MANILA -- In the early ‘80s, Chris Millado went to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as a student, either to watch theater plays or to bravely join demonstrations.
He was then enrolled at the University of the Philippines. “We were doing political street theater,” Millado told ABS-CBN News. “Sometimes, we found ourselves doing performances in front of Folk Arts Theater (FAT) or protests.”
He didn’t have the slightest clue then that one day in his future, he would become CCP artistic director for two decades.
Millado, who is also currently CCP's vice president, officially joined the CCP back in 1986 right after the People Power revolution, under the leadership of Nicanor Tiongson, then the artistic director under the new administration with President Cory Aquino.
“The CCP I knew was the one that was democratized, decentralized and reoriented,” Millado said. “I was part of the team that ordained the CCP towards its vision of decentralization and democratization.
“After 1986, I was asked to join the CCP Outreach Program to basically spearhead the regional training until about 1988. CCP started opening its doors and became more aggressive, reaching outside Metro Manila.”
He joined the outreach before he left for the US to take up his masters degree. He had a Fulbright grant in Performance Studies at the New York University.
“I came back in 1993 when I was asked to be part of the CCP Performing Arts Department, in charge of programing in music theater, performing arts and dance,” Millado said.
After teaching at University of Hawaii in Manoa for close to three years, Millado returned to the Philippines for good in 2000 and started as associate artistic director for Tanghalang Pilipino. He held that post for three years.
“That was very much along my line,” he said. “I was a theater director and a playwright. I was directing for PTV 4 then. When Nonon Padilla brought up the idea of becoming an associate, I was just too willing to accept it because I admired Nonon’s work. I love what he was doing.
“Basically, my task was to shape the training of the Actor’s Company. That was practically my line. CCP offered me a job in the performing arts department. The responsibility became broader, not only in theater, but also in music and dance.”
Early on, the challenge was to draw audiences in. “How to broaden the audiences, especially when I was coming from theater and we’re enjoying some kind of patronage in theater. It was growing.
“Before the pandemic, ang laki na ng audience ng theater. But we were still growing audiences for local theater productions.”
In 2002 came a huge challenge. “They ran ‘Miss Saigon’ at the CCP for half a year” Millado recalled. “That was the first time a world-class theater production was performed at the CCP.
“It also meant that local theater productions faced very fierce competition with a multinational musical. There was quite resistance from the local artists who felt misplaced because the production was big, but it was siphoning off a lot of their locals’ work.
“The challenge then was how to make it an opportunity for local artists so that their work and patrons could also benefit from the ‘Miss Saigon’ experience.
“That was the first time a full-blown Broadway musical was brought over to Manila, in all its glory, technology and splendor. So it was a great opportunity for local audiences, as well.”
By 2003, Millado was asked to become the CCP associate artistic director, something that he readily gave an affirmative answer to.
“The first thing that landed on my desk was to defend the very controversial art exhibit, ‘Kulo,’ of Mideo Cruz,” he recalled. “That was the group exhibit of different UST artists basically with the tradition of Jose Rizal, throwing criticism on his milieu during that time against colonialism with the Spaniards.
“On that day, the artists created several socialists and hard-hitting works criticizing corruption and many other things.
“One of them was a very strong image which drew the ire of the members of the conservative church and even earned a Senate inquiry. There were demonstrations in front of the CCP building. That was my baptism of fire.”
Millado takes pride in having worked at the CCP during the reign of five Philippine presidents. “I started with Cory Aquino, then I took a leave and returned during the last few gasps of the Estrada administration before he was ousted.
“Then PGMA, PNoy and [President] Duterte. I actually planned to retire when I turned 60 which was last year. But I was caught in the middle of the lockdowns. The management requested if I could usher CCP until post-pandemic, which was fair naman."
Millado feels it’s time for him to take his long-earned vacation. He clarified though that he is not retiring from arts and culture, just from government service.
“I'll go back to directing and writing. I'll continue to be an arts administrator and manager in my private capacity. I’m just retiring from government service. I believe I still have productive years ahead as a stage director, playwright, even as a teacher,” he said.
He really planned to retire last year. “The timing lang. The change of administration carries the traditional stress and adjustment.
“I think the rank and file are very brave and very professional civil servants. I’m quite confident they’ll be able to adjust to the transition. We were able to usher in new, exciting adventure projects for CCP.”
Millado’s swan song was supposed to be the CCP’s 50th anniversary celebration back in 2019 until 2020.
“We were planning big and spectacular things, but the pandemic happened,” he lamented. “Yet, we were able to mount big activities that brought CCP to international attention."
The Manila International Performing Arts Summit became the last big event before the pandemic. “That brought together three major, professional meetings and summit,” Millado shared.
“One was the Association of Asian Performing Arts Centers, composed of Sydney Opera House, Singapore Esplanade and Hong Kong Arts Centre, to name a few. They all came here and became a part of the CCP’s 50th anniversary celebration
“We did a collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry to mount an Asian Arts Market which brought to the table our burgeoning performing arts industry, music, theater, to connect with possible buyers in Southeast Asia.
“It was supposed to end with Vivid Sydney, the one that does the light and sound show at the Sydney Harbor. We already had serious talks with the organizers and creatives of Vivid Sydney to replicate the same thing in the CCP Complex.
“We already got sponsors and funding for it. It would have capped the 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, the lockdown happened.”
He also boasts the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, 12 volumes, with the digital version now out online in the CCP website.
Millado wants to be remembered as a collaborator. “I‘ve always loved the fact that I’ve been working together with people in collaboration more than anything else,” he said.
He also wants to teach. His last teaching stint was at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde School of the Arts before he joined CCP. Yet, he also wants to go back to grassroots and start in communities.
“I’m looking forward to retiring in Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte,” Millado admitted. “We are building a retirement home there in a small farming municipality. That could be a very fresh take on arts and culture.
“If 20 years was spent in top-down institutional work, now there’s an opportunity to create a growing community from the grassroots.”
And Millado is looking forward to that.