Nick Tayag – The Philippine Star

October 19, 2021 | 12:00am

“Can’t you give it a rest?”

I asked this casual question to my friend and tokayo Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) chairman. He had just arrived from Baguio City that afternoon and already he was asking me to join him to meet online with members of the Executive Committee of the International University Theater Association (IUTA) to discuss the said group’s world congress to be held in Manila sometime August 2022.

As head of the country’s two main cultural agencies, he is the de facto equivalent of a “Minister of Culture” in a country like France or Spain. His schedule even during the pandemic is hectic and physically stressful but the life of the arts moves on inexorably. He goes with the flow so to speak.

During our virtual meeting with IUTA members, I heard one of them say: “Nick, what you are doing is an inspiration to all of us.” She was expressing it in behalf of the 1,500 theater mentors and practitioners from 50 colleges and universities around the world, who are members of IUTA. They were sincerely interested in participating in the congress and learning more about Manila’s art and cultural scene.

As if he has forgotten his age, Nick is an indefatigable mover and shaker of the arts. It’s true, the theaters at CCP have been empty and for the longest time, the curtains have been closed for in-person performances due to prevailing health protocols.

Unwilling to be stopped by the pandemic, CCP and NCCA, at the initiative of the CCP Office of the President, went beyond the physical four walls of the theater and discovered the power and reach of online performances. The rallying cry became: “Sarado ang gusali, tuloy ang Sining.”

Shifting gear, CCP went on digital platforms to reach people marooned in their homes through the CCP’s Virtual Outreach Program branded as Sining Sigla. In collaboration with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Padayon, an online program regularly streamed a menu of culturally-relevant as well as educational contents accessible to the public online.

The CCP’s vast archives were also made available online, including recorded musical concerts, plays, and other performances.

All in all, CCP’s Virtual Outreach Program last year garnered a total of 4.7 million viewers. Significantly, it helped provide a source of income for about 800 artists, production and technical staff during pandemic.

In one of our conversations, he mentioned to me that while the finished skyways and bridges were all impressive, he said that alongside these awesome structures, he feels the necessity — no urgency — of building the other necessary pathways that will facilitate the arts to reach people from all walks of life as well as communities of diverse cultures. Music, dance, visual arts, performing arts, even digital arts can be the skyways and bridges across cultures and across walks of life and class divisions. He even sent me a quote: “While feeding them with food for their bodies, let’s not forget the spirit and the soul. Art is what nourishes that part of the human being.”

Speaking of infrastructures, he oversaw the final touches on the restoration of the Metropolitan Theater to its full glory. It is now ready to open to the general public, except that in-person live performances that require gatherings of people are still not allowed.

As usual, Nick is not deterred. Against all odds, he has just mounted a huge production at the said Metropolitan Theater and had it recorded for viewing online. This is the musical, Lapulapu, Ang Datu ng Mactan. It is scheduled to stream on Oct. 24.

When it was just being conceptualized, people were highly skeptical that it could be produced. Overcoming glitches and postponements, the musical is now a reality, the first theatrical production in 25 years after the Met was closed down in 1996. Once again, Nick, the live wire of the arts, proved naysayers wrong again.

In a Facebook post, Lapulapu director Dexter Santos reveals, “For an hour and 20-minute Original Filipino Musical, we had four days of staging, blocking and choreography, one day of polishing and run-throughs, two days of TDR, and one day of shoot. It was the most anxious and jam-packed eight days of my theatrical life. But it happened.”

Arman Ferrer, who plays the leading role, describes the experience in a Facebook post, “Mounting an original musical in less than two weeks during a pandemic was not an easy task. Anxiety was high, and everyone was visibly concerned with safety as well as the responsibility and pressure to put on a show that was as clean and special as possible. But faith kept us going — faith in the protocols and in each other.”

Faith, yes, and above all passion.

Already, passion is the inexhaustible fuel that is driving Nick all the way up to Baguio City to have the CCP and NCCA participate in a Creative Festival to make the arts come alive again in that UNESCO designated creative city.

Passion is what’s driving him to set his sights on cinema to produce a new adaptation of Noli Me Tangere, which he believes is a vital part of our national cultural wealth and that having it streamed on digital platforms is the most effective way to get Rizal’s ideas into the minds of young Filipino digital natives.

Passion is what’s sustaining him in his effort to revitalize interest in the kundiman by way of Kung Hindi Man, an online musical series that is streaming every Saturday evening through the Facebook page of the CCP Office of the President.

Passion is what’s keeping alive his inner fire in launching Awit at Tula, which will be streamed in November, featuring the creative fusion of classic balagtasan and contemporary rap.

Meanwhile, two national artists have recently passed on but their demise only serves to underscore the value of our artists. Even for just a brief moment the artist became part of the conversation on social media. Nick is sure to create opportunities from this momentary interest.

On his way back to the office after days of defending the budget allocation in congress and the senate, where he was congratulated by members from both majority and minority parties, someone quipped: “It looks like the defense for the arts never rests.”

Indeed, Nick is too passionate to stop now. Defending and advocating for the arts has always been his lifelong passion.

Like the virus, he mutates and adapts and comes out with a new variant of the performing arts, another potent way to infect people from all walks of life with the arts.

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