RANDOM LESSONS FROM BADONG BERNAL [Part 1 of 3]
It's nearly 2:00am here at the ancestral house in San Jose, Antique. I went downstairs a while ago, i was staring at the 8ft. Christmas Tree I gifted my abuela last year. We spent most of the morning today doing assembly, fixing up the branches, and wiping the greens individually with a damp cloth [ which is not an easy feat by "mindless chores" standards ]; and predictably -with the provincial pace- the winds of procrastination blew my way, and i put off placing the lights on the tree.
Trust me, when you spend your whole life making a spectacle of your christmas displays, you pretty much have a grasp of your methods of execution ergo you needn't have to rush a tree.
Seeing that huge mass of faux foliage standing there, waiting for the possibilities of baubles and ornaments that would hang upon the spindles of its branches, by some unexplainable drift of nostalgic sentimentality while organizing the ornaments on the table, made me look back at the days when i first entered the Rizal Mini Theater [more commonly known as the RMT] during the production weeks of Tanghalang Ateneo's 2002 production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Come to think of it, my mind does wander into that realm quite a lot lately.
Around that age, most of the training in the performing arts i've received were acting based. And honestly, around that time, I never cared much for production design other than wearing costumes.
To those who have seen the RMT, it's really more of an audio-visual room than a theater. The sightlines alone are a challenge, there are no fixed proscenium frames to define the space, and no stage floor installed [ at least that's how i remember it during my time ]. To every production designer that has ever worked in that space, it was one tedious christmas tree to prepare for decorating...
That year, Badong Bernal just came back from a tour around Southeast Asia and it greatly influenced his designs. The RMT was transformed into the romantic realm of Illyria. Where, upon a white floor in the center, one sees a multi-pointed stylized star painted gold; and a multi-faceted house in the Menangkabau architectural silhouette embellished with ornate carvings which will be finished in goldleaf, stands alone secretly held by a pivot, making it turn and change shape before the audience's eyes.
And if you think about it, it does allude to Orsino's line in the play that goes, "O pag-ibig kay liksi ng iyong pintig na papalit-palit ng hugis ayon sa iyong layon at nais." [That is, if I remember that line correctly. But i'm sure you get the point. Oh yeah, i forgot to mention we used Rolando Tinio's Filipino translation of the play.] This performance space is then framed by a false proscenium, the lines of which, serve as a counterpoint to the somewhat outward burst of the look represented in the central setpiece.
And i was just filled with such awe on how magical a transformation the space took on. At that point, everything changed for me.
I started helping out with making the jewelry pieces that were part of the costume designs for the Pan-Southeast Asiatic motiff used by Sir Badong. It was the first time I was introduced to goldleaf transfer foil; a material i use ubiquitously and as much as i can when i get the chance [ those of you who have worked with me before know this well ]. I even remember that rainy 7:00am when my friend Ara Fernando arrived with this box of jewelry pieces made of illustration board, blue foam, and a stiffener called 'pelon'; and we spent the day doing nothing but goldleaf for later in the evening was the first costume fitting for the show.
That evening, Sir Badong arrived to check the costumes. That was the first time I met him; and it was about two years before he became a National Artist. And behind him, years of unparalleled achievements in his craft. Admittedly, I was starstruck, for I saw his designs for Lapu-Lapu years before and I remember how mesmerized a high school junior I was. In the midst of helping out with the costume parade, I had a chance to ask Sir Badong what I would call now as a 'ubiquitously stupid question to ask'.
I asked, "Sir, how did you come up with this design?"
He responded with what I would call Lesson Number One [ not as verbatim as it was for me but imagine it with a small dose of that brand of Sir Badong 'taray'... ]:
"Hijo, you can pretty much come up with any design for Shakespeare. His plays are beautiful material to experiment with. I simply took what I thought would work [refers to the design template] for this play and ran with it."
The way he said that so casually could not compare to the sophisticated pieces that were worn by the actors who were walking about. A genius always makes it look easy for him, as the case always applies.
I was not yet scheduled to attend his production design class that semester, however since that particular class that term was just before my Aesthetics class which he also taught, i started coming in early to sit-in his production design classes.
Wait! If you've gotten this far, i know what you must be saying in your head... And my response would be, "I know, right!"
We shall continue this next blog...
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