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A new theater unboxed

THIRTY years after the last building was built in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex, the doors of its new black box theater, the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, opened on the CCP’s 53rd anniversary, Sept. 8.

The black box theater has taken seven years to complete. Its groundbreaking was in January 2016, and construction commenced in 2017.

At the inauguration, the new building was blessed in Christian and Muslim rites, and its logo unveiled.

“Before the pandemic, the CCP was bursting with shows…We produced an average of 800 shows annually. Because we were always fully booked, we had this grand plan to construct a new theater, a concert hall, an artist center, and the black box theater — a new theater that can accommodate more productions, a new creative space for more artists to rehearse and perform [in],” CCP President Margarita Moran-Floirendo said in a speech during the inauguration.

“But like in any endeavor, we were held back by financial challenges…We were fortunate to meet someone who enjoys theater and truly loves the arts as he was part of it during his younger days at the [University of the Philippines]. CCP found a white knight in a generous man who wants to give back to the theater community which has nurtured him and his love for the arts,” she said.

The new building is named after this “white knight.”

Businessman Ignacio Gimenez was once a scholar of National Artist for Theater Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero. He, together with his brother Roberto Olanday, made the donation that funded the construction of the building to honor his mentor and as his way of giving back to the theater community.

Mr. Gimenez’s love for the theater started after his high school English teacher told him to “Shut up, join the theater.”

At the university, he was an active student actor in Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero’s UP Dramatic Club and UP Mobile Theater.

In the UP Dramatic Club, they would stage a major production at the university theater annually.  “It had everything, props, backdrops, costumes. It would do very well. It would sell out,” Mr. Gimenez recalled as he addressed the crowd at the black box’s inauguration.

The UP Mobile Theater was a rather different experience.

He recalled that every summer, the group’s members would travel to a town or city to stage street plays in the town or city plaza.

“Oftentimes, there would be no stage… no props. We would ask to borrow a sofa, armchair, or small table. For a backdrop, we would have blanket that was hopefully not too colorful,” he said.

They would stage three shows each on Sunday and Sunday. If he were given the chance to relive those early days, he would.

“Because (of the experience) I saw the power of theater,” Mr. Gimenez said. “Here we are, all young students with no props, no costumes, and yet we were able to move people. We could make them laugh, cry, experience several emotions only because we were able to stage a play.”

As the donor of the new theater, Mr. Gimenez said that it is “give back time.”

Located at the corner of Jalandoni and Sotto Streets within the CCP Complex, the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez or TIG is a three-level structure with a flexible theater area that can be adjusted to the artistic and technical needs of live productions like concerts, recitals, plays, and other live events, including arts conventions, workshops, and exhibitions.

The theater’s logo, according to B + C Design, Inc., gets its shape and colors from Philippine indigenous weaves representing the bold new works that will take place at the venue — progressive, experimental, fluid, contemporary.  In effect, “out of the box.”

The theater has at least four flexible stage and seating configurations, a removable trap door, a portable dance floor, and a high-end sound and light technology system.  Its catwalk offers provisions to accommodate lighting, sound, video equipment, and additional drapery.  It also has various orchestra and choral risers, as well as aluminum trusses which can be used for rigging stage sets and designs. The loading dock can accommodate a 20-foot container truck. A carpentry area with a high ceiling can accommodate tall scenic pieces. An acoustically treated door separates the carpentry area from the performance space.

The new building is compliant with the Magna Carta for the Disabled. It is also equipped with high-speed data/internet or ethernet connection that can be used to enhance audience experiences.

The CCP Black Box’s inaugural performance season, which runs until January 2023 includes classical music concerts and recitals, pop music concerts, a straight play, and musical theater productions.

The shows are: the CCP Special Concert Series featuring classical music trombone player Ricson Poonin (Oct. 20) and guitarist Ivar Fojas (Nov. 16); Tanghalang Pilipino’s musical Anak Datu (Sept. 17 to Oct. 8); the CCP Triple Threats Series concert series featuring Markki Stroem (Oct. 14), Arman Ferrer (Nov. 18), and Poppert Bernadas (Dec. 21); Nonon Padilla’s play Ang Dakilang Teatro ng Daigdig (Nov. to 13); Repertory Philippines’ adaptation of Rodger and Hammerstein’s musical Carousel (Nov. 26 to Dec. 18) starring Gian Magdangal and Karylle; and the third edition of Ternocon (Januray 2023), a competition cum fashion show focusing on the Philippine terno.

The opening of the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez comes just as the Main Building of the CCP closes for a major rehabilitation from 2023 to 2024. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman