If visibility were a gauge of success, RS Francisco has everything going for him now. He is very back in showbiz news as he reprises the role that professionally launched him in 1990 to entertainment stardom – Song Liling in M. Butterfly – for his and partner Samuel Verzosa’s production outfit aptly called Frontrow.
Longevity is another factor for his public eminence. Looking and sounding like he is into the thick of Frontrow’s many things ahead, RS expresses his business mind and style honed by varied roles and ventures in the television, advertising and networking industries for the last 28 years. Here, excerpts from our recent téte-a-téte. . .
When was Frontrow established? What has been its recipe for success?
“We started in 2010 in a modest office on Roces Avenue. Frontrow Inernational is mother company that sells Luxx White which is the No. 1 in the glutathione market – sobrang sikat that you can ask any model kung ano gusto nilang inumin and they’ll say Luxxe White – which we sell through our agents na naka-networking. . . In fact, it’s multi-awarded the past seven years by direct-selling industry association and even in America. . . What we have is magandang product, magandang business plan at siempre yung mga owners ay nasa tamang pag-iisip.
“Because of sheer love for what we all do, aside from us having 70 branches in the Philippines, we’re also in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, and will soon be in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and we’re opening in Korea and Taiwan in the last quarter of 2018 and first quarter of 2019.”
“As in any business just starting, may trial period; talagang nag-struggle kami from 2010 to 2012. Of course, like any other business, we were not gonna give it up. Ipaglalaban namin ito kasi ayokong mapahiya sa tao, mostly sa aming mga members. . . Our first CSR (corporate social responsibility) program was in 2013, when we could already afford to give to typhoon victims of Ondoy. Malaking psychic and social reward yung makatulong kaagad sa iba na dahil din naging successful yung business na naumpisahan na.
Aside from Luxxe White, what else does Frontrow have in its business/csr basket?
“We branched into production. Under Frontrow International, we produced Bwaya, Best Picture in Cinemalaya 2014; and lately, Bhoy Intsik, which won 5 awards in the recently concluded 1st Subic Bay International Film Festival. (It won Best in Story and Screenplay, Best in Cinematography, Best Picture, and Best Actor for RS Francisco who played a principled tough gay. – Editor)
“Two years ago, we brought back Miss Universe Dayanara Torres for a special engagement. Last year, we produced the JaDine Concert in Dubai. Also last year we brought Miss Universe 2017 Demi-Leigh Nel Peters, her first trip right after winning the crown in Las Vegas – a historic first for Miss Universe.
“Last May we brought together the three Miss Universe – Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, who crowned Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere, who crowned Miss Universe 2017 Demi Leigh Nel Peters – and the World’s Strongest Man’s Hafthor Bjornsson, Martins Licis and Robert Oberst for our Grit & Glam at the Cove of Okada, an event made possible with the cooperation of Empire PH and the organizations under IMG. Not only that 100% of the proceeds from this event, but we even doubled the amount raised which went to ‘Hope for Change,’ the charity cause of Miss Universe Organization headed by Paula Shugart.
“Then we’ve lined up shows for Ellen Adarna, Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla and the BoybandPH.”
Retell the heartrending and heartwarming episodes of your entertainment journey from 1990 on…
“Nuong bata ako, umaarte ako hanggang high school and college… sa La Salle at UP… mga school plays lang…at walang bayad – ako pa ang nagbebenta ng tiket… Hanggang sa nakita ako ni Sir Tony Mabesa nuong late 1989 para sa M. Butterfly. Kailangang lang lumipat sa UP Diliman… Nagulat ako dahil may bayad pala akong 125 pesos kada show. So may 2 thousand 500 ako dahil twenty shows yung takbo ng M. Butterfly nuon.
“After nuong opening night, inabutan ako ni Sir Tony Mabesa ng paycheck. Doon ako nagulat na parang ‘Bakit ako binabayaran?’ Ang unang reaction ko nga, ‘No, no, no, sir. Hindi ako kailangan bayaran kasi gusto ko ang ginagawa ko.’
“Sabi niya, ‘No, no. You deserve it.’ So, doon ko na lang na-realize na, ‘Ah, okay. Puwede pala akong kumita bilang isang aktor at mabuhay bilang isang aktor sa entablado.”
“May istorya naman yan… kasi months before nag-open ang M. Butterfly, may gusto akong bilihing maong na dinadaanan ko lagi sa Rustan’s Cubao paggaling from Los Banos… Nuong opening night, binigyan nga ako ni Tony Mabesa ng 2,500... . Sabi ko kay Sir Tony na salamat at mabibili ko na yung maong na gustong gusto ko. Sabi niya, ‘Magkano ba yung maong?’… “Eksaktong 1 thousand 995.” ‘So anong gagawin mo sa sukli?’ … Sabi ko ibibili ko ng saging at grape juice. Natawa si Sir Tony.
“Which I did the next day… Binili kung yung Pype De Nimes ng Benetton sa Rustan’s, then sa Farmers’ binili ko yung saging na paborito ng tatay ko at Welch Grape juice… Nuon lagi kasi kaming Sunny Orange at Julep lang, na-upgrade naman with Welch Grape nga.
“Yuon ang start ng istorya ng aking buhay sa M. Butterfly… na lumaki ng lumaki at tumakbo ng 6 months, with shows from Wednesday to Sunday sa Dulaang UP theatre… na dahil naging hit nga, tumaas ang bayad ko to 200, tapos naging 500 at umabot pa sa 1 thousand.
“When I did Song Liling 28 years ago, marami pa akong ‘di alam. Now, may mga idadagdag ako sa katauhan niya. Noon bagets, virgin. This time alam mo na mas may depth na. Noon nga, kaya napagusapan the frontal scene kasi napaharap ako sa audience showing my ding-aling. . . Basta what we’ll do now eh, stick pa rin kami sa buong script. And Sir Hwang will be here to see it. Kaya excited and at the same time pressured.
As in all Frontrow entertainment productions, this re-staging of M. Butterfly will be 100 percent non-profit. Net proceeds from each performance will be dedicated to one particular charitable institutions, including: Hope for Change - funds the full education (from elementary to college) of children in Tondo; Love Yourself Foundation - cultivates HIV awareness; Teach for the Philippines - develops leaders for education equity by enlisting some of the country’s most promising young leaders to teach in public schools throughout the Philippines.
M. Butterfly At A Glance
René Gallimard is in a prison cell in 1980’s Paris, listening to an audiocassette player. He recalls the skill with which his Chinese Communist lover, Song Liling, performed in traditional plays at the Peking Opera, as well as in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1904; Madame Butterfly) — a thematically important juxtaposition of Eastern and Western cultures. Gallimard flashes back to his days in Beijing, reliving the events that led to his imprisonment.
In the 1960’s, Gallimard is a rather nondescript, low-level diplomat at the French Embassy in Beijing, China, at a time when France and the People’s Republic of China are establishing diplomatic relations. He has come to China harboring several stereotypes about “Oriental” women. Gallimard’s stereotype of Oriental women as beautiful, submissive, self-sacrificing, and hankering after white men was formed through his exposure to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. In this opera, the American naval lieutenant Pinkerton lures a beautiful, loving Japanese woman, Butterfly (Cio-Cio San), into a fake marriage. They set up house, she becomes pregnant, and he sails off with vague promises to return. Butterfly gives birth to a son and loyally awaits Pinkerton’s return, rebuffing the courtship of a wealthy Japanese admirer. After some years, Pinkerton does return—accompanied by his new American wife, who is childless and wishes to take Butterfly’s son. Butterfly obligingly commits suicide. As Gallimard listens to Puccini’s music, he fantasizes himself as Pinkerton and constructs his stereotypical ideal of a selfless, loving Asian woman.
Gallimard’s susceptibility to this fantasy is partly due to his unsatisfactory sexual experiences with Western women. As a teenager, Gallimard’s pal Marc called him a wimp when he declined to go skinny dipping with some eager girls. Gallimard also seemed to be more voyeur than participant when he watched an exhibitionist girl undressing and remained flaccid. His deflowering was a joyless experience with an athletic girl who adopted the superior position and pounded his loins. His marriage was a dispassionate career move, his father-in-law being the French ambassador to Australia.
At a soirée in Beijing, Gallimard meets Liling Song, an opera singer who performs Madame Butterfly’s death scene. Gallimard is predictably entranced, unable to disentangle the performer from the role. In conversation, Song scoffs at the Butterfly character’s self-sacrificing pandering to Western male egotism, but Gallimard persists in admiring Song/Butterfly. Gallimard frequents the Peking Opera to see Song, and they regularly take tea in Song’s apartment, Song projecting the image of an Oriental maiden awed by white virility. The French ambassador promotes Gallimard, assuming that he has begun keeping a Chinese mistress and therefore possesses inside knowledge about the Chinese. After receiving this promotion, Gallimard hastens to Song’s apartment to realize his superior’s assumption, and the two consummate their affair accompanied by a duet from Madame Butterfly.
After their consummation, Gallimard and Song build a love nest for themselves. Meanwhile, the French embassy (and Gallimard) are asked by the Americans for advice about the Vietnam War. Gallimard, extrapolating from his conquest of Song, declares that “Orientals” submit to forcefulness, so the Americans should allow the dubiously elected president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, to be assassinated and allow a military junta to conduct the war. Gallimard also shares these views with Song, who is actually spying on him for the Chinese Communist government. Moreover, Song is not a woman but a nan dan, a man who plays women’s roles in Chinese theater.
Gallimard has a brief affair with a liberated Danish student named Renée, but he is soon put off by her aggressive sexuality. This experience convinces Gallimard that Song’s (apparently) submissive femininity is the ideal of womanhood. Later, when Gallimard’s wife, Helga, wishes to have a baby, the couple tries unsuccessfully to get pregnant. Helga consults a doctor, takes a fertility test, and passes. She wants Gallimard to do likewise. Gallimard balks at this calling of his virility into question. He complains to Song, demanding to see his lover nude, something Song had avoided up to that point, pleading Chinese modesty. Song then announces “her” pregnancy, thereby reassuring Gallimard’s sense of virility and distracting him from the need to see “her” naked. After a few months’ absence from the city, Song returns with a blond, blue-eyed Chinese “son.”
In 1966, Chairman Mao Zedong unleashes the Cultural Revolution, turning Chinese society upside down for a decade. Intellectuals and artists such as Song are branded counterrevolutionaries and undergo forced “reeducation” by hard labor in the Chinese hinterland. Meanwhile, the aggressive, “masculine” military policy advocated by Gallimard of bombing the Vietnamese fails, and he is demoted and returned to Paris (which is also experiencing upheaval through student riots and workers’ strikes). Unhappy and nostalgic for the perfect woman he loved in China, Gallimard asks Helga for a divorce. Then, magically, Song shows up in Paris. Gallimard is elated, but, as the curtain descends on act 2, Song tells the audience in an aside that he will make a costume change during intermission.
Unlike the usual backstage costume change, however, Song’s occurs onstage, visible to the audience. As he sheds his wig, makeup, and kimono, the audience sees the transformation of a woman into a man. Song and his son arrive in Paris in 1970 and live with Gallimard for fifteen years, spying on the French. Eventually, however, the espionage is detected. The pair are tried and jailed by a judge who is incredulous that, throughout twenty years of intimacy, Gallimard believed that Song was a woman. Song ascribes this gullibility to Gallimard’s (and Western men’s) orientalizing romantic fantasies about Asian women. To shatter this fantasy for Gallimard, Song strips completely, showing his manhood. Gallimard, however, steadfastly rejects reality and preserves his fantasy by donning Song’s wig, kimono, and makeup and committing suicide, ironically in the same romantic manner as Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
Frontrow Entertainment’s M. Butterfly Production
Set to open on September 13, the TONY Award Winner for Best Play David Henry Hwang’s story will be staged at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC Arts Center, Bonifacio Global City.
It will be presented by Tony and Grammy Award winning producer Jhett Tolentino and FRONTROW Entertainment (producer of highly acclaimed independent films “Bhoy Intsik” and “Bwaya”) and directed by award-winning Kaanakan Balintagos (director of Pisay, Busog and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros).
The classic masterpiece drama, inspired by Guiaccomo Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” is loosely based on events surrounding a 1986 espionage trial about a mysterious Chinese opera singer and a French diplomat.
Raymond (RS) Francisco reprises his lead role as Chinese opera diva and spy Song Liling. Completing this year’s M. Butterfly cast are: French actor Olivier Borten as René Gallimard, a former French diplomat, who relates the story of his passionate, disastrous affair with song Liling from his cell in a Paris prison, where he is serving a long sentence for treason. Pinky Amador plays Helga, Gallimard’s wife; Scottish Norm McLeod plays Manuel Toulon, the French Ambassador to China; trilingual American actor Lee O’Brian will personify Marc, the sexually unapologetic best friend of Gallimard; playing the role of both Suzuki and Comrade Chin is Rebecca Chuaunsu; and two-time Aliw Awards finalist Maya Encila is bombshell Renee with whom Gallimard has an affair.