MANILA — In the early 1980s, Chris Millado went to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as a student, either to watch plays or bravely participate in protests.
He was later enrolled at the University of the Philippines. “We were doing political street theater,” Millado told ABS-CBN News. “Sometimes we found ourselves performing in front of the Folk Arts Theater (FAT) or protests.”
He had no idea then that one day in his future, he would become artistic director of CCP for two decades.
Millado, who is also currently the CCP’s vice president, officially joined the CCP in 1986 right after the People Power Revolution, under the leadership of Nicanor Tiongson, then artistic director under the new administration with President Cory Aquino.
“The CCP I knew was the one that was democratized, decentralized, and reoriented,” Millado said. “I was part of the team that steered the CCP towards its vision of decentralization and democratization.
“After 1986, I was asked to join the CCP outreach program to lead regional training until about 1988. The CCP began to open its doors and became more aggressive, reaching outside the metropolitan area of Manila.”
He joined evangelism before leaving for the United States to take his master’s degree. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in Performance Studies at New York University.
“I came back in 1993 when I was asked to be part of the performing arts department at CCP, responsible for musical theatre, performing arts and dance programming,” Millado said.
After teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for nearly three years, Millado returned permanently to the Philippines in 2000 and started as Associate Art Director for Tanghalang Pilipino. He held this position for three years.
“It was totally in my line,” he said. “I was a theater director and playwright. I was directing for PTV 4 at the time. When Nonon Padilla came up with the idea of becoming a partner, I was just too willing to accept it because I admired Nonon’s work. I love what he was doing.
“Basically, my task was to shape the formation of the Actor’s Company. It was practically my line. CCP offered me a job in the performing arts department. The responsibility has expanded, not only to theater, but also to music and dance.
At the beginning, the challenge was to attract the public. “How to expand the audience, especially when I came from the theater and we benefit from a kind of patronage in the theater. He was growing.
“Before the pandemic, the public was in the theater. But we continued to build audiences for local theater productions.
In 2002 came a huge challenge. “They ran ‘Miss Saigon’ in the CCP for six months,” Millado recalled. “It was the first time that a world-class theatrical production was presented at the PCC.
“It also meant that local theater productions faced very stiff competition with a multinational musical. There was some resistance from local artists who felt out of place because the production was large, but it siphoned off much of the work from their premises.
“The challenge then was to make it an opportunity for local artists so that their work and their patrons could also benefit from the ‘Miss Saigon’ experience.
“It was the first time that a full-fledged Broadway musical was brought to Manila, in all its glory, technology and splendour, so it was a great opportunity for local audiences as well.
In 2003, Millado was asked to become the associate artistic director of CCP, to which he easily answered in the affirmative.
“The first thing that landed on my desk was defending the highly controversial art exhibit, ‘Kulo’, by Mideo Cruz,” he recalls. “It was the collective exhibition of different artists from UST basically in the tradition of Jose Rizal, casting criticism on his milieu at that time against colonialism with the Spaniards.
“On this day, the artists created several hard-hitting socialist works criticizing corruption and many other things.
“One of them was a very strong image that drew the ire of conservative church members and even earned a Senate investigation. There were demonstrations in front of the CCP building. It was my baptism of fire.
Millado is proud to have worked for the CCP during the reigns of five Philippine presidents. “I started with Cory Aquino, then took time off and came back during the last gasps of the Estrada administration before he was ousted.
“Then PGMA, PNoy and [President] Duterte. In fact, I planned to retire when I turned 60, which was last year. But I got caught in the middle of the closures. Management asked if I could inaugurate CCP until post-pandemic, which was just naman.”
Millado thinks it’s time for him to take his well-deserved vacation. However, he made it clear that he was not retiring from arts and culture, only from public service.
“I’m going back to directing and writing. I will continue to be a private arts administrator and manager. I have just retired from the public service. I believe I still have productive years ahead of me as a director, playwright, even as a teacher,” he said.
He had really planned to retire last year. “The timing lang. The change of administration entails the traditional stress and adjustment.
“I think the base is made up of very brave and very professional civil servants. I am convinced that they will be able to adapt to the transition. We were able to usher in exciting new adventure projects for CCP.
Millado’s Swan Song was supposed to be the CCP’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2019 through 2020.
“We were planning big and spectacular things, but the pandemic happened,” he lamented. “Yet, we were able to mount great activities that drew international attention to the CCP.”
The Manila International Performing Arts Summit has become the last big event before the pandemic. “It brought together three big professional meetings and a summit,” Millado explained.
“One was the Association of Asian Performing Arts Centres, made up of the Sydney Opera House, the Singapore Esplanade and the Hong Kong Center for the Arts, to name a few. They All Came Here and Participated in the CCP’s 50th Anniversary Celebration
“We worked with the Department of Trade and Industry to set up an Asian Arts Marketplace that brought our fledgling performing arts, music, theater industry to the table to connect with potential buyers in Southeast Asia.
“It was meant to end with Vivid Sydney, whoever does the sound and light show at Sydney Harbour. We have already had serious discussions with the organizers and creatives of Vivid Sydney to replicate the same in the CCP Complex.
“We already have sponsors and funding for this. This would have capped off the 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, the lockdown has taken place.
It also has the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, 12 volumes, with the digital version now available online at the CCP website.
Millado wants to be remembered as a collaborator. “I’ve always enjoyed working with people collaboratively more than anything else,” he said.
He also wants to teach. His last teaching stint was at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde School of the Arts before joining the CCP. Yet he also wants to get back to basics and start in the communities.
“I can’t wait to retire in Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte,” admitted Millado. “We are building a retirement home there in a small agricultural community. It could be a very new take on arts and culture.
“If 20 years have been spent on top-down institutional work, now there is an opportunity to create a growing community from below.”
And Millado is looking forward to that.