Rosario Roselyn Perez: A Rose(lyn) by any other name

By Nina Estrella

For my assignment to interview my good friend and high school classmate Roselyn Perez, I was reading about her most recent accomplishment – this year’s Phil stage Gawad Buhay winner for Female Lead Performance in a Play, and I was not at all surprised that she won over other popular actresses like Cherry Pie Picache, who alternated with Roselyn in playing the female lead character Dr. Gemma Almonte in PETA’s ;Under My Skin,’ a play in Pilipino delving into thePhilippine HIV/AIDS situation.

Even as a teenage student, this talent was already on display, as Roselyn received a certificate of recognition for exemplary performance in both drama and song during our high school graduation.

ln high school Roselyn played Lucy in the musical ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ staged by the Assumption Chorale. She vaguely remembers auditioning for it. “The director, Chingky Hizon, probably saw something in me that resembled Lucy. A brat-like energy, perhaps,” Roselyn says with a self-deprecating laugh. “I do remember backstage before our opening performance, she was fixing my costume, then looked me in the eye and said, ‘Steal the show.’ She and Mrs. Hugo, the musical director, did wonders for my self-confidence.” Roselyn would indeed go on to steal the show, several shows, in fact, in her future career as a theatre artist, but we’re getting ahead of our story.

“I was sixteen when I had my first taste of professional theater,” Roselyn recalls. “I auditioned for the chorus of Repertory Philippines’ ‘The Sound of Music.’ I sang ‘My Favorite Things’ but somewhere in the middle, I blanked out because of nerves, and Baby Barredo jumped in to sing the missing lyrics, so I was able to finish the song. I got in as a postulant.” Flashback to a field trip in high school: we’re aboard a packed school bus and Roselyn is lecturing me about nuns having a distinct manner of singing during prayer hours. I remember shushing her for fear that the religious sister observing us would scold us for being noisy. Instead, she was obviously amused and delighted by Roselyn’s chatter!

Roselyn as Dr. Emma Brookner in 'The Normal Heart'
Roselyn offstage

Roselyn continues, “I remember being in awe of all the talent—a young Lea Salonga was part of that cast—and the many theatrical personalities during rehearsals, especially Bibot Amador, she was bigger than two lives.”

For Roselyn, those early years with Repertory Philippines were a baptism of fire. “Apart from acting in the plays of the season, I became a stage manager, learned how to man the lighting and sound booth, became an assistant director etc., which was great because I gained a holistic knowledge of the theater. Of course, Bibot and Baby, known terrors at that time, were of the old school mentality of ‘break you down to build you up’ and let’s just say, I got my share of this,” deadpans Roselyn. She is, of course, referring to Zenaida ‘Bibot’ Amador and Carmen ‘Baby’ Barredo, co-founders of Repertory Philippines, which pioneered English-language theater productions in the Philippines.

Roselyn has since ventured into acting under different theater companies and garnering several acting accolades along the way. One such project is being part of the Singaporean musical ‘Nagraland.’ Initially cast as part of the chorus, during the musical’s run, a role and a song were created especially for her! The show went on tour after Singapore to Japan as well as Hongkong.

Michael Williams as Vanya, Roselyn Perez as Sonia, and Cherie Gil as Masha in 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'
Roselyn as Dr. Emma Brookner in 'The Normal Heart' where she won Gawad Buhay award for Female Featured Performance in a Play

Roselyn is actually a three-time recipient of Gawad Buhay, which is an ‘annual set of industry awards that honors outstanding productions of member companies’ in the performing arts, ‘the local counterpart of Broadway’s Tony Awards or the West End’s Olivier Awards.’       

Aside from her award for ‘Under My Skin,’ she also won Outstanding Female Featured Performance for her role as Dr Emma Brookner in ‘The Normal Heart’ in the 8th Philstage Gawad Buhay awards in 2016. Dr. Emma Brookner’s character is based on Dr. Linda Laubenstein, who was one of the first doctors in the U.S. to recognize the AIDS epidemic in the early 80s. For this award, Roselyn was doubly nominated for her performance in another production, ’33 Variations,’ so you could say she was competing against herself! For the comedy ’Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,’ she acted alongside veteran performers like Michael Williams and Cherie Gil. Roselyn was more than able to hold her own, eventually winning Female Lead Performance in a Play in the10th Philstage Gawad Buhay awards (2018).

Roselyn in '33 Variations' where she was also nominated for Female Featured Performance in a Play
Roselyn with Audie Gemora holding their Gawad Buhay awards, Roselyn for 'The Normal Heart,' Audie for 'La Cage aux Folles'

Roselyn’s passion for her craft is evident in the ways she has striven to improve her skills. In 2002, she qualified for a study grant and attended Acting Shakespeare Workshop helmed by the renowned Glynn Macdonald, resident director of movement for Globe theater, which, during Shakespeare’s lifetime, was where most of his plays originally debuted. Glynn singled out Roselyn’s performance, telling her: “You have a connection with the Divine, never be afraid of it. “Interspersed with this recounting is a memory I have of Roselyn back in high school choosing a monologue from Shakespeare’s (who else would it be) ’ As You Like It’ for an English class requirement. This is the one that starts with the line ’ All the world’s a stage…’ I remember our teacher (not sure now if it was Ms. Marquez or Ms. Lim) smiling with approval as Roselyn was reciting her piece.

Maybe this is what you’d call foreshadowing? In 2006, she also attended ’ Acting for Professional Actors’ workshop under Dee Cannon, senior acting coach for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Dee was likewise impressed with Roselyn, saying that she did not expect to see acting at such a high level. This, coming from someone who has trained award-winning actors like Cynthia Erivo, Matthew Modine, and Tom Hiddleston, was all the more flattering. Roselyn fondly describes the late Dee Cannon as a battleaxe, someone who never minced words, so this was not lightly given praise.

Her more recent work includes being cast in an audio book version of a play, “Griffin Hunter” by New York-based playwright, Kirk Bromley, who writes using the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare. “We were an international cast, five Filipinos in all, the rest were actors from New York and recorded via Zoom. That was a wonderful experience and took my pandemic blues away.”

Roselyn as Sonia in 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,' where she wins Female Lead Performance in a Play
The Necessary Theatre's 'The Normal Heart' won Gawad Buhay award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Play
Repertory Philippines' 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'
PETA's 'Under My Skin.' Roselyn wins Gawad Buhay award for Female Lead Performance in a Play

This year, Roselyn played the Duchess of York in Shakespeare’s Richard III in a self- filmed version by director and professor, Christopher Sanderson, also based in New York. “That was something I had never done. Film myself in a role without the stimuli from other actors. When I asked Christopher—as he had already filmed several Shakespeare plays in this manner—how do we do this without the other actors? He simply said: ACT. It was such a crazy premise that I had to do it. I had nothing but my imagination which was surprisingly refreshing.’

Roselyn bringing me up to speed career-wise has taken most of the afternoon and part of the evening. After this surprisingly easy ‘catch up’ session in the guise of an interview, I realize: It’s still the same Roselyn and it’s not the same Roselyn that I remember from high school. And both can be true at the same time. Where before she would count on bravado and sheer talent to get her through a performance, I see an artist still with the same amazing talent but now invested with authenticity and passion. It’s still the same Roselyn, a rebel, but now rebelling against that which would prevent one from being his or her true self, such as gender oppression. But still, some things never change: Roselyn is still one of the funniest persons I know. She can still be very dramatic in normal conversation. And still be genuine. And both are true at the same time.

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