FeaturesThe Luce Story Part 2

The Luce Story Part 2


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  By Ian Rosales Casocot

Last October 6 was the 49th anniversary of the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium. To celebrate, I’m sharing here an essay written by Zara Marie Dy on the history of its construction for Handulantaw: 50 Years of Culture and the Arts, a coffeetable book I edited in 2013. This is the second part:


After the long and arduous road taken by the University to match and secure the Luce Foundation’s grant, the coming years after that proved to be even more of a test to its commitment towards the vision of a Cultural Center. Only pure single-mindedness allowed Silliman to triumph over the adversity that threatened its realization, as the auditorium promised to be a considerable challenge to build.

It will help to remember that the Luce Auditorium campaign was one of the last projects of Dr. Calderon as president of the University. In June 1971, he stepped down. His position, and the Luce project, fell into the hands of Dr. Udarbe, and it would still be a little over a year before ground was broken on the project site on August 1972.

The full reality, however, was even bleaker. There they were with the funds secured and the cornerstone laid—yet changes in the plan, and the revelation by the architect that there was a mistake in the original budget estimate, further delayed the construction of the Auditorium. By the time building was set to start on 2 January 1973, Martial Law had already been declared, Silliman University was on the government watch list, and the prices of building materials increased threefold.

Inflation indeed plagued the project. When it was finished, it finally cost P4.75 million instead of the original P1.9 estimate. By the time it was inaugurated, there was no more money to fund the two other buildings comprising the Silliman Cultural Center complex: the Music and Fine Arts buildings only came into being in the later part of the 2011, and the Little Theater still remains a dream.

On 6 October 1974, a little over six years since the Luces paid their first visit to Silliman, the Auditorium was formally inaugurated with a simple ceremony dedicating the facility to the memory of Claire Isabel McGill Luce, who had died from cancer in 1971.

Henry Luce III came all the way from New York to be the guest speaker at the event. Tiempo, Maslog, and Sitoy quote him saying: “… I can remember no institution or cause which so filled her with immediate admiration as did Silliman….” He went on to talk about how the University set the example not only for continuing projects at Silliman but also for educational support throughout Asia. “And so this building will stand as a symbol of a missionary college, which, in having reached a level of maturity, has kindled the spark of loyalty and the spirit of self-reliance in itself and its alumni….” He ended by saying that, “[w]e are dealing with how to improve the world. And therefore our lives in it.”

That evening, the first performance played out on the new Luce Auditorium stage. Prof. Isabel Dimaya Vista conducted Elijah, the oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn. She was joined by several acclaimed singers from Silliman, namely, the Silliman Young Singers of 1973, the Silliman Singers—which was composed of the Women’s A Cappella Chorus, the Men’s Glee Club, and the Covenant Choir, with Constantino Bernardez, Salvador B. Vista, Sr. Estrellita Orlino, Nelly Aldecoa, Vic Bonnie Melocoton, Violeta Hamot, Betty Chua, and James Palmore as soloists. They were accompanied by Miriam G. Palmore on the organ and Rhodora M. Corton on the piano.

On the Luce Auditorium’s 10th year in 1984, Henry Luce III was invited to attend the anniversary. In a letter addressed to then Director Isabel Dimaya-Vista, he sent his regrets but expressed that he was glad to know that the Auditorium “continues to make possible the presentation of such important and exciting performances” in the area. The celebration was marked by a world premiere performance of a musical called Domo Arigato by Edmund Najera. After six years of near-impossible conquests, the Luce Auditorium gracefully aged into a decade of service to the university and the community.

Rightly put by Dr. Albert Faurot in a letter dated 12 October 1974, a transcribed and reproduced copy of which is with Mr. Juan, the opening of the Luce Auditorium made him ruminate about “hopes fulfilled and hopes deferred,” alluding to the six years it took to finally get the building to stand. He continues to warmly regard the Luce Auditorium as the “frozen school song” with crushed corals and shells texturing its brute concrete finish. Looking like the hull of a big barge, the design combines simplicity with comfort and function.

At the time, the Luce Auditorium was one of the most modern buildings in the Philippines and the first fully air-conditioned auditorium in Negros Oriental. Almost 40 years later, it is known as the most sophisticated infrastructure for the performing arts outside of Manila.

The Luce Auditorium lobby immediately greets one upon approach. In the afternoons, when the doors are closed and there are no performances slated, the lobby is abuzz with students huddled in groups. The energy from practices and meetings taking place creates an almost festive air palpable to the observer. The same energy is amplified during matinees and gala nights where guests huddle in anticipation of the show to come.

“Interpersonal relationships happen in the lobby,” says Prof. Joseph B. Basa, Director of the Luce Auditorium as of this writing. “While waiting, you meet people. Especially after so many years, you come back to Silliman and you meet your friends again. This is where they congregate.”

From the lobby, you enter the foyer when the doors open. The Luce Auditorium Corps of Ushers and Usherettes, or the LACUU, stations some of their ranks to warmly welcome the guests in. In 2011, Silliman saw the foyer modified and air-conditioned to adapt to the times and provide comfort to the Luce Auditorium’s loyal patrons.

Stairs flanking the foyer lead up to the auditorium doors which open into 761 seats, from the original 923 in 1974. The aura shifts once inside. The hard shell reveals a warm core; yellow lights bathe the patrons as the stage sits, waiting to come to life.

The yellow curtain, albeit no longer the original, continues to be the performer’s tool. It gives cover, builds anticipation, frames a scene, and adds flourish when flown or drawn to signal the start or end of a performance. It is winged by the Philippine flag to its right and the Silliman flag to its left.

Entering the Luce from the east will lead to the ballet studio, home to the Kahayag Dance Company and the Silliman children’s ballet. The ballet studio, despite its location at a wing, is actually quite central to the building as it opens to many corridors. The most interesting, and perhaps most forgotten area, is the nook where a few steps of stairs go down into a small door that opens into the underbelly of the Luce Auditorium.

A lone yellow light illuminates the dim basement upon entry, dusty and thick with the smell of years. Forgotten props and scenery, in some cases stacked up to meet the low ceiling, adorn the floor. Further in though is a most curious space. The area looks as if it was designed for some other purpose than storage, and it was. At the edge of the room, directly behind the apron and under the extended proscenium of the stage is the orchestra pit. According to Toto Roble, who has worked with the Luce Auditorium since 1984, the orchestra pit was only used once. It was during the first year he was there, when the 10th anniversary was commemorated with the showing of Domo Arigato. Since then, it has remained unused due to logistical difficulties, as using it would entail having to remove the flooring of the stage above and prepare the pit so that it would be comfortable enough to keep an orchestra going through the duration of a performance. Prof. Basa said that when an orchestra is in attendance, they occupy the seats in the front rows instead, or are accommodated in the reverberation rooms found at the both sides of the stage, on the second floor.

The ballet studio also leads to the roof. From the ground, one will notice three flights of stairs. On the second floor are the dressing rooms, and the third houses ninety tonnes of air-conditioning, up from the original 85 tonnes the Luce Auditorium started with. The best part of the ascent, however, is the roof. “Beautiful view!” Prof. Basa exclaims. He says Dr. Ben Malayang III, President of the University as of this writing, has been toying with the idea of developing the roof as a reception area. And why not? With the amazing view of the acacia treetops, only the performances can promise to be more exhilarating.

On the west side of the building are the stage restrooms, the Luce Director’s office, the loading area where props pass from outside, and the piano room that houses two grand pianos. One is inside while another one is parked outside the room nearer to the stage. The stage lights are neatly lined up at the inner wings of the stage. Prof. Basa says they try to increase the capacity of lighting every year. In fact, very few of the original tube lights remain as they have since converted to the use of lights made of newer materials like LED.

Before one gets to the stage from the east-side performers’ entrance, one finds the Green Room. Located near the ballet studio, the Green Room is a dressing room cum lounge cum holding area used when there are only a few people in a performing group, as bigger groups are better held in the dressing rooms upstairs. Many performers over the years—many of them the brightest stars of international culture—have graced the Green Room. Now if only these walls could talk, glimpses into the most intimate processes of the artistic psyche would be revealed.

Once one steps out of the Green Room, one finds a door to the left that opens to the stage area. One has to adjust to the relative darkness of the area but there is no mistaking the ropes and weights that dominate the walls, stage right. This is the counterweight system of the Luce Auditorium stage that powers movement. The counterweight system used for the curtain—its legs, the cyclorama, scenery, and other fly equipment—has survived the renovations that took place during the first decade of the 21st century. Prof. Basa quipped that they tried “to go mechanical,” with chains, cables, and a machine instead of rope, but they eventually went back to the basics. The machine proved too noisy and did not work well as it threatened to jam and risk having something stop, suspended mid-flight. After the attempt, it was back to ropes, battens, and reliable manpower, with the realization that though some things profit by the advancement of technology, it is still only people that can really bring a stage to life. Besides, it is easier to give a person the cue to pull and manipulate flight.

Many other layers lie behind the curtain. The cyclorama, for one, is a backdrop in white canvass framed by pipes located at the end-most part of the stage. There are cyclorama lights in four colors, which are used to play with visual effects onstage. There are other movable backdrops smaller than the cyclorama that lie between it and the curtain. These are used for more intimate performances where the stage is made to appear smaller and it is framed by a low curtain, the curtain’s legs, and a closer backdrop.

The view from the stage reveals catwalks above the first few rows of seats where lights are fixed and props may be dropped. Triangles dominate the ceiling, specifically designed by architect Barcelona, for enhanced acoustics. So, too, the walls, odd in their “unfinished” finish. Wires buffer both ceiling and walls to achieve this very purpose.

Straight ahead, at the opposite end of the stage, is the Control Room, which operates sounds, lights, and the projector. The Room has since upgraded its equipment, transitioning with the times from analog to digital. The old Rank Strand controls have been kept for posterity.

Silliman has always teemed with cultural fare. Tiempo, et al. write that back when the Luce Auditorium first opened its doors, there was a concert, play, or some cultural activity going on every week. The cultural program at the University had been inspired to greater heights and attendance at these offerings had continued to increase “indicating a greater appreciation for the performing arts on campus.”

Since the 1970s, the Luce stage has presented both popular and classical performers and performances. From the foremost American woman pianist Susan Starr; Taipei Children’s Choir; French concert pianist Nicole Delannoy; German violinist Denes Zsigmondy and his wife, pianist Anneliese Nissen; American soprano Julia Finch; German harpsichordist Wilhelm Krumbach; Swiss pianist Nicole Wickihalder; English virtuoso pianist Richard Deering; American violinist Stanley Plummer and his concert partner, Carminda de Leon Regala, pianist; 13-year old Filipino piano prodigy, Cecile Buencamino Licad; leading Filipino baritones Constantino Bernardez, Elmo Makil, and Emmanuel Gregorio; Mrs. Rhoda Isidro Pepito; the Cultural Center of the Philippines Dance Troupe under Alice Reyes; the University of the Philippines Cherubims and Seraphims; to popular singers like Pilita Corrales and Victor Wood.

The Luce Auditorium also had its resident groups which has kept the stage alive. There was the Luce Choral Society instructed by Prof. Dimaya-Vista; the Silliman Dance Troupe under Mrs. Jumawan; and the Portal Players, the resident drama group of Luce Auditorium, founded by Prof. Frank Flores, and then later directed by Mr. Leonardia.

Through the decades, nationally and internationally renowned performers have made their way to Dumaguete to grace the Luce Auditorium stage. Almost forty years later, there are no signs of slowing down. The 21st century has seen cultural seasons that have had national companies and cultural organizations as Ballet Philippines, Philippine Educational Theater Association, the Manila Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Manila, Dulaang U.P., the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philippine Madrigal Singers, Repertory Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino, the Bayanihan National Dance Company, the Ramon Obusan National Dance Company, the New Voice Company, Philippine Opera Company, Little Boy Productions, British Council, Japan Foundation, and others enrich the Silliman and Dumaguete community.

It is said that the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Perhaps this is the incentive for culture that has fueled people to keep besting themselves, producing feats in the service to history.

In 2014, the Luce Auditorium will celebrate 40 glorious years of showcasing passion, talent, and beauty through culture and the arts. As the anniversary approaches, a time of remembering and thanksgiving begins.

The building of the Luce Auditorium started long before ground broke on the project in 1972. All it would have taken was for one link to collapse and the project could have ended archived or, worse, an unfinished monument to the failure of a cause. It was not to be so as the convergence of people, strong in their capacities and steadfast in their path, did not permit any other alternative. It was going to succeed.

So it did.

The hardships endured by those who had a common vision for the University is forever memorialized and recompensed by the structure that had risen from their work. Culture has given birth to culture as, through the years, the characters have changed but the dogged vision remains the same within each new patron and benefactor of the Luce Auditorium.

Michael Gilligan, President of the Henry Luce Foundation and Chairman of the United Board as of this writing, had once said during a visit to the university and after watching a performance at the Luce: “Silliman is blessed to have so many talented students and faculty members, generous in bringing their gifts to the stage! As I watched the program, I thought how pleased and proud Mr. and Mrs. Luce would be, knowing that their dream has been richly fulfilled. They recognized the vision of Silliman University, especially the strong leadership of the Cultural Affairs Committee. And through the years since our grant, the Luce Foundation has been deeply grateful for the sacrifices and commitments the Silliman community has made to complete construction and maintain the quality of this landmark facility.”



Photo Caption: Former SU President Cicero Calderon welcomes Henry Luce III and wife Claire Isabel McGill-Luce to Dumaguete in 1968. Soon after, the Henry Luce Foundation committed to match the funds raised by the Silliman community for the construction of a cultural center, which eventually had its groundbreaking on Aug. 28, 1972. (Photos from the Sillimaniana Archive)



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