Ataska

My elementary life was a period in history I’d rather not go back to and attending the press launch of Annie the Musical at Resorts World Manila reminded me of all those years spent with a confusing mix of girls — the shy ones, the quiet but not exactly timid ones, the loud but harmless ones, the loud and annoying ones, the bullies, and everything in between. I wasn’t looking at my former school mates, I was observing the cast of Full House Theater Company’s production of Annie.

Now a little older, you’d think I’d know how to handle myself. But children and teens will forever be a mysterious and surprising species. I had no idea what to expect being among them, and they always manage to catch me off-guard.

Case in point: Ataska Mercado, who, forgive me for the stereotype, would probably be sitting at the cool table in high school. The 14-year-old has done several stage plays in the past with Kids Acts Philippines (The Wizard of Oz, Hansel and Gretel, Peter Pan), but her early claim to fame must be through singing competition The Voice Kids, where she joined and got a three-chair turn — meaning all coaches found something special about her. She’s currently a model and has landed a recording deal with Viva Entertainment, Inc.

Good looks and talent are already a given in that room, but Ataska carried herself with a certain spunk. No wonder she snagged the role of Pepper in the musical. Make no mistake, though, she didn’t go all bossy and know-it-all on me. In fact she was as sweet and warm as can be. What converted me into a fan, though, was her intelligence and social awareness (she claims to be an intersectional feminist).

Here she is talking about her role, and then some.

GIST: How did you prepare for the auditions?

ATASKA MERCADO: Lots of vocalizing and stretching. We learned all four songs from Annie: Maybe, Tomorrow, You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile, and Hard Knocked Life.

What is it about Annie that makes you want to be a part of it?

I like the music and the script’s amazing. The story’s great because it talks a lot about the government during the Great Depression in America. Even if it was the Great Depression, Annie was still optimistic and positive that she will find her parents. That energy — Annie’s energy influences everyone.

How much of Pepper do you resonate with?

I’ve always wanted to be in Annie the Musical since I was younger and I wanted to play Annie. But as I grew older, I wanted to play Pepper, because she’s the cool one, the though one. And I’m really tough. But she’s a bully, so I don’t relate to that. I love everyone in real life (laughs).

Who was the first person you called when you learned you got the part?

The first ones I called were my Dadsie Vehnee, my manager and composer and my Momsie Ladine, his wife and my voice coach. I also auditioned with my best friend, so I also told her that I got the role. Then I told my grandparents, whom I love very much; my ninongs, my ninangs; my titos, my titas…

Is this your biggest role yet?

Yes, because Annie is such a big thing, it’s such a loved musical by everyone, worldwide.

Who’s your idol when it comes to acting?

Coach Lea Salonga. And I love Ms. Menchu (Lauchengco-Yulo), she really inspires us. And Direk Michael (Williams). They’re just so inspiring. They help us be the best actors that we can.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of indie music.

—Originally published on GIST

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Update: January 23, 2017

Meeting this girl is definitely a 2016 highlight. She's proof that age doesn't matter when it comes to human connection.

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