MANILA -- It was as much of a newsmaker as the glamorous event it was built for back in 1974. But now, the Folk Arts Theater (FAT) – completed in a record 77 days to serve as the venue for the Miss Universe pageant that the Philippines was hosting for the first time – is little more than a shell of its once glorious self.
The steady rise in recent years of entertainment complexes boasting modern theater facilities has apparently contributed to the decline of the FAT’s popularity.
In its heyday, especially during the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, Folk Arts Theater was the concert venue of choice for top local and international acts from Martin Nievera to Frank Sinatra.
Today, it is the headquarters of the Day by Day Christian Ministries that holds whole-day worship on Sundays and occasional shows of its in-house performing groups.
“They used to just rent for their Sunday meetings. But now they have a year-round lease with us. They also have offices here,” said Teresa S. Rances, department manager of the Administrative Services Department of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
She said the lease works both ways as the group has a place for its activities, while the CCP is assured that the venue is cared for on a daily basis.
“They’ve become a partner in maintaining it,” said Rances.
Aside from improving the toilet facilities, the group reportedly takes care of the day-to-day maintenance of the building.
“The CCP crew only assists when the theater itself is used. It’s interesting how the Christian fellowship has intertwined the arts into worship, as they have a choral group and a dance group,” said Rances.
Aside from Day by Day, the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) also still has its office at FAT.
Meanwhile, an area at the back which used to house the canteen is being used by the Printmakers Association of the Philippines (PAP). Under an agreement with the CCP, PAP’s artist-members are able to use the facilities as a studio and a workshop venue but they take care of maintenance costs. They, in turn, are expected to hold exhibitions of works created at the space at the CCP.
It was then-First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos who, in 1974, commissioned noted Filipino architect Leandro Locsin – later proclaimed as a National Artist – to design the Folk Arts Theater which she described as a “monument to the Filipino spirit.”
The FAT followed the concept of a sheltered plaza. In the book “Cultural Center of the Philippines: Crystal Years,” author Visitacion de la Torre described: “The edifice boasts of a broad fascia with a single column-to-column span of 80 meters (the largest single-span structure in the Philippines). Resting on eight monumental columns, the 100 by 100 meter roof appears to float, creating the impression that the building is a dream on one’s tender hands.”
The building was not airconditioned, but instead was designed to allow natural breeze to flow through.
The 8,500-seat theater’s inaugural presentation was an extravagant showcase dubbed “Kasaysayan ng Lahi,” staged on July 7, 1974. It hosted its first international event in the same month – the much heralded, highly publicized Miss Universe beauty pageant. Spanish candidate Amparo Muñoz won the top honor.
In 1978, it was the site of the first Philippine Folk Festival.
In succeeding years, FAT lived up to its name as it became the center for such events as Lenten folk presentations and Easter celebrations, simbang gabi or dawn masses during the Christmas season and an “Alamat” series depicting Filipino legends or epics through dance-drama.
One year, it was used as one of the venues for the Manila International Film Festival. A CCP staff member recalled that the midnight screening of Nagisa Oshima’s sexually explicit “In the Realm of the Senses” drew a huge amount of people who waited in long lines to watch the film.
The FAT was later referred to as the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas, following a CCP directive calling for its performing arts venues to be named after Filipino artists.
Despite the name change, the theater was still largely referred to simply as “Folk Arts.”
It became a venue for a variety of concerts and other entertainment fare. The long list of foreign performers who have staged shows there include pop acts Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, James Ingram, Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins and James Taylor, jazz artists Willie Bobo, Michael Franks and Kenny Rankin, and magician David Copperfield.
Groups such as Menudo, Survivor, Pearl Jam and Mr. Big have held shows there as well.
Among local artists, there were Rico J. Puno, Imelda Papin, Pops Fernandez, Gary Valenciano, Ariel Rivera, Ai-Ai de las Alas and Regine Velasquez, to name just a few.
De la Torre noted in her book that the likes of Margot Fonteyn, Van Cliburn and the Soviet Bolshoi Ballet also performed at Folk Arts.
In the last 10 to 15 years, however, the venue that had hosted such illustrious names seemed to have lost steam. It was still used for NAMCYA festivals and CCP events, but the concert acts it had previously attracted had found other alternatives in Metro Manila. It was occasionally booked for graduation ceremonies.
Forty-three years after it was built in record time, the Folk Arts Theater faces an uncertain future. Its fate remains to be seen.
The CCP Complex is a sprawling area that contains mixed-use buildings that are managed by various government agencies and not solely by the CCP.
Aside from Folk Arts Theater, the CCP management is in charge of the property where the Film Center stands.
The Coconut Palace, and the area leased to Manila Broadcasting Company, Aliw Theater and Star City, as well as where Sofitel Philippine Plaza is, are under the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
The Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) is under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
In the coming years, Rances said a masterplan of the CCP Complex is set to be implemented, with the rise of other mixed-used structures and performing arts venues.