National Artist for Theater Design Salvador “Badong” Bernal dies Oct. 26, 2011 at 66

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National Artist for Theater Design Salvador “Badong” Bernal died on Oct. 26, 2011 at the age of 66. That afternoon, I was assigned by an editor of Philippine Daily Inquirer to write a short obit for Bernal. They sent me some research materials and I called some people at the Cultural Center of the Philippines for information.

Later that evening, my editor and I found out another editor had also already assigned another writer to do the same assignment and my editor reconfigured my assignment to collect statements for Bernal. Below is the original draft of the obit/article I was assigned to write and the compilation of statements that was eventually published on the Oct. 31, 2011 issue.

There are also some statements that I found online and reposted below.

Draft as of 2011 10 26 6pm originally intended for Oct 27 issue
National Artist for Theater Design Salvador Bernal dies at 66
By Walter Ang

National Artist for Theater Design Salvador “Badong” Bernal died yesterday (Oct. 26) at the age of 66.

He was brought to a hospital Quezon City around 12noon and was declared dead on arrival. As of this writing, cause of death has not yet been determined.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines said it was coordinating with Bernal’s family to plan a possible necrological service.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of a great artist,” says CCP Vice-President and Artistic Director Chris Millado.  “Badong redefined scenic design in the Philippines and was a teacher and mentor to our current crop of designers. He was responsible for creating the beautiful sets and costumes that defined the aesthetics of the various ballet, theater and musical productions at the CCP and other venues,” Millado continues.  “He will be greatly missed as a theater artist, mentor and friend.”

Bernal was named National Artist in 2003.  The award citation notes that “sensitive to the budget limitations of local productions, he harnessed the design potential of inexpensive local materials, pioneering or maximizing the use of bamboo, raw abaca and abaca fiber, hemp twine, rattan chain links and gauze cacha. In doing this he exemplified the versatility of Filipino materials for design and proved that the poverty of a production need not imply a poverty of the imagination.”

Bernal began designing costumes and sets in 1968 while teaching literature at Ateneo De Manila University, where he also graduated with a degree in philosophy two years prior.  From then on, he had designed more than 300 productions of plays, ballets, concerts, musicals and operas.

His last work for CCP was for “Banaag at Sikat,” National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera’s rock musical last year.  He designed Tanghalang Ateneo’s “Sintang Dalisay” earlier this year and had been in the middle of collaborating with director Felix “Nonon” Padilla for an upcoming production of “King Lear.”

Born January 7, 1945, Bernal was the fifth of 10 children of Santiago Bernal, a dentist, and Ubalda Flor, a clothes designer.

He pursued a Master of Fine Arts major in Scenic Design at Northwestern University and was appointed as a lighting design instructor there.  He was also a British Council scholar and observed theater work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera House in England.

He returned to Manila and added Stage Design to the classes he taught at Ateneo (which he also eventually taught at University of the Philippines). Salvador Bernal began designing sets and costumes for Ballet Phils in 1973 and worked as resident designer for BP for several years. He went full-time into production design in 1974.

He was director and consultant to the CCP Production Design Center from 1987-1994 and mentored its current head, Eric Cruz. He was also mentor to production designer Gino Gonzales.

Bernal proposed the creation of the Production Design Center, a building at the CCP complex inaugurated in 1992 that houses a scene shop (construction area) for sets, sewing rooms and storage for costumes, and other offices.

He designed most of the sets and costumes of Tanghalang Pilipino, the CCP’s resident theater company, since its opening season in 1987.

He also returned to the academe and had been teaching Interdisciplinary Studies at Ateneo.  There, he designed many productions for Tanghalang Ateneo, one of the university’s theater groups, having served as the company’s Resident Production Designer since 1996.

Author, awardee
He was considered an authority in Philippine costumes and period clothing.  He designed period costumes for movies like “Oro, Plata, Mata” and “Gumising Ka, Maruja.” He authored “Patterns for the Filipino Dress, From Traje de Mestiza to the Terno” in 1992.

He also authored a collection of poetry "The firetrees burn all summer and other poems" in 2000.

He received several awards, including the CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts and the Patnubay ng Sining Award.

In 1995, to promote and professionalize the practice of theater design, he founded the Philippine Association of Theatre Designers and Technicians, and OISTAT Philippines, the country’s chapter of the International Organization for Stage Designers, Theater Architects and Technicians.

In 2007, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts published “Salvador F. Bernal: Designing the Stage,” a book written by Nicanor Tiongson detailing Bernal's work.

The article below was published in the Oct. 31, 2011 issue of Philippine Daily Inquirer
‘Bravo, Badong!’
Philippine theater pays tribute to National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador Bernal, 66
By Walter Ang

Theater artists and peers paid tribute to National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador “Badong” Bernal who died Oct. 26 at age 66.

The Philippine Theater Actors Guild said it was paying a “final standing ovation… to the master.”

“Philippine theater is now one major pillar less with the demise of Salvador Bernal,” the group said.
“In his art, Bernal brought the Filipino spirit to the stage with his design,” said TAG. “He will always be remembered for his massive scenic pieces, in which the challenge to the actor was always to equal the grandness of the space he created. No acting space was small for Bernal, because for him, that is how theater should be—grand and majestic.

“He was not only a designer; he also played the part of mentor to his juniors. He wanted to leave a legacy, but more than that, he wanted to kindle their passion. Because passion is what he had for the theater. It was always like a marriage, a fusion of the old and the new. He worked with tested materials, employed new design aesthetics, and thus was able to transcend time and differences in culture.

“Bravo Badong!”

Dramatist Tony Perez also gave his fond remembrance of the National Artist:
“In the 1990s, when the Cultural Center of the Philippines finally built a design center to service its three theaters, Badong told reporters, ‘We have finally entered the 20th century.’

“He was one of our greatest fashion designers but refused to be known as one. I have the honor of owning a ¾-balloon, witch’s cape—the last piece of clothing that he ever executed for anyone.

“He was also one of our greatest stage directors, computer-graphic artists, and film collectors—he refused to be labelled as any of those, too.

“Whenever he put his best foot forward, it was always as production designer.  Again, I have the honor of having him as production designer for most of my plays, especially my recently completed trilogy ‘Indakan ng mga Puso’ (‘Oktubre…’;  ‘Nobyembre…’; and ‘Disyembre…’)

“He was an obsessive-compulsive, but so are the most disciplined artists all over the world. Stupidity and mediocrity constantly annoyed him. Ironically, the students he frequently scolded should have felt the most flattered: He scolded them only because he felt that they were promising. Always enigmatic, he was selective with friends, but, once he had selected them, he chose only to give to them rather than receive from them.”

Theater director Ricky Abad wrote:
“Badong was more than just a designer.  He was an ethical designer. He respected the integrity of stage design:  design was for one play and not for any other. And that design cannot be sloppy or mediocre; it has to pass by high artistic standards; it has to be true to the play’s concept and to the character being played; it has to be nailed, sawn or sewn properly. Otherwise he fumes, in part because of the person’s incapacity to do things well, but more because an improperly done set or costume is a violation of the order demanded by the artistic universe—an aesthetic blasphemy, a creative sacrilege.”

“Badong is a very dear friend, a long-time collaborator and my most trusted critic,” said Denisa Reyes, former artistic director of Ballet Philippines. “He was forthright and brutally honest, an incorrigible romantic, but was most generous with his art and criticisms, sometimes to a fault. He had no tolerance for mediocrity, despised the ‘bahala na/pwede na’ attitude in the arts because he had such impeccable taste and was a perfectionist. May his legacy live on.”

Bernal was named National Artist in 2003.  The award citation notes that “sensitive to the budget limitations of local productions, he harnessed the design potential of inexpensive local materials, pioneering or maximizing the use of bamboo, raw abaca and abaca fiber, hemp twine, rattan chain links and gauze cacha. In doing this, he exemplified the versatility of Filipino materials for design and proved that the poverty of a production need not imply a poverty of the imagination.”

Also published online:

Eulogy for Badong by Nonon Padilla

Reposting from Glenn Sevilla Mas's Facebook account October 30, 2011

Badong and I began our professional relationship in 1986 after the Edsa Revolution. The CCP was re-organized under Dr. Nic Tiongson as Artistic Director and Mrs. Bing Roxas as President. At that time I headed the Visual Arts Department, inherited from Ray Abano. Nic asked me to head the Coordinating Center for Dramatic Arts with the objective of establishing a new resident Drama Company. Rolando Tinio, head of Teatro Pilipino at the time was on collision course with the Artistic Director and eventually folded up his company.

Tanghalang Pilipino began with a production of a Zarzuela, Dalagang Bukid. Badong did the sets and costumes. A reduced PPO of 30 musicians played live the first 2 weekend run, then recorded a minus one for the rest of the run.

The objective of the new company was to develop a repertory company. We began with three productions that season, and increased it to seven or eight the next season.

Badong designed a lovely art nouveau set for Dalagang Bukid complete with a Tranvia. The costumes were the classic baro’t saya of the twenties.

We had two venues at our disposal, the Small Theater, and the laboratory space, eventually named Batute after the nom de plume of poet, Jose Corazon de Jesus.

Next we did a Polish play, Pulis by Slawomir Mrozek. Badong, who was busy designing for Ballet Philippines insisted on doing the production design for Pulis, with very little budget. He didn’t mind. He wanted to design set and costumes. He came up with a hot fire engine red platform in the round. We suspended a red fishing net that eventually collapsed on the actors like trapped tigers.

In the 16 years that I stayed as artistic director of the Drama Company, I would say, more than half of our productions in the company Badong designed. And had he not suffered his first heart attack, and had kept his old energy, he would have done more. He loved the theater, pure and simple.

I guess you can say, we were an ideal team for theater, as I believe Alice and Badong were ideal for dance theater.

By ideal, I don’t mean to brag or sound snooty. Alice and I never dictated on Badong. It was always a reciprocal process, a give and take, where ideas were exchanged, or bounced around, with lots of discussions on concept, image, texture, and dramatic objectives.

When I was blank with ideas, or just didn’t know how to approach a given script, he was always ready with a question or two, to jump start our thought process. And when he was blank, I did likewise.
It was a fulfilling creative relationship because Badong had a sharp mind, a critical mind that many misunderstood as mataray sa pintas. But on the contrary, Badong would think aloud to keep the thought process going. He may have sounded opinionated in many instances, and dismissive about actors, directors, and designers, but his insights were constantly constructive.

Badong studied Philosophy at the Ateneo. He had a lifelong devotion and respect for his mentor, Fr. Roque Ferriols, a Jesuit professor he periodically visited throughout his life until recently when his health got in the way.

He was trained to think logically. And his sense of space, direction, and orientation was always firm. As tourists abroad, whether in Paris, Tokyo, or HongKong, I always relied on him to lead us back to our hotel. That was when he could still walk comfortably. When his leg gave him constant pain, he became despondent and sad that his travelling days were over.

Many will say he had genius. Badong will instantly scoff at the term. I can hear him whisper, “Say mo!”
What he readily admitted to his friends was that he had taste. And taste is not genius. It is a sense of proportion, a sense of scale, a sense for color and tone.

Badong’s was impeccable.

In his costume and set designs, what distinguished him from the rest was his attention to detail and correct period paraphernalia. It could be a simple lace handkerchief, grey stockings, or a feather on a hat. Whenever he adds the correct detail, the costume comes alive, and more importantly, the character is enhanced visually.
Badong would have been a wonderful director. I offered him numerous times to direct. In college he directed a number of stunning plays like The Bald Soprano, and a very intense Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio by Paul Dumol.

But he dismissed my offers.
He would quote or paraphrase T.S.Eliot: No I am not Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do to swell a progress, start a scene or two.”
O, ano’ng say mo?
Wa na say. Bow! Nagsalita na ang makata.

At the Ateneo, Badong was the Poetry editor of Heights. He was the college bard. Now, one can safely say he never abandoned poetry, although his published output was small and sporadic. He was to write poems intermittently, but at the turn of the millennium, he collected all his poems, early and new, into one volume, published by Bookmark. His poems were personal lyrics, honoring his mother or father, remembering a long dead friend, remembering childhood, song to a kikay friend, affectionate verses celebrating summer holidays.
He thought like a poet when he designed sets and costumes, translating image and silhouette into visual metaphors.

Dear, dear Badong, I don’t think I’m going to be honest if I simply dwell on your genius as legend, or your temper or personal eccentricities. We both have had our full measure of frustrations here at the CCP. You never got to beef up your production center and see it take wing into a full creative factory, as I never got to fully establish our ideal National Theater as a fully professional repertory company.

We were witness to the slow transformation of the CCP, from a creative center into a center for bureacrats, the erosion of creative attitude to technical and political efficiency and/or expediency.
Betoots Manalang yesterday told me that you were hopeful that I would come back and work here again, but then you remarked, Hay si Nonon, pag magsara ng tindahan, wala ng balikan.

Well, friend, I beg you pardon, I was just following your footsteps. You left the CCP earlier than me to go back to the Ateneo on the ostensible excuse that you wanted a higher pay. I know for a fact that you were dismayed that Technical theater department waged a turf war on you and your office, valuing more bureaucratic efficiency over creativity and training. And when Malacanang gave the third floor of the Production building to Cirio Santiago and the Film Development Board, you quietly packed up your bags and with little drama, you transferred to our beloved hill between the earth and sky called the Ateneo.
You could not be bothered about the pettiness of it all.

As for me, why would you want to subject your dear friend to this cave of shadows, where every six years, with every change of administration, the circus comes to town, and all the artists working here are subjected to humiliation of loyalty checks and obsequious ceremonies of kowtowing to politicians and bureaucrats. Alas, the artist is not king in this center for culture.

But to pressing ceremony we must attend.
Betoots Manalang told me a secret lately about you. Before you were to undergo your angioplasty last month, you asked her to pray with you your favorite prayer written by Bernard of Clairvaux.
So this morning I pray it happily, filled with love and absolute affection:

Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary,/ that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection,/ implored thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To thee I come; and before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my words,/ But graciously hear and grant my prayer. Amen.

Adieu, mon ami.
A flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.

What do you think of Salvador "Badong" Bernal? Share your comments.

1 comment :



The very first play I was in Dulaang U.P. was "Ang Pabilog na Guhit ng Tisa" designed by Salvador Bernal, and got to wear his costumes made of katsa, jute sack and bamboo. He was teaching Stagecraft, Set Design and Costume Design in U.P., and I had the privilege of being in his classes (Stagecraft and Set Design). In the latter, there were only three of us at that time, the other two being Chris Millado and Nicolas Deocampo. We would fear his baritone voice every time we would present our designs and he would ask "What is your metaphor!??".

I actually feared him for some time, only to discover how wonderful it was to collaborate (as Lighting Designer)with him as Set/Costume Designer in CCP's production of the opera "Noli Me Tangere" in 1987, and later in TP's "Walang Sugat", "Ginintuang Bayan", "Sa Bunganga ng Pating" among others. When he founded PATDAT/OISTAT Philippines and served (to his death) as Chairman, I had the honor of serving as Head of the Technology Commission. It was a privilege likewise to receive the Gawad Balanghai trophy from him (and Irma Adlawan) in the Cinemalaya 2007 Festival.

I'm only glad to count myself as among his students and colleagues.