Outdoor Drama
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - December 15, 2001 - 12:00am
The most visited site at the Luneta is the Rizal Monument. The second most visited corner of our premier urban park is not a solemn memorial but a place for outdoor entertainment – it’s the park’s amphitheater.

Probably more than remembrance of events and personages of the past, Filipinos enjoy a good stage show. Give a Filipino open space and an audience and you’ll have music and drama before you can even say "Kuya Germs."

Showbiz al fresco is as good a way to spend a Sunday afternoon as any option in this frazzled city. Concerts at the park have, in fact, been playing longer than Dr. Rizal has been wearing his overcoat. The original venue for musical entertainment in the area was a kiosk in the middle of New Luneta (beside the Manila Hotel). Before the war the Philippine Constabulary Band, led by the famous Colonel Loving, used to draw large crowds every weekend. That venue disappeared in the 1950s as the Quirino Grandstand was built.
Pre-War Outdoor Venues
Other outdoor venues for large events were appropriated from city property. The regular Manila Carnival was held at Wallace Field (now the Agrifina Circle). A temporary amphitheater was constructed for that purpose. The design and construction of these facilities were always well-thought-out and executed. Leading architects of the day like Juan Arellano and Juan Nakpil were called on for their services.

Amphitheaters are well suited for hilly sites and before the war Baguio had a number of them. The most beloved of these was the one at Camp John Hay. Others were built around the country from Zambales to Zamboanga.

In Manila another venue was also used when crowds were expected to be large – the Rizal Baseball Stadium. It served much like an amphitheater with the field used for the stage. The Beatles had their July 1966 gig there before being rudely chased out of the country (because of a misunderstanding with Malacañang).

The music had to wait till the late 1960s for a permanent site. An amphitheater was proposed for construction behind the Quirino Grandstand but it ended up beside the Chinese Gardens instead. The choice of an amphitheater needed more space and a sloped site – besides, the facility would have blocked the view of the sunset. People knew their priorities back then.
Of Greeks And Gladiators
The choice of an amphitheater was appropriate for the revitalized park. Few structures in man’s long history of building survive in its basic form – a testament to the amphitheater’s importance as a venue of civilized life. The Greeks invented the amphitheater. It was their venue of choice for religious spectacle and public entertainment.

The Greeks were followed closely by the Romans. Their most famous amphitheater was the Coliseum (or Colosseum) named so because beside it was a colossal statue of Nero, 120 feet high. The Colosseum could seat 50,000 blood-thirsty Romans. (Our Araneta Coliseum can only seat a third of that but of course we had built ours even more colossal rice terraces to the sky, while the Romans were still figuring out how to build taller than a statue.)

The westerners then started roofing these structures. They became the auditoria and odeons of the early first millennium. Theater developed into specialized productions that required even more specialized structures. Amphitheaters, though, were still built for when the weather was more comfortable. These outdoor venues became one of the elements of modern-day parks, a movement that started in the late 19th century.
Bowled Over By Hollywood
The 20th century brought different types of entertainment – the movies. Despite this, the most famous amphitheater of the 20th century was built in Hollywood – The Hollywood Bowl. Located in Bolton Canyon, with the Hollywood sign visible in the background, the amphitheater was inaugurated in 1922 and has not stopped offering quality performances since. It is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and it has seen the likes of Pavarotti, Streisand, Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, Elton John and Garth Brooks, among many others.

The natural amphitheater seats 18,000. Its distinctive shell was designed by Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s son) in the late 1920s. It was renovated in 1980 by another Frank – famous contemporary Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry (of Bilbao’s Guggenhiem Museum fame), who put in spheres to improve the acoustics.

The bowl was threatened with demolition a few years ago but this was met with public opposition. The demolition plans were abandoned. Happily, the Bowl continues to serve the needs of Angeleños today. It is host to regular crowds of up to 18,000 people and is considered a cultural landmark of the city. (I wonder what has happened to our Metropolitan Museum?)
Outdoor Fever
Once the Rizal Park Open-Air Auditorium (as it is officially known) was inaugurated, it spawned several other amphitheaters and open air venues for theater and musical performances. Paco Park followed suit. So did performances at Fort Santiago with PETA. The National Parks Development Committee and Channel 4 have been hosting the concerts at Luneta and Paco Park since then (probably the only "program" that government has been able to sustain!).

The University of Life in Pasig had a good-sized amphitheater, which I have not seen in years. Even private subdivisions built them. Baryo Kapitolyo, my home "village," has one carved into a hillside. Several communities in Antipolo have their own "bowls" mostly with basketball courts as focal points. A well-used one is the Turalba’s Town and Country Estate.

But my favorite amphitheater has always been the one at UP Diliman. It fits in well into the landscape and has Nakpil’s Administration Building for a backdrop. It is memorable for many, like myself, who have participated in commencement exercises there. I hear though that these are now held in various other venues, as the amphitheater cannot accommodate all the graduates.

Even the old Makati Commercial Center had an outdoor venue – the Glorietta. This was before they covered the whole block and air-conditioned it. Cubao has its Araneta Coliseum while the Diliman Triangle, which was supposed to be a National Park, had plans for outdoor venues that were never built. Ditto with the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex. Leandro Locsin had planned an amphitheater beside the main theater but this was shelved when the Folk Arts Theater was built.
Amphitheaters Today
Today the outdoors are a less friendly environment for any public event (save for changing presidents). Our social lives are internalized in boxes with air-conditioning and consumer-conditioning. All good things in life now have a price and open space with free amenities are harder to find than an honest politician.

Few of the newer "master-planned communities" have parks with amphitheaters or open-air performance venues. Fewer municipalities and cities even consider building them as they slowly sell off public park land to scrounge enough cash to pocket...um, I mean... to use for much needed basic services.

The magic of theater and the pleasure of listening to good music in an outdoor setting cannot be exchanged for VCDs or multi-plex theaters. We are a culture that expresses itself in public. Our lives are a colorful drama and a celebration of community. We need more venues for this continuing expression and celebration if we are to keep civilized in an ever so politicized, polarized and polluted Philippines.
* * *
HCS Notes: Talking about civilizing the urban experience – The Heritage Conservation Society and the Yoga Foundation Philippines are offering free yoga classes at the Luneta. Aside from this the HCS is also continuing its popular Architectural Walking Tours this month. For more information on both call the Heritage Conservation Society at 521-22-39, 522-24-97 or call/text cell: 0917-7952697.
* * *
Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at citysensephilstar@pacific.net.ph.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with