Ismael Gallaza Pantao is a theatre practitioner from General Santos City, Philippines. He is an alumnus of Sining Kabpapagariya Ensemble, the official performing arm of Mindanao State University (General Santos City).
He began his artistic journey as a cultural performer, actor, host, director, and theatre facilitator for youth-oriented programmes. As a performer, he has toured to other parts of the Philippines and represented his country at international festivals.
His awards include the General Santos City Youth Achievers Award (2009) for being one of the city’s bearers of excellence in the field of performing arts, and the Sultan Kudarat Awardee for Culture and Arts (2016).
Ismael is a beneficiary of the Möbius Fund.
What were you doing before coming to ITI?
I held faculty positions in institutions such as the MMG College of General Santos City and Notre Dame-Siena College of General Santos City. I was also a performer and organiser of youth development and arts-related activities for various institutions and festivals.
Tell us how you came to know of ITI. What made you choose to come here?
I came to know about ITI through a Facebook post by alumnus Felimon Blanco. I took a chance going for the audition. I said to myself if I get it, I’ll be destined to be an artist with a purpose — and I got it! Honestly, my baccalaureate degree is very far from being an actor/artist but I’m always landing myself in the arts field. That is why I decided to get formally trained and learn throughout the journey.
Think back to your first day here: what were some of your thoughts and emotions then?
At first, I was very excited to see different people from different walks of life but I became very nervous and I didn’t know why. I was culture shocked and couldn’t believe that I was here with people whom I didn’t know yet. My emotions were a mixture of overwhelmed, nervous, but at the same time positive of what ITI can do for my development as an actor and artist.
What is it like to train here at ITI?
To be trained in ITI for me is a great opportunity. The training here has helped me understand my capacities, open up my capabilities to the maximum potential and further understand my purpose as an actor.
Moreover, the juxtaposition of the theatre acting in many forms and the traditional forms is very helpful towards my acting development and my creation of works in the future.
You may share something you’ve learnt from working with your classmates from various countries.
I think as an actor, you just need to be organic as you are — this is your key to understanding your own creative process and sharing it with others as they’ll share and understand you too. There is a give and take relationship amongst your cohort. Listen to your own rhythm — if you understand your own well, you're capable of joining in harmony with others. Be open and be aware as your senses must be active all throughout, so in that sense they can feel you and affect you, resulting in good working relationships among classmates from various countries.
What are the most memorable experiences you’ve had at ITI?
The most memorable experiences I've had at ITI are ASYLUM, FYiP, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These are the momentous events where I can finally say: "Yeah, finally we're mounting work, this is it!" In another sense we've got the chance to work as a group as well as work alone, helping each other and challenging our creativity. The mentors and directors are superb at inculcating their knowledge. At the end of the day, every rehearsal is a learning process and are great discoveries of your own artistic choices.
More than that, we've got a chance to present it to a large capacity of audiences and it's a great challenge to conquer. Everyone at ITI is involved — from teachers and staff to students. There I saw how we gathered together as one community and celebrated theatre and its essence through it.
How has what you’ve learnt here shaped or changed you as an actor?
Compassion for humanity — ITI made me realise this. I’ve learnt more about understanding people around me and whom I'll meet in my life's journey as both an actor and an individual. From there I can root for myself to be open, meaning I am ready for all possibilities, then I can keep going on my journey as an actor.
What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation, I hope to experience more acting performances in theatre. I am also open to film acting and making. Other than that, I want to share what I've learnt from ITI back home through community based theatre-making, facilitating youth and children empowerment through arts, and teaching arts related subjects in any tertiary schools in the Philippines.
What would you say to a new student or someone considering joining ITI?
Be grateful for the chance to understand your craft more. Be ready to listen — to yourself and to others. Not just because you feel that this is your calling, but also because you're an artist with greater purpose in the future.
Any special thanks?
I would like to thank the ITI Family as a whole: to the studentry, especially to Chee Yew and my cohort for the great journey we've shared together; my teachers and individuals who shared their expertise to me since Year 1 up to present: Sasi, Andy, Simon, Chin Huat, Beto, Kenny, Wan Ching, Aarne, Le Xie, Guillermo, Shi Fu Pern Yiau, Karen, Guru Venu G with Ranjit, Lao Shi Qin Zhanbao with Tian Lao Shi, Ibu Pujiyani with Vivi, Oliver Chong, Jean Tay, as well as Nien; and the ITI’s admin and marketing staff for the care and support they have given to me: Hannah, Su Lin, Khalid, Ruz, Evelyn, Nabilah, Max, Weiyi, Hendra, and Uncle Chan.
I also want to express my gratitude to my Mindanao State University's Sining Kabpapagariya Ensemble — General Santos City family, PC-JPIC family, Initiate PH family, Notre Dame-Siena College of General Santos City family, Kuya Romy, Mamang Alma, Kuya Al, Mama Cecile, Ate Sheng, and Ate Shine.
Finally, many thanks to my family and friends for the support and love, and to the Almighty Allah for all the blessings.
Profile photo and ASYLUM production shot by Bernie Ng