Amazing designs of a theater genius

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By Betsy Gazo


Friday, August 22, 2014

STUDENTS of art and design will love the latest exhibit at The Negros Museum. Badong Salvador Bernal Designs the Stage was brought to Bacolod by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) with sponsorships from 2GO and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The gorgeous presentation of the works of a theater genius will run until September 15 and this will give visitors ample time to study in more than one visit the vastness of ideas from the mind of the one and only National Artist for Theater Design in the country.

Costumes, photographs and scale models of stage designs chosen from over 250 dance, drama, musical and opera productions from 1969 to 2010 showcase the works of the Father of Theater Design of the Philippines.


Theater scholar Nicanor Tiongson and set and costume designer Gino Gonzales were the curators of the exhibit and they did a splendid job in highlighting the illustrious career of Salvador Bernal.

Bernal was born in 1945. As the gods of the arts saw fit, he grew up in a family that managed a terno shop. Amidst fabrics and colors and textures and designs, he was exposed to cut and silhouette.

Yet, it was the texture of words and ideas that made him enroll at the Ateneo de Manila University. From 1962 to 1966, he took up literature co

urses under Rolando Tinio and Bien Lumbera, and philosophy under Fr. Roque Ferriols. His love for words gave him the top prizes in the poetry category in two annual contests of Heights, Ateneo College of Arts and Sciences literary journal.

Then, in 1966, he graduated with a degree in B.S. Philosophy, cum laude, and also the Mulry Medal for Literary Excellence. He became assistant instructor from 1966-1970 at the Ateneo's English Department and founded the Ateneo Drama Club in 1967.

It was as a poet and philosopher at the Ateneo where he developed the ability to transfer text into visual ideas. By 1968, a Rolando Tinio-directed play, Mga Ibong Mandaragit, became his first set design project.

Our national artist was awarded a Fulbright Hays scholarship (MFA 1972) at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where "he studied, practiced, and handled courses in the art and craft of theater design."

He returned to the Philippines in 1973 and taught for a time at the Ateneo and University of the Philippines before going into design full-time. Bernal's prowess as a designer was tested to the fullest by the challenges of the times.

It was unprofitable then to go into design as a career. Budgets for production were usually insufficient. Yet, this was also when his discipline, immense talent, and creativity were taken note of.

In 10 years, he was considered the country's best theater designer so that "directors were lining up for his services."

The stage and the screen are the richer for Bernal's talent and expertise.

Forty years saw him design for more than 250 productions in ballet, opera, theater and film (including Oro, Plata, Mata). Two generations of production designers were taken under his wing and scores of artisans were trained and these included carpenters, seamstresses, metal workers, and painters.

Badong Salvador Bernal Designs the Stage is an exhibit one shouldn't miss. Please. Please. Please. Or you'll never have the chance to view this again.

At the exhibit, intricately-made scale models of stage sets designed by our artist are replicated from video-recorded parts of major productions shown on TV sets at the exhibit. Really take the time to savor the scenes in order to appreciate the genius that was the late Salvador Bernal.

My favorite is the Lapu-Lapu set where, with lighting and backdrop changes, it shows an ingenious way of maximizing and exploring space without a need for a major redo for each scene.

Also stay awhile to study the various well-made costumes that show how the artist's eye for details and excellence are what is needed to continue producing world-class acts.

Theater people, playwrights, actors, literature lovers and the general public will "ooh" and "aah" over the many other scale models displayed side by side at the second floor of the museum and find inspiration in the precious pieces of art that were the fruits of Salvador Bernal's imagination.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 23, 2014.


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