Set design workshop at the Cultural Center of the Philippines

Summer Designs 
By Walter Ang
June 6, 2001
Philippine Daily Inquirer

For close to two months, the Cultural Center of the Philippines became a sort of office/second home to me and a motley crew of diverse personalities and characters. With seven other individuals, I took the set design workshop offered this year. We commandeered the lobby of the Production Design Center everyday for almost eight weeks. Drawing floor plans and set design perspectives in the morning and working hands-on in the Scene Shop building stages and sets in the afternoons.

The set design class was composed of an interesting mix of students, school-based technicians, and community workers. We came to class bleary eyed every morning to take in nuggets of set design techniques from Bobot Lota, who was the set supervisor for the local production of Ms. Saigon.

The whole class had fantastic rapport and we got along gloriously with Bobot. Bobot is fun and has a light, uncomplicated approach to teaching. He has a deceptively sneaky way of getting what he wants from you without being pushy, bitchy or dictatorial. You're sitting there with eyes wide open, wondering if you can draw or build the things he's describing as he talks to you and jokes around. Before you know it, he's coaxed it out of you and you're amazed you could actually produce what you've just done.

After an initial assessment, Bobot adjusted the course syllabus to suit the class's capabilities. Since most of us had a little background in visual arts, he upped the ante and made our class an advanced one. Under his eye, we spent hours drawing, measuring (a real pain I assure you), mixing latex paints, hammering away, sawing loads and loads of plywood, among other glamorous activities.

Light moments
Of course, it wasn't all heavy work. We spent an equal amount of hours sharing stories, making jokes, eating lunch together, talking about the elections, gossiping about actors and other, well, substantial activities.

We had guests from the industry who gave us talks and advice. One thing was apparent from what they shared. They encouraged workshops and formal training for theater practioners since there is a dearth of abled people in the Philippines. Eric Cruz, director of the Production Design Center, stressed that more people should know about the availability of workshops so they can learn more about the craft of set designing.

Apart from special lectures, we even had an educational trip (well, that's what they called it anyway) together with the lighting design class to historic Barsoain Church in Bulacan. The trip was lovely and great fun even though the weather wasn't as sunny as we hoped it would be. I was surprised to learn how near the city this landmark is and how come my grade school never arranged a field trip to the place. I was equally astonished to learn the interior was made of wood and not stone as the ten peso bill would make it seem to be. By the way, the cat isn't there.

We also got to visit the Church museum and experienced a neat light and sound show/exhibit. The hours after lunch were devoted to swimming at a nearby resort and bonding all around with the other class. And another round of gossip about actors.

Coming to an end
As the workshop drew to an end, all the other classes merged to come up with a culminating show of what we've learned. Along with dozens of other students taking workshops in lighting design, stage management, directing and a whole gamut of theater disciplines, we were like ants in a colony. Almost the entire complex was abuzz with activity. It was so filled with enthusiastic activity and hungry people that the cafeteria had to close early on our last day because it had run out of food by 4pm. Much to my shock and dismay, since I was completely famished by then. Poor me.

The teachers of the various classes were on hand to make sure we were on the right track. Even Eric would drop in everyday, giving advice and suggestions. He even taught everyone The Beauty Pageant Candidate Wave, a graceful turning of the upright palm that would surely clinch any crown. You had to see it to believe it, people were waving that way until the very last day.

As the show dates crept nearer, all you could see were people sticking masking tape everywhere while actors invaded every corner and corridor to rehearse scenes. Copies upon copies of scripts, announcements, directories and, ehem ehem, set designs were photocopied and distributed. The frenzied pace of energy swirling around was a sight to behold. Soon, the magic of blending everyone's contributions was becoming more and more concrete.

Everyone was learning from everyone else. We had to figure out how to make things work with only the materials we had. The most creative and wonderful ideas were thrown together to create a show we could all be proud of. And as the curtain fell on the very last performance, the audience applauded. We applauded with them. We applauded ourselves. We applauded each other.

The author recently won Second Place in a Set Design Competition sponsored by Saigon Company Manila and Cameron Mackintosh.