By Ibarra C. Mateo
While the purists pontificate that theater must have live audience, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) quickly understood the brutality that Covid19 has caused since January this year.
The CCP moved decisively as Covid19 savaged the global economy, infecting 27.48 million and killing 894, 983, according to the World Health Organization data as of Sept. 9, 2020.
Recall that on March 12, 2020 at 5:42 pm, the CCP announced its initial list of show cancellations due to the rapid rate of Covid19 infection. Included in the initial list were the Philippine Philharmonic Concert Series VII scheduled on March 13, and the anticipated 40th anniversary production of Rama Hari by the Ballet Philippines, which was to open on March 20 and to run until March 29, 2020.
On March 13, 2020, 9:02 pm, the CCP made a shocking, drastic, but wise step to shut down all its public venues and to postpone all slated productions and exhibits.
“As prescribed by the Philippine government, the CCP will still function on a skeleton workforce. Restricted access will be enforced for employees, artists, suppliers, and other public entities, except those attending the basic and safety operation of the building,” the March 13 CCP announcement said.
‘Shows’ must go on
One sunny day last April, weeks into the lockdown, Chris B. Millado, CCP vice president and artistic director, ventured outside of his house, braved the virus-cloaked metropolis, and went to the CCP complex.
Millado had one important mission at the time: to mine the CCP vast HD and archival recordings of productions in theater, dance, visual arts, film, literary and workshop events during the last 50 years, which were housed at the CCP Cultural Content Digital Archives office.
Under Libertine S. dela Cruz, officer-in-charge of the CCP Cultural Content Department, the nondescript CCP digital archives office is located in the terra incognita of the complex. It is near the south entrance of the CCP main building, accessible via a narrow hallway. The first time I went there to watch a vintage production, I was lost in the maze.
As technological innovations disrupted contemporary lives and changed ways of conducting business, the CCP Cultural Content Digital Archives, one can say, is the unknown and unseen powerhouse of the CCP, compared to its more prominent counterparts, whose outputs graced the CCP Main Theater, CCP Little Theater, and Tanghalang Huseng Batute (Black Box).
Among the first measure taken by the CCP to cope with the challenges posed by Covid19 was to “realign” its programs. The announcement was made on April 24, 2020.
“In response to the extended community quarantine and the post-Covid19 recovery situations, the Cultural Center of the Philippines is realigning its artistic programs with the goal of protecting lives and livelihoods while continuing to deliver educational and inspiring content to Filipinos on alternative platforms,” the CCP said.
The new configuration of programming prioritized the immediate implementation of “Arts and Culture Online,” “Live Arts on Lockdown,” “Arts for Therapy” and “Capacity Building.”
Under Arts and Culture Online, the video streaming of archival recordings, HD, edited recordings was rolled out in early April.
The Live Arts on Lockdown program saw the unprecedented launch in June of the annual Virgin LabFest online.
The Arts for Therapy Program develops and implements modules on “Arts for Mental Wellness” and pursues “Arts for Healing” activities such as pocket concerts of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and “PPO at your bedside events.”
Under the Capacity Building program, CCP provides training modules for upskilling of artists and cultural workers in art therapy and online technology.
“The shows will go on at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Despite the shutdown, the CCP continues to make arts matter to every Filipino,” the CCP said.
The curated CCP productions initially streamed via Facebook and YouTube, eventually tapping the Vimeo and iwantTV (now iwantTFC) platforms.
‘Better normal’ from the 51st year and beyond
As the Philippine lockdown entered its 6th month this September, coinciding with the winding down of CCP’s 50th anniversary celebrations and the start of its 51st season, the center seeks to return to its normal operations, ensures that the whole complex is safe, and vigorously migrates to the digital platforms “to make arts and culture still at the forefront of the social development, while keeping as many artists’ livelihoods as possible.”
In another breakthrough, on Sept. 8, at 9 am, the CCP held its first virtual flag ceremony since it locked down on March 15.
Streamed via the CCP Facebook page, the virtual flag ceremony closed the celebrations of the CCP’s 50th anniversary, which began in September 2019.
The September 8 virtual flag ceremony also ushered in the beginning of the CCP journey to another 50 years.
Included in the ceremony was a tribute to artists, cultural workers, arts and culture advocates, media members, and employees of CCP who passed away during the Covid19 pandemic.
“Setyembre ng 2019 noong tayo’y nagtipon upang ilunsad ang ika-50 anibersaryo ng Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas. Ibang-iba ang panahon noon. Kung hindi nangyari itong pandemya, ngayon siguro ay abala tayo sa paghahanda para sa malalaking ganap upang tandaan ang pagtatapos ng 50th anniversary,” Millado said during the flag ceremony.
“Naka-setup na marahil ang sound and light exhibition sa front facade at lawn na pinamagatang Luces. Nakaabang na ang maraming mga booth sa buong complex para sa festival. Nag-eensayo na para sa CCP Gala sa Main Theater. Naghahanda na ang lahat upang buksan ang bagong Black Box Theater,” Millado said.
“Ngunit dahil sa pagsasarado dulot ng pandaigdigang sakuna, kailangan nating ipagpaliban ang mga ito,” Millado said.
Last February, CCP cancelled Pasinaya, the Open House Festival and one of the biggest events produced by the center. Pasinaya would have been a super-spreader of the virus had the management decided to push through.
While the theaters remain closed, the CCP migrated its artistic programs online and launched CCP Online, streaming its digital archives in HD.
The CCP made historical milestone with the launch of the digital version of the Virgin Labfest in June, followed by the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, and other programs.
Jobs for artists, technical staff
“These endeavors have provided jobs to artists and technical staff,” the CCP said.
“We are doing our best to take care of the welfare and safety of our employees. If there are any shortcomings, we are trying to overcome and improve. We are making the best in this trying time. In this time of difficulty and uncertainty, let us still count our blessings,” Rodolfo del Rosario, CCP vice president for administration, said.
CCP Chairperson Margie Moran-Floirendo said pandemic and its effects have “given the trustees the time to clarify and work on their respective roles in the CCP, in accordance with the law and their mandate to fulfill it.”
“You have now active Board Members who are taking their positions seriously to improve our role as trustees at the CCP. Maybe, and I am certain providentially, they have time to be more involved,” Moran-Floirendo said.
Theater will survive
“This might be the worst time in our lifetime due to the serious economic downturns; however, as an institution, we have to last more than a lifetime. Theaters existed for 2,500 years, surviving pandemics and wars,” Moran-Floirendo said.
“There are reasons for us to come out stronger, and achieve our missions and visions more than ever. In so doing, we can’t leave our artists behind,” Moran-Floirendo said.
“Our job is to prepare the CCP for better normal, adapting to the needs of our stakeholders and audiences,” Moran-Floirendo said.
CCP President Arsenio Lizaso expressed his gratitude to those involved in the preparation and execution of the 50th anniversary events.
Lizaso urged everyone to continue to strive to make 51st anniversary “more accessible and significant for our people.”
“Ang CCP ay hindi tumigil sa paggawa ng iba’t ibang paraan para makapagbigay ng inspirasyon, lakas ng loob at kahulugan sa ating mga kababayan sa kabila ng pagsubok na dinaranas natin sa kasalukuyan,” Lizaso said.
“We have adapted to the realities, and we have succeeded in bringing shows and productions to our people through the digital platforms without sacrificing the institution’s ideals and goals of achieving excellence in the artistic projects,” Lizaso said.
As the final event commemorating the 50th anniversary, the CCP is scheduled to hold a light and sound show on its façade facing the Roxas Boulevard. The event will be live streamed on the CCP Facebook page.
The CCP plans to launch the CCP digital time capsule and special videos in collaboration with its resident companies and other artists. “Sinasabing ang industriyang kinabibilangan natin, kasama ng entertainment at turismo, ang siyang pinakahuling babangon sa paglipas ng pandemiyang ito. Hindi pa tapos ang laban. Patuloy tayong titimbangin sa ating naging sagot at paninindigan sa hamon na ito,” Millado said.