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Act II for the Met

/ 01:07 AM August 30, 2015

The curtain rises on a new era of possibilities for the Manila Metropolitan Theater, also known as the Met. After decades of neglect, the “Grand Dame” of Manila’s theaters steps closer to a revival—with the release by the Department of Budget and Management last week of P9.48 million for its rehabilitation.

This new money follows the previous release of P270 million that allowed the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) last May to purchase the Met outright from its previous owners, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The funds were sourced from the NCCA’s National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts. NCCA chair Felipe de Leon called the purchase of the Met “a very touching, historical occasion and milestone.”

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These last two infusions of funding for the Met are the latest and perhaps the most positive developments, after a long time, in the long and eventful history of the building. From the past to the present, the Met is quite a dramatic tale.

Known for its grand art deco design by architect Juan Arellano, the Met opened in 1931, during the term of Mayor Tomas Earnshaw. The 7,533 square-meter Met could hold over 1,000 guests; murals by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo hang in its lobby. It has since seen great performances by great performers. Its events were the highlights of many a Manila high-society night.

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But the Met ran into trouble, starting with its almost complete destruction during World War II and spent its next decades as a boxing arena, hotel, warehouse and squatter colony. In the 1970s, former first lady Imelda Marcos led restoration efforts dedicated “to surface the true, the good and the beautiful in the Filipino in Metropolitan Manila.”

It soon became a source of conflict as the GSIS and the City of Manila quarreled over it; it was shut down in 1996. There would be pronouncements of reviving the Met through the years by different people: Former mayor Alfredo Lim said it would reopen in 2008 (it didn’t). In 2010, the National Museum of the Philippines declared the Met a national treasure, but the Met continued to decay into the pitiful husk it is today.

The biggest showdown came between unlikely adversaries. Last year, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada pledged to buy the Met from the GSIS for P267 million, saying he wanted to turn the Met into an institute for performing arts for the Universidad de Manila and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Ultimately, it was the NCCA that would buy the Met, with big goals in mind. “Right now, the CCP hosts many high-end performances. The Met, meanwhile, will be the people’s theater, a theater for the masses,” NCCA chair De Leon said then. “We’ll try to have as many free shows as possible. The plays, musicales, exhibits and other events the Met will host will definitely be attuned to the needs and tastes of the general public.” Also, an Institute of Performing Arts will be opened at the theater; it will offer courses in theater, drama, film and music, among others, De Leon added.

Ironic as it may seem, it is only proper that a theater known in its heyday as a glitzy theater for the elite will now become an accessible venue for the masses. This is a populist second act for the Met that everyone can get behind. To be sure, the private sector can lend a big hand in this undertaking, and with such support the Met can only push further its new thrust to more, greater, possibilities. And this could set the stage for, perhaps, the first ever real public-private partnership that can make a direct and lasting impact on Filipino culture.

“Now the NCCA can begin the worthy task of restoring the Met to its former glory. . . . [F]unding the Met’s rehabilitation is also a cultural investment for future generations of Filipinos,” Budget Secretary Butch Abad said in a statement on the latest funding release, noting that the Met’s restoration will also “preserve a piece of history from our country’s storied past.”

Indeed, when finally the floodlights at the Met go back on, watch a part of Manila’s heritage come alive again.

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TAGS: Manila Metropolitan Theater, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, The Met, theater
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