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CCP leaps into the future with opening of Black Box Theater

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 10, 2022 5:00 am

It was a long time coming: Three decades since a new building was erected at the Cultural Center Complex.

We practically grew up with the CCP, from the 1969 opening of the Nicanor Abelardo theater with Isang Dularawan: Salakot na Ginto, ballets and Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra concerts; Rolando Tinio plays at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino and the Tanghalang Pilipino plays at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute; to the more recent Virgin Labfest experimental plays and Cinemalaya film festivals.

“The CCP produced an average of 800 shows annually before the pandemic and was always fully booked so we had this grand plan to construct a concert hall, an artists’ center, and a black box theater,” according to CCP president Margie Moran-Floirendo.

They appealed for funding but the arts were never a priority as investment. “As if willed by fate we were fortunate to meet someone who enjoys theater and truly loves the arts. We found our white knight in Ignacio B. Jimenez who together with his brother Roberto Olanday made it possible to finally build the CCP Black Box Theater.”

The interiors of Tanghalang Ignacio B. Gimenez (CCP Black Box Theater)

A member of the UP Drama Club, Jimenez wanted to build a theater at his alma mater but there were problems with location, so when technical consultant Barbie Tan Tiongco informed the CCP management about the possibility of getting a donor for their own venue, meetings were immediately called and an agreement was finalized. Groundbreaking was done in 2016, and construction began the following year with the support and administrative assistance of Leandro V Locsin Partners, the company founded by the late National Artist.

Located at the corner of Jalandoni and Sotto streets, across the PICC, the theater is a three-level structure with a flexible theater expanse that can be adjusted to artistic and technical needs of live productions of plays, concerts and other live events such as arts conventions, workshops and exhibitions. You can just imagine the excitement of the crowd as we waited outside the building for the inauguration ceremonies to begin.

Chatting with Margie, CCP artistic consultant Alex Cortez, Themeworks events director Mike Miñana and other theater aficionados, this new, state-of-the-art, world-class venue is really a big deal for the Philippine performing arts industry and comes at the right time when the main CCP building is closing for rehabilitation from January 2023 to 2024. 

Irene Marcos-Araneta, Ignacio B. Gimenez, CCP president Margie Moran-Floirendo and Dr. Jaime Laya, CCP Board of Trustees chair.

After the Muslim and Christian rites, we entered the theater, which filled everyone with a sense of exhilaration. “Masarap ang amoy ng bagong teatro,” Emily Abrera, former CCP Board Chair, quipped. Araw-Araw sa Maynila, a song by two National Artists — Lucio San Pedro for Music and Bienvenido Lumbera for Literature — opened the program. Sung by Julienne Mendoza, it was a most appropriate prelude with the poetry of Lumbera: “Araw-araw sa Maynila, may pintong biglang bumubukas, parang tanghalang may isisiwalat, tagpong asam na maganap.”

The opening of the Black Box Theater marks a new day for Philippine theater where there will be new productions to regale us with their stories.

Just as every day is something to look forward to in Manila, the opening of the Black Box Theater marks a new day for Philippine theater where there will be new productions to regale us with their stories. Excerpts from coming performances gave us a glimpse.

Anak Datu, by Tanghalang Pilipino, a new musical by Rody Vera based on the book by National Artist Abdulmari Imao (running now till Oct. 9) and directed by Chris Millado, delves into the lives of the Tausugs of Sulu, set amidst the Muslim resistance in Mindanao. Spellbinding songs and dances were punctuated by sumptuous costumes and indigenous instrumental performances.

Gian Magdangal sings "Soliloquy" from Repertory Philippines’ Carousel.

Carousel, the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical from Repertory Philippines (Nov. 26 to Dec. 18) features Gian Magdangal and Liesl Batucan-del Rosario in stirring performances of Soliloquy and You’ll Never Walk Alone. This much-awaited production is directed by Toff de Venecia.

Jannah Baniasia in "Ang Dakilang Teatro ng Daigdig" of De La Salle College of St. Benilde

In a more experimental vein, Jannah Baniasia of the De La Salle College of St. Benilde did a monologue from Ang Dakilang Teatro ng Daigdig, adapted by George De Jesus III from El Gran Teatro del Mundo by Pedro Calderón dela Barca with inspiration from Tony Perez’s Hoy Boyet and directed by Nonon Padilla. The play runs from Nov. 4 to 13.

Liesl Batucan-del Rosario sings "You’ll Never Walk Alone" from Repertory Philippines’ Carousel.

Internationally acclaimed and multi-awarded tenor Arthur Espiritu enchanted the audience with Una Furtiva Lagrima from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, filling the space with his fine bel canto singing. A Special Concert Series features the soprano Stephanie Quintin on Sept. 7, followed by Ricson Poonin on trombone for Oct. 20 and Ivar Fojas on guitar on Nov. 16. Theater heartthrobs Markki Stroem, Arman Ferrer, and Poppert Bernadas will have their individual concerts on Oct. 14, Nov. 18 and Dec. 21, respectively, for the popular Triple Threats series.

Arthur Espiritu sings "Una Furtiva Lagrima."

To start the new year on Jan. 28, Ternocon 3, the only terno-making convention and competition that continues to pursue its mission of preserving and promoting the Philippine national dress, will present the winning designs of emerging designers chosen from all over the country together with couture pieces from established designers who acted as their mentors for the past year.

As a preview, winning ternos from the last Ternocon were presented in a collaborative performance of the Jota choreographed by Rhosam Prudenciano Jr. who was also behind White Noise/Black Wall performed by Jomelle Era — an experimental dance piece from the CCP Choreographer Series. 

The opening program directed by Paul Morales was an impressive assemblage of talented Filipino artists and theater professionals that the audience met with rousing applause, bringing a big smile to Mr. Gimenez. He was always convinced that “we are the most creative people in Asia and that one of these days someone will write the great musical that will land on the global stage,” recalled Abrera. Theater was always his passion.

As part of the UP Mobile Theater, they presented plays in the provincial town plazas where he realized the power of live performance. “There we were, no props, no costumes, and yet we were able to move people — making them cry, laugh, experience several emotions only because we could stage it.” It was such a life-altering experience that he wanted more people to experience the same and now his wish is coming true.

Who knows? His big dream of the first great Filipino musical gaining international acclaim may also become a reality after being presented in the theater bearing his name.