Resuscitating the Met (3)

News about the resuscitation of the Metropolitan Theater of Manila spread, almost like prairie fire. The National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) had hired a private firm, Schema Konsult, Inc, to prepare a detailed engineering study that included a rehabilitation plan of the entire structure. The executive director, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, affirmed that theater technology had since advanced and fixed theater chairs were no longer in vogue. She had all kinds of moveable platforms made that could be installed at various parts of the theatre, depending on the performance. However, Mayor Alfredo Lim and the late German Moreno were horrified at Cecile’s idea so Mr. Moreno went on a solicitation binge and in a wink the Met was filled with rows of blue velvet opera chairs. Discretely, I had Cecile’s risers and installations disassembled and tucked into one of the storerooms.

People were excited; even expats like Mrs. Jean Huberty sent encouraging messages with photos of who had shops and offices at the wings of the Met in its glory days; one of them was her mother who had an elegant paneled boutique. The Manila Historical and Heritage Commission formed an ad hoc “Met Administrative and Theater Operations Committee” which met every week with representatives of the NCCA, GSIS, and the Manila Council. People were generous with their advice: Mr. Jaime Laya warned me about the cost of centralized air-conditioning; an acoustics engineer (whose name is a secret) said Mrs. Marcos’ well-intentioned restoration ruined the sound; another expert in theaters lamented that the original cool air ducts (connected to the late and lamented Insular Ice Plant) should not have been covered and that was probably why the orchestra pit kept flooding. A ballet dancer scolded the city engineer for laying a layer of parquet on the stage. The Manila City Band wanted to move in one of the wings so they could rehearse in one of the verandas.

Dutifully, we met every week at the once-fabulous lobby of the Met, accepting and dissecting proposals from all quarters. Eric Zerrudo submitted a fantastic plan about connecting the Met with the academe, making it accessible to student groups who want to learn about theater production, music, and other cultural activities. I hope Eric’s plan materializes because that would certainly give life to the Met.

We managed to present four shows: thespian and councilor Lou Veloso and Cecile Guidote Alvarez put up a post-Lenten show; students from the Pamantasan ng Maynila presented a play about Egypt; once the Wolgang Band rented the place. But, by far the most spectacular show was “Bodabil sa Met” produced by Kuya Germs a.k.a. German Moreno. He brought a battalion of dancers from the Club Mwah, a la Folies Bergère of the Belle Epoque, decked with ostrich feathers and silk body suits. Mayor Alfredo Lim and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, the guests of honor (they were still on talking terms) arrived in an open carriage after a campaign sortie across the Pasig. I was seated beside the mayor and I saw him staring intently at the Club Mwah dancers as they pranced gracefully before our eyes, so I felt I had to whisper an advisory, “Sir, mga lalaki po sila.”

The GSIS never signed the tripartite agreement; the agency was still reeling from the Juan Luna painting controversy so its board members were wary about anything that had to do with culture. Fortunately, before Pres. Benigno Aquino ‘s term ended, he signed an executive order turning the Met over to the NCCA so DBM Secretary Butch Abad appropriated millions for its restoration, now a work in progress. Thank God that unlike his mother, culture was not the least of Pres. Noynoy’s priorities.