Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shaking Up The CCP

For some reason I got to reminisce about the July 1990 earthquake which leveled Baguio and Dagupan, and shocked Metro Manila residents.

Where was I when the quake hit? At that time I was working as a staff assistant at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Our office was located on the fourth floor of the CCP main building. It was late afternoon, and our office was unusually quiet. Our office consisted of 5 regular and 4 contractual employees, but for some reason it was just our lone secretary Chona (such a secretarial name, “Chona”) and I who were in the office.

When the first wave hit, Chona and I looked at each other, puzzled. Then the swaying increased, and it dawned on us at the same time. “Earthquake!” she announced in a very calm voice. Now you see, Chona was as mild-mannered as her name implied. Her facial expressions of shock, anger, sadness and happiness were almost identical except for the direction in which her eyebrows would point. I could describe her as “unflappable” but that would be inaccurate; “limited range” would be more precise but harsher too.


The realization hit us, but instead of doing what we were supposed to do in such cases, we did quite the opposite. We went near a window (a no-no, since windows could shatter during a quake, hitting us with shards) to look out at the then-Philsite Building (to become Star City a year or two later). “Look!” Chona blurted out. She managed to sound excited and unperturbed—an amazing feat, really. “The people are running out of the building!” she continued. One could replace her words with, “They’re lighting the birthday candle on the cake!” and her tone of delivery would have been just as fitting.

Then I remembered the things they drilled into our heads in case of an earthquake. “Chona, I think we need to go under our tables,” I said in a calm voice. So we ducked under the nearest ones and waited.

But the shaking didn’t stop. It did ease up a bit, but I could still feel a bit of swaying—or was it just me? Just then our boss, theater director extraordinaire and visual artist Nonon Padilla, calmly walked into our office. Now Nonon is someone who is truly and genuinely unflappable. In the three years I worked in the CCP I never saw him angry or unperturbed. He announced, in a rather bored-sounding monotone that’s actually his default delivery, “O, let’s evacuate. Don’t panic, don’t panic.” And although I’ve never ever seen Nonon move faster than a lazy stroll, I swear I saw a slight spring in his step and an extra swish-and-sway in his hips.

The power was already down by then so we took the red-carpeted grand staircase leading down to the main lobby. Above us the gigantic capiz-clustered chandeliers of Imelda Marcos were swaying like bejeweled ballerinas. I remembered a lot of squealing and shouting, but there was also a lot of giggling. In a highly creative environment filled with many artists and creative people, expect the unusual reaction or two.

We wanted to stay on the sweeping driveway ramp leading up to the entrance of the main theater lobby, but wiser heads insisted we get off the ramp in case it breaks off; the fall would have been at least 20 feet. We all ended up in the side entrance of the CCP, shaking and shaken but thankful to be in one piece. And the reclaimed area that housed the CCP, Folk Arts Theater, PICC, Film Center and the former Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel didn’t break off and plunge into the Manila Bay as pundits feared.

Back in 1990 the symbolic bastion of Philippine arts and culture survived Mother Nature’s wrath. But in 2009, with the furor over the National Artist Awards still burning up the headlines, Philippine arts and culture may suffer a worse fate under another, albeit mortal, woman’s hands.

Or do we let her?


~Carrie~ said...

I was about to ask you if you have a blog entry about the recent National Artist controvery (since you're in the topic of CCP), until you made your point at the end of this one. I like what you've written - an interesting analogy/perspective. BTW, were you at CB on 8th Aug?

joelmcvie said...

@CARRIE: Yes I was. =)

palma tayona said...

Or do we let her?

answer: WE MUST NOT! or else, there'll be acting workshops in the near future that will teach it's students how to scream ala-Kris Aquino in those gaddam massacre movies.

...or award the next state honor for artistry to Willie Revillame.