MANILA -- In the pre-pandemic season, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), on an average, has had about one million visitors per year. In the past two years, like all performance venues in the country, the CCP building had to close its doors.
“There have been 800 shows canceled. We’re talking about 800,000 to 1 million visitors lost and that means P34 million to P35 million box-office lost revenues,” said Chris Millado, the CCP vice president and artistic director at a recent institutional press conference.
“The first to go, of course, are the festivals,” Millado said.
He cited some examples like the canceled annual Pasinaya, usually held for three days on a weekend during the National Arts Month. It is composed of excerpts of live performances and film showings for the whole year.
Another example was the choral festivals that usually drew in around 1,000 choristers every year. Foremost of which is the annual Andrea O. Veneracion International Choral Festival, usually held in July.
“Imagine a thousand choristers filling the air with moist breaths. [In the past two years] That would be dangerous and risky,” said Millado, with a chuckle. This year, the AOV festival is postponed again for 2023.
Other canceled events were the dance, orchestra music, film and theater festivals. A few resident companies made use of streaming platforms.
“But we’re glad to say that we’ve managed to save as many jobs as possible. About 80 to 90 percent of jobs were saved that were meant for these projects,” Millado added.
Now that Tanghalang Pambansa or the CCP building has opened its doors, several departments have laid out plans for the reopening of the venues.
Like a torchbearer, the Virgin Labfest will open from June 16 to June 26 at the 220-seat Tanghalang Huseng Batute or the CCP Studio Theater.
Virgin Labfest is the annual festival of new works by aspiring and veteran playwrights that haven’t been staged.
After the VLF is the annual Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. This year, it is scheduled from August 5 to 14.
Ariel Yonzon, head and associate artistic director of the CCP Production and Exhibition Department, said the Center is ready to accommodate the influx of audiences.
We asked him about the two major festivals opening in the next couple of months and some other live shows and a major art exhibit targeted for this year. Here’s the excerpt of our interview.
Q: How open is CCP in terms of live performances and exhibits?
AY: “The CCP has, since the pandemic, put up a Health & Safety Guidelines Committee that actively monitors policy development, as cascaded from the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF), the Department of Health (DOH), and down to the local government units (LGUs).
“Thus, we follow whatever guidelines are set forth. As of this writing, we can accommodate up to 100 percent, already; and, during tighter restrictions, have a plus-10-percent extendable capacity against caps or ceilings because of our Safety Seal.
“This applies for live performances/film screenings, as well as for exhibitions and onsite building tours.”
Q: It seems the Virgin Labfest would be the torchbearer of the regular live performances. What are the safety measures?
AY: “Yes, it will. As for safety measures, we shall still require temperature checks at the entrances and presenting vaccination cards/records, keeping a safe distance from one another and wearing face masks.
“Non-contact alcohol dispensers are available at strategic stations; and, other than pre-house opening disinfection, we have also installed hepa-filters in our air-handling units and ducts for cleaner air quality.
“While seating will be set at full capacity, the front of house staff has designed a non-counterflow foot traffic across venues; especially, at event’s end where exiting audience members are divided in sections for an orderly egress.”
Q: Would it be the same set-up for Cinemalaya on site?
AY: “For Cinemalaya, we are reserving our final layout up until our learnings and insights from the VLF. This early, though, we intend to be prudent; focusing our programming on the 17 full features, or so with the shorts, the Gawad Alternatibo and tribute exhibitions. After a premiere, we intend to immediately roll out distribution to partner with commercial cinemas, to dispel what used to be packed crowds. Then, we stream online on the following week.”
Q: Given that this is bigger than the Labfest, would this year’s Cinemalaya still involve all theater venues at the CCP?
AY: “Premieres will be at the Main Theater or the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo; Gawad and tributes at Art House Cinema (Tanghalang Manuel Conde, formerly CCP Dream Theater); with seminars and the likes at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute. Prudence dictates we go lean.”
Q: Kindly tell us the background of the Tanghalang Manuel Conde marquee? Who thought of the idea? How long was it done?
AY: “It needed a fresh look, as it already looked tired and beat. Under the direction of Chris Millado, a few studies were executed by Ricardo Eric Cruz of Production Design. Inspiration and pegs came from old movie houses, neon light marquee and movie poster displays. We boast of a new film screen as well as a stronger 12k lumens digital projector.
“We are also in negotiations with F& B locators to provide popcorn, corndogs and soda – for a complete viewing and sensory experience.
“We unveiled the new marquee last May 4 and kicked off the National Heritage Month on May 20 with a special live screening of 'Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak,' by National Artist Lino Brocka.”
Q: What happened po to the ushers/usherettes affected by the pandemic?
AY: “The long lull depleted the ranks; as quite a number moved onto more lucrative-paying BPOs, while some others went back to their provinces. We were able to retain the core senior team, though, who are helping us train fresh recruits. They will be going up to the National Arts Center for refresher courses and team-building so they hit the ground running.
Q: Can you tell us more about other live shows and exhibits returning at the CCP?
AY: After Cinemalaya, there’s the Wi-Fi body competition, from August 23 to 28. There’s the ‘CCP Gala: Musikal’ in September, our anniversary month. Ballet Philippines’ 'Neo Filipino' dance series is scheduled from October 18 to 23.
“There’s the return of ‘Triple Threat’ concerts. The concept is to showcase the talents of artists who can sing, dance and act. This year, “Triple Threat” series is featuring multi-platform actor-performer Markki Stroem on September 21, tenor Arman Ferrer on October 28, and musical theater artist-pop singer David Ezra on November 18.
“The building is also very much open for those who want to visit on regular office hours. There will the Imelda Cajipe Endaya Retrospective exhibition from September 3 to December 4 this year at the Bulwagang Juan Luna or the Main Gallery.
“As mentioned by Chris Millado, the Black Box Theater will finally be opened to the public. Tanghalang Pilipino will baptized it with ‘Anak Datu,’ which is based on the writings and life of National Artist Abdulmari Imao. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra will hold their chamber music series there. As Sir Chris mentioned, they may want to try its acoustics.
“There’s a lot more though we don’t want to pre-empt you with sensory overloads.”
Q: Anything Sir you need to add?
AY: “In the new normal, we are no longer going back to anywhere close to the pre-pandemic mode of programming; hybrid – live events with digital iterations, with emerging augmented, hyper-reality platforms and applications, just made our loads heavier. Surely, there’s much work in the horizon. But, it’s a most exciting time!”