Making Theater From Manila to Moscow
A Moment of Realization: Go With Your Gut
Before taking to the stage, Brian Tibayan had a successful career in Manila, Philippines, as a creative director, lecturer, radio announcer and television voiceover actor. But he left the corporate life behind after being downsized in 2013 and then again in 2015.
“It was a moment of realization,” Tibayan said. “I wanted to do something that I was always interested to do but never got the chance. There‘s little room to find time for other activities when you’re steeped in the daily 9 to 6 grind. I decided to go with my gut and finally try out theatre. ”
A drama class cemented his love for the stage. His mentor, an acclaimed director and actor in the Philippines, inspired and encouraged him to study abroad if given the opportunity. In 2016, he vacationed in the U.S. and got a taste of what life might be like in America. In 2018 he moved to Moscow to study acting at the University of Idaho.
“I chose to study in the U.S. because of the diverse, thriving artistic opportunities for actors,” Tibayan said.
U of I’s Theatre Arts program appealed to him because of its competitive training in acting.
“I was attracted to its openness to exploring and creating new and contemporary work, and the opportunity to actively participate in regional and national theater festivals,” he said.
Tibayan has extracted the most out of his time at U of I. In his first year as a Master of Fine Arts in performance candidate, he participated in a regional theater festival, performed two demanding roles in Department of Theatre Arts’ productions and was invited to perform in two staged readings with the Montana Repertory Theatre.
Overcoming Fears and Gaining Confidence
Thus far, Tibayan has been cast in two hefty parts at U of I, both of them original works. The experiences greatly altered him, he said.
He appeared on the Hartung stage in the world premiere of “The Three Keys of Captain Hellfire,” portraying a blind, peg-legged pirate. A raucous play with music, Tibayan also had the opportunity to stretch his vocal cords via several solos, a first for him.
“Captain Hellfire helped me overcome the biggest fear I ever had to face onstage, that is to sing in public,“ he said. “I had to rewire years and years of reinforced self-doubt.“
He credits the faculty, cast and crew for helping him gain confidence and learn to sing his heart out.
As Vernon in “The Last Mother in the House of Chavis,” Tibayan played the father of a drag queen, struggling with guilt and forgiveness.
The play was Tibayan’s first U.S. production and he didn’t know what to expect. He had concerns about being an international student and not fitting in. But he soon realized his fears were mostly in his head.
“There was so much love and support from the faculty and the cast and crew,” Tibayan said.
In the end, he received a nomination for his role and went on to compete in February 2019 at the Region 7 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Eugene, Oregon. The annual event includes students from colleges and universities across the country. U of I competes in Region 7, which includes Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Alaska, northern Nevada and Northern California.
Traveling the West through Theatre
Tibayan auditioned for a roomful of theatre company casting directors at the theatre festival and landed three invitations. He ultimately chose to work with Michael Legg, artistic director of Montana Repertory Theatre, to perform in two new play workshops in Missoula, Montana.
The experience put Tibayan in the midst of high-caliber creative minds such as Legg, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Martyna Majok, up-and-coming playwright Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin and dramatist Sarah Lunnie.
“I went into the workshop trusting and open to the process,” Tibayan said. “It was an amazing experience to work with professionals with a clear understanding that everyone works in the service of the play and the playwright.”
Networking with Professionals
Both Montana plays, “Sanctuary City” by Majok and “The Bakunawa” by Mei-Shing Garvin, featured a diverse group of actors.
“I have always felt strongly about diversity and inclusion as my personal advocacies, and I appreciate that there was a deliberate effort to cast actors from diverse backgrounds,” Tibayan said.
Directing “The Bakunawa” was Marti Lyons, a 2017 graduate of U of I MFA Theatre Arts program.
“Working with Marti Lyons was such an honor, ” Tibayan said. “To see an alum-in-action was a testament to the competency and richness of our theatre program. Marti was dependable, hardworking, smart and yet giving and very approachable at the same.“
Living the American Dream
As Tibayan approaches his second year at U of I, he finds himself reflecting on the American way of life and the obvious differences from his home country.
Being an international student has its own set of challenges, Tibayan said.
“You learn how to embrace that emotional vulnerability,” he said. “Being away from home gives you more grit. You’ll be in situations you never thought you’d be in.”
Article by Kelly O'Neill, Department of Theatre Arts
Published August 2019