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Jake Cuenca On His Theater Debut: “#LungsMNL Is The Biggest Challenge Of My Career”

This time, there’s no take two; and Jake Cuenca probably won’t need it anyway.

The theater, indeed, is an artist’s medium. For two straight hours, the artists have the audience’s full, undivided attention, closely watching their every move, their every nuance, their every word. There’s no room for error, because there are no second takes, no do-overs. And imagine a play, a one-act play, with only two characters, no props or set, and no off-stage transitions.

“It’s the longest sequence I’ve done in my life!” Jake comments about his experience doing Lungs: A Play by Duncan Macmillan, an upcoming theater show by The Sandbox Collective. It is, coincidentally, Jake’s very first foray into theater, as well.

Lungs is basically a one-act play following the relationship of M (played by Jake Cuenca) and W (played by Sab Jose), and their conversations on having children, repercussions of raising a child, global warming, and a whole lot of other questions that people don’t normally ask. It’s 30 years of their relationship in 90 minutes of pure, raw emotions. No fanfare, no lights, no grand dancing and musical productions.



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“For the whole 90 minutes, the characters have to be present, and in the moment. There is no hiding, no shying away from anything,” Jake says. “This is, for me, the biggest challenge of my career. For the roles I’ve done for film and TV, of course those are challenges on their own. Pero kasi, you go there scene per scene. This one is one really really long scene. It just banks on just two people, in and around the stage.”



Getting the part

Three years back, Jake flew to New York to study in Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. After his expedition to the States, that’s when Jake started to look for the perfect material to launch his theater career.

Toff de Venecia,The Sandbox Collective’s managing artistic director, says that Jake had been offered many theater roles before, but somehow, it didn’t work with his schedule or match what he’s looking for. But when Toff and The Sandbox Collective started working on Lungs, he said that the first guy who came to mind upon reading Duncan Macmillan’s script was really Jake. So he sent a text to Jake, who was then still someone he barely knew. To his surprise, he said yes.



“The thing is, everything from scene 1 until the end is very organic, real. We don’t really play into the audience. We don’t break the fourth wall. It’s just me and her, it’s very intimate. The material is very honest. And the challenging part when creating the characters is that it had to come from a real place,” Jake says. “That’s why I accepted the play. When I first read it, it really reminded me of a relationship I had in the past that I was very passionate about.”


READ: Lungs MNL Will Make You Ugly Cry, Overthink Your Carbon Footprint, And Experience Love All Over Again With Jake Cuenca And Sab Jose



Overcoming his weaknesses

Something this challenging and raw might sound too huge a task for the first-time theater actor, but it does not show at all in the way he works and tackles the material. The long lines, for example, are his biggest roadblocks. But he settles into the groove of memorizing what is essentially a Merriam Webster Dictionary-thick of a manuscript alongside Sab through rounds of coffee dates and tireless rehearsals.



“Nu’ng binabasa ko siya, I related to it, Then I realized that we have to memorize all of this! But everyone has been really nice to me, they gave me a lot of time to prepare, we had a lot of rehearsal time,” Jake says. “The thing about theater is you really have to respect the text, you really have to respect the playwright. That means you really have to do it word for word. Eh for films and movies, we’re allowed to change things up. So there’s just no way of doing a play like this if you don’t give it time. Just trust the process.”

Jake admits that he’s still learning and adapting at every rehearsal, every run. But for Jake, more than the pressure of memorizing his lines or delivering for his very first play, it’s really about him enjoying the fresh and brand new environment and challenges that the medium affords him.



“I think in every run, there are changes. You cannot do things exactly the same. You come across a problem, and then you work around it. So it’s just about enjoying the process, letting the process unravel on its own. Kasi there are certain points when we feel so far away, ang layo pa namin, and then when we just trust the process, one day, we’re there.”

And his newfound passion really shows in the way he becomes M, the way he tackles the emotional rollercoaster, and the way he approaches his new life as a theater actor.

“There’s not a day that no one wants to be here. If I didn’t have sleep, I still want to be here, study it, and perform it. The play is already an extension of myself. It really feels like that. There’s not a day that I don’t think about it.”



Lungs: A Play by Duncan Macmillan opens September 22 and will run until October 7 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Makati. Get your tickets now from Ticketworld.


Photographs by Jovi Figueroa and The Sandbox Collective