Retiring after a stellar career of more than 20 years at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), vice president and artistic director Chris Millado can happily look back and savor the fruits of his artistic and intellectual labor. As retirement goes, he can look forward and walk farther, for it’s not the end of the road but just a turn to a possibly more relaxed but nevertheless fulfilling personal, artistic, and cultural life.
“I planned to retire on my 60th birthday. But that happened right in the middle of the lockdown. My management teams at the CCP prevailed upon me to stay at least until we’d ushered CCP out of the pandemic lockdown,” says Millado. “Retiring right before the change of administration couldn’t be more perfect. It gives the new artistic leadership an open stage to create its own activities to serve the Center’s mission,” he adds.
A playwright, director, teacher, and theater organizer, Chris joined CCP in 1986, right after the Edsa People Power Revolution, during a reorientation led by then artistic director Nicanor Tiongson. He headed the training division of the outreach department, and implemented the regional arts training program which he said was “central to the ‘decentralization’ objective of the ‘new’ CCP.”
It was a short engagement of one year, however, as he was invited to direct a play at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. He then was asked to teach Philippine studies at the same university, where fellow Filipinos Dr. Teresita Ramos and poet Ruth Elynia Mabanglo were teaching the Filipino language.
Millado then took up his Masters in Performance Studies at New York University on a Fulbright scholarship from 1990 to 1992. During his stay in the US, he also helped organize Filipino-American theater groups in San Francisco (Teatro ng Tanan), Hawai’i (Hawaii Alliance for Philippine Performing Arts), Chicago (Pintig) and New York (May-I). There he also directed the plays he wrote, including Kin: Kamag-anak, America is in the Heart, and Peregrinasyon (Wandering Nation).
‘I would find out that the economic crisis that changed the life of our family was caused by cronyism’
Millado’s undergraduate years were spent at the University of the Philippines (UP) Theater Arts department during martial law. His family migrated from Negros Occidental to Manila during the sugar crisis that shut down the Sugar Central where his father worked as engineer. “I would find out later that the economic crisis that hit the island and changed the life of our family was caused by cronyism,” he says.
It was no wonder then that he would be drawn to political theater. Even as he was exposed to a wide range of ideas ranging from western and classical to modern theater at UP, what appealed to him most was Philippine theater and culture. He organized a theater group called Tropang Bodabil in 1980, which became Peryante in 1983, using vaudeville, satire, and pop forms to tackle socio-political issues. “That became my engagement with what was called ‘people’s theater,’” adds the artist, who considers as his favorite the 20-minute production of Sakada by the Negros-based community theater group, Teatro Obrero. He relates a time when some from his group sneaked into the political detention center in Bicutan to perform for political detainees. “We had to ‘role play’ our way through the guards as we pretended to be relatives of the detainees,” he recalls.
For Peryante, he wrote street plays, including Ilokula: Ang Ilokanong Drakula (1983), FQS (1984), and Pira-Pirasong Bangungot (1984). Also, he wrote four political plays depicting the struggles during the martial law period, the Edsa revolt, and the Aquino administration. These are Buwan at Baril sa E-Flat Major in 1985, Desaparecidos in 1986, Coup-Media in 1987, and Misererenobis in 1991. Still, the very first play he wrote, titled Intermedy,o is what he likes most among all his plays.
He rejoined the CCP in 2003 as associate artistic director of the resident theater company, Tanghalang Pilipino, upon the invitation of Nonon Padilla, then TP’s artistic director. After that, he was asked to head the Performing Arts Department. He became vice president and artistic director in 2011.
The exhibit became a national issue, attracting more than 500,000 visitors, based on the CCP guest book
His first assignment as AD proved to be tough but unforgettable, as it led to a Senate inquiry. He was tasked to be the spokesperson for the CCP during the controversial Kulo art exhibit, which was a part of the Center’s celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal. An image in the exhibit shocked and offended some religious sectors for being “blasphemous,” leading to discussions and debates on what is good or bad art, what is obscene or in good taste on the one hand, and freedom of expression on the other. The exhibit became a national issue, attracting more than 500,000 visitors based on the CCP guest book. “For the first time, art was in the headlines,” says Millado. “But we seized it as a big moment for arts education. And this all happened during my first weeks as artistic director! It was my baptism of fire.”
The theater person in him makes Millado happiest when in a rehearsal hall “concocting scenes with actors, writers, and designers, witnessing the creation of a work.” He feels proud of the annual Pasinaya Open House Festival which started as a one-day preview of productions of the CCP resident companies, and became a three-day festival featuring more than a hundred shows and workshops, participated in by at least a thousand artists and patronized by more than 50,000 viewers. It became the largest multi-arts festival in the country.
Another highlight of Chris Millado’s stint is the ushering of the CCP into the digital age. As AD, he was tasked to expand the programs of the cultural content development department. He says with pride, “Once a diminutive office that merely documented shows and stored videotapes and archives, it became the ringleader for all things digital at the CCP. This includes the digital version of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Arts, a living document of the achievements of artists, groups, and communities throughout history.”
In an open letter to the next CCP artistic director, Millado wrote: “Bear in mind that creating a safe atmosphere for artistic imagination is essential to making compelling creations… that can only happen in an environment unencumbered by fear and censure—a space that recognizes and upholds freedom of expression.”
He added that many artists and cultural workers fought hard for that space, the democratic space in 1986 that bannered democratization, decentralization, and Filipinization away from patronage politics, state propaganda, and the cultural elitism of the previous regime.
His postscript in his letter—“You will find this letter waiting for you propped up on the 12-volume CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art”—is a fitting reminder of the historical imperative of the office that Millado wants to impart to his successor.
Meanwhile, the dramatist Chris, whose favorite playwrights are Bertolt Brecht (Mother Courage and Threepenny Opera), Tony Perez for his deep dives into psychological realism (Gabun, Hoy Boyet), and the prolific Rody Vera for his versatility, would like to “get back to directing and writing. And cooking.” He says that if ever, he sees himself being involved in the next three years in art and culture work from the ground up, after years of “top down” institutional work.