Patty was standing in front of us. She started to call our parts and who would play them. When it was my turn, I got-MISS AMPALAYA! I was ecstatic! I got what I wanted! Now, I thought everything was going to be easier from here on, but I was wrong.
Rehearsal time came and we had to learn how to dance, sing, talk and walk. Everything we did had to be good. Good and perfect! We did scenes over and over and over to get them down pat. As for our singing and dialogue, we were told that we were going "too fast," we were told to "project," to "feel the part." They needed us to speak up and my voice kept cracking. How embarrassing!
Author as Miss Ampalaya "a pale and tasteless gourd before she turns green and bitter as all ampalayas tend to be." (photo by Charlie Castro)
As the days got closer to show time, the rehearsal schedule got intensive, we met every Saturday and Sunday. I started to miss my friends. They would ask me to go with them to the movies and I would have to pass due to full-day rehearsals. I would get homework on the weekends and I would stay up late at night to keep up. There was too much pressure. I wanted to maintain my A-student status in school and yet I wanted to be good in my role as Miss Ampalaya.
I worked out my dance routines, my voice, my lines. I wanted it to be perfect but I couldn't do it. I wanted to quit! I was tired. I thought that maybe they should get someone else to play the part. There was still time, I thought., but I didn't say anything. Then on May 31, 2001, it happened. The show was just a couple of weeks away and it happened. My Dad died.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, my brother Carl and I would go to karate at 6pm. As usual, on this particular Thursday, my Dad took us to karate after school. I did not realize we had said our good-byes for the last time. Carl and I had no idea what happened. Actually, not one of us in the family had a clue that there was something physically wrong with my father. It turned out my Dad suffered a fatal heart attack. He died at exactly 6:15 p.m. that day. I cried the entire night. I blamed myself for not being able to be there with my mom to help her when he collapsed. I thought about that for a long time. Even today, a little part of me still feels that way. I blamed God for taking my Dad away so soon. I was 13 and Carl was going to turn 12 in a week. How could this happen so suddenly? Why now? It was so unfair I just wanted to crawl in a corner and die myself.
When Tita Patty asked me if I wanted to continue to do the role, I almost decided not to. The show was just weeks away and I thought "the show must go on!' My Dad watched Carl and me with pride at rehearsals. He saw my mother make my costume. He was happy for us so I knew that he would have wanted me to continue. So I was back at rehearsals!
Balancing school, mourning my father's death and attending Iskwelahang Pilipino kept me busy. I kept plugging away. Finally it was IP's 25th anniversary show. It was a huge success! All of us did such a great job. In my final solo song, "What have I done to you?" I belted everything out. I gave it my all! At the chorus line, when I was called last to take a bow, the applause for me was deafening. It was so cool to hear. I knew my Dad was proud of me and he had the best seat above. At that moment, I knew that everything was worth the hard work and for the rest of my life everything would be okay. I knew because my Dad would be there every step of the way.
© Luz Maurillo