I first met Chris Millado when I was still a newbie lifestyle reporter working for a newspaper based in Intramuros. Back then, I would cover the arts and culture beat, which entailed writing stories about what was happening at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Whenever I would interview him, I would be amazed by his energy and passion. That same energy and passion I witnessed when I started working at the CCP.
Truth be told, I often had apprehensions every time he would call me to his office. It felt like going to the principal office. Or in some cases, a thesis defense of some sort. He would clarify reports. He would ask for opinions and ideas. He would throw a curveball, challenging and picking the minds of everyone who attended the meeting.
Don’t get me wrong. Working under CBM (as he was fondly called in the office) was challenging and at the same time, it was fulfilling. I learned a lot working with him.
CCP associate director Ariel Yonzon shares the same sentiment. “He can be challenging. But what is good about him is that he sees the best in people. Even if we encounter hurdles, he is always bright, and always on the positive side. Of course, it could be daunting for us who have worked with him because he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he would not stop until we find ways to make his vision come true.”
Yonzon continued: “Pag may vision siya, it has to happen. I think it comes with the territory of being a theater director. When you are a theater director, you have a vision and everyone after him has to follow to see the fruition of the production.”
CCP administrator Tess Rances agreed, saying that CBM has this stimulating kind of energy that affects others. “You can’t help but just say yes to his ideas. He is very progressive. He always thinks out of the box. He is very creative and has the energy to propel things. Chris is very open to collaborating with as many people as he could. He was able to open many doors.”
Rances met CBM back in her university days at UP Diliman. She was with UP Rep, while CBM was with Dulaang UP. They would bump into each other and even did street theater together during Martial Law years.
After graduation, they led separate lives until they met again at the CCP. They started working together in the Outreach Department, where they were assigned to expand and develop the training programs.
Yonzon, meanwhile, remembers working with CBM back when he was the head of the Performing Arts Department (PAD).
“We would meet in Booking and Discounts Committee meetings. We usually had disagreements on bureaucracy and administrative stuff.
To my belief, he didn’t have the patience for the nitty and gritty of administrative processes back then. We couldn’t see eye to eye. As PAD head, he was very artistic. Being the head of Production and Exhibition Department, I focused on procedures and protocols.”
Back then, as relayed by Yonzon, CBM didn’t understand why everything had to go through certain processes, why certain things were not possible, and why the processes were so stringent.
“We had to explain the government procedural system. But now, he learned the ropes. He finally understood that when he became the artistic director, even value it. Later on, we found ways to improve the system,” shared Yonzon.
If I would list down the things that CBM successfully did for the CCP, the space for this column would not be enough. He has done a lot of great things, starting with conceptualizing and producing the CCP’s biggest festivals – Pasinaya, Virgin Labfest, and Cinemalaya.
For Pasinaya, Yonzon expounds on how CBM was able to bridge different art forms and bring artists and cultural workers together. He was able to collaborate with various art groups with different approaches and practices.
“One of the challenges of being an artistic director is the community and network. One must have the respect of the artistic community. Otherwise, it is just a title. It is just a post and you can’t get things done. It would be valuable for the next artistic director to have that kind of respect from the Filipino artistic community.”
For Rances, Cinemalaya was able to expand beyond CCP through CBM’s leadership. Seventeen years of independent filmmaking and exhibitions, and it is still growing strong.
“The expansion we went through under his leadership in Cinemalaya. There’s also the Virgin Labfest. We were able to bring the playwrights, involving them in the theater production. Usually, it is the director who chooses and does all the work, but through the VLF, playwrights have a voice,” said Rances.
Both Rances and Yonzon believe that CBM is a hard act to follow.
“He brought in a heavy belt to the post. I can’t imagine anyone succeeding him. It would be presumptuous for anyone to think he can fill up that big shoe,” said Yonzon.
CBM has the experience. He was trained both here and abroad. He has a good foundation from UP, PETA, his stay in the USA, and some stints in Europe. He was able to bring those experiences home, and even more.
Every artistic director who helmed the CCP has their own strengths.
“CBM brought to the table a different take from all those before him. The uniqueness of his experience, ‘yung lalim ng babad niya sa theater community at iba’t ibang genre ng performing arts,” shared Yonzon who has worked with almost all CCP artistic directors.
“When I joined CCP in 1985, paalis na si Tita King. Dr. Nick Tiongson came in, and he was very academic. Short-lived sina Diana Recto, Cora Inigo, and Ramon Santos. Diana was very diplomatic because of her background in foreign affairs. Cora has a deep inclination for folk dance, while National Artist Ramon Santos was into music.”
“Tata Nanding was very democratic, very grassroots. Dr. Raul Sunico is into classical music. Although his background was ballet, Nestor Jardin was able to reinvent himself to embrace other art forms, and I call him cultural diplomat,” shared Yonzon.
For Rances, CBM was someone who was needed to answer the challenges of the time.
During Jardin’s time, it was a time when we had to strive to bring the best shows because of the Centennial celebration. CBM’s time has its own challenges, especially when the pandemic happened.
“Before the pandemic, Chris was going for digitalization. Because he is very techie. He loves to play with different gadgets. When pandemic hit, we had no choice but to go online,” shared Rances.
When asked what she would miss about working with CBM, Rances replied that it would be having someone to converse with.
“With lots of meetings going on, the only time we can talk about CCP was after work, or over lunch. We talked about what’s happening, the problems we are facing, and the best way to approach these challenges. That, I will miss that – to have that exchange of ideas, the respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We get to discuss and give input. I think we have moved on from being colleagues to friends. I wish the next AD would be as dynamic and stimulating, and hopefully, would become a friend, too,” she said.
I’ve asked Yonzon about the incoming artistic director – the expectations, the wishlist.
“It would be preemptive to say anything. We would like the new AD to have a blank slate. Because for all we know, he or she might bring something fresh to the table that we haven’t encountered before. Of course, in an ideal situation, we would like to have an AD who might be the culmination of all the previous AD and better. That would be asking for too much.”
He concluded: “Just stick to the mandate, take care of truth, goodness, and beauty in preservation, promotion, and development of Philippine arts and culture, sans any political colors, biases, or personal agenda.”
It is not really a goodbye. For sure, we would be seeing CBM at the CCP in whatever capacity – whether as a director for a new theater production, as an audience, or as a visiting friend.
But for now, happy retirement, CBM!