A tribute to people working behind the scenes

Through ‘Backstage Pass,’ a series of mini-documentaries by filmmaker Joseph Mangat, the Cultural Center of the Philippines spotlights its backstage crew
Manong Junior does what he does best — scenic painting.
Manong Junior does what he does best — scenic painting.

Audiences always see the work that the actors, and rest of the cast — the so-called front-liners of a production — put into a successful performance, but they seldom are aware of the "backliners" — the backstage and production crew — who also spent time and energy on the production.

As the cast receives applause and adulation, the behind-the-scenes crew often goes unnoticed — the costume designer who works on the fittings and alterations, the technical staff who makes sure that the lighting and sound system works, the production people who make the artistic vision come alive with their hammers, paint brushes, etc.

Some take great pride in their backstage work such as Annie Ignacio and Amado Bonifacio III, who are in production design for the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

A theater arts graduate of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Ignacio first encountered CCP when she was invited as a performer for Pasinaya: The CCP Open House Festival, the country's largest multi-arts festival happening every February. After hearing great things about CCP from her friends who have been working at the premier cultural institution, she decided to try her luck and inquired about a job opening. Weeks later, she started her new job as part of the theater crew at the Production Design Center. Later on, she was promoted as a draftsman.

Amado Bonifacio III prepares a production's scale model with his mentor Manong Junior.
Amado Bonifacio III prepares a production's scale model with his mentor Manong Junior.

Bonifacio, meanwhile, recalled undergoing an on-the-job training at CCP in 2016, a requirement to finish his engineering degree at the University of Manila. Two years later, in 2018, he became a reliever for one of the theater crewmembers. He was later tasked to supervise the layout of the CCP's Christmas decorations.

Ignacio and Bonifacio both trained under Francisco M. Galvero Jr., or "Manong Junior" to people he worked with. For more than five decades until his retirement last year, Manong Junior remained the only scenic painter of the CCP.

After watching him create huge sets for different CCP productions, the mentees started shadowing this master. They would always see Manong Junior doing the scale models and then bringing these miniatures into life-sized sets and sceneries.

Curiosity led Ignacio to this path. She would ask questions, inquire about the process of producing sets, find out how to make things realistic and experiment with colors and textures to make the design come alive, among others.

"While working with Manong Junior, I noticed his hands. I told him that his hands look like my father's hands," shared Ignacio in an interview.

Bonifacio added that Manong Junior served as a father figure to him and his fellow workers. "As a mentor, he gave us artistic freedom to explore. He allowed us to express our creativity, but he would appraise our works and rectify what we'd done wrong in a very patient way," he said.

Being a backstage crewmember has its share of ups and downs. Sometimes, several productions are scheduled simultaneously, with everything happening all at once. When these happen, the workload could become overwhelming for the crew.

"There was a time when work piled up. We didn't know what we should do first. My mind went blank, and I just cried. But after that, I returned to work as if nothing happened," said Ignacio.

Bonifacio noted a similar experience. "Even if we don't want to, the nature of the work forces us to be workaholics. Things could get stressful and tiring, but we love what we are doing. That's why we are still here."

For them, work does not feel like work. They find fulfillment in seeing what they worked hard for and pour their hearts into it.

Ignacio's biggest achievement to date was creating the now-iconic eye balloon for the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2019. The work was displayed at the CCP Main Building Grand Staircase and became an instant hit as an Instagrammable spot among film enthusiasts. She also did the realistic bibingka and puto bumbong props for Tuloy Ang Pasko. These involved trials and errors, and hearing the compliments and receiving recognition made it all worthwhile.

She said, "Manong Junior always told us not to be afraid to keep trying and make mistakes."

Francisco M. Galvero Jr., with his apprentice Annie Ignacio, preparing the set for a ballet production.
Francisco M. Galvero Jr., with his apprentice Annie Ignacio, preparing the set for a ballet production.

Bonifacio, who takes pride in his work with the Art House Cinema facade decor and Sinag: Festival of Lights, reveals that he doesn't see himself as an artist. It was only when his mentor Manong Junior recognized him as an artist that he started pondering about his work.

They know that backstage work is rarely recognized, but CCP is paying homage to these unsung heroes through a series of mini-documentaries by filmmaker Joseph Mangat, Backstage Pass. Launched during Cinemalaya 19, the second installment features Manong Junior, who had been working on sets for various CCP productions since the early 1980s. The first release featured the technical theater crew in the lights and flying sections.

More Backstage Pass episodes will feature the CCP film technicians, sound crew and costume custodians, as well as venue booking and front-of-house operations. The series also gives viewers a glimpse of the lesser-known careers in cinema and theater work.

Daily Tribune