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The new man in the house

By Ma. Glaiza Lee, Contributor
Photos by Kiko Cabuena

With a background in Filipino theater and film, Nick Lizaso is no stranger to artistic and cultural works. Nowadays, however, he is ready to don a new hat, and take a new role that would challenge his mettle, not just his creativity and artistry. Following the CCP Board of Trustees elections last June 13, 2017, tinged with the vote of confidence from the Philippine President, Lizaso has been named as the new president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
A member of the board since 2010, Lizaso is probably the first actor-director to assume the leadership of the CCP, following prominent personalities such as Ayala top honcho Jaime Zobel de Ayala, who led the center from 1969 to 1976; National Artist For Music Lucrecia Kasilag, finance expert Francisco del Rosario Jr. and educator Baltazar Endriga during the Ramos administration, culture advocate Armita Rufino during the Estrada presidency, Nestor Jardin and Isabel Caro Wilson during Arroyo’s time, and Raul Sunico, who led the center as its president since 2009.

Spotlight on Nick
Hailing from Santa Maria, Bulacan, Lizaso was born with artistic genes, being the grandson of Jose Corazon de Jesus, who was known as the King of Balagtasan. He honed his own artistic talents by joining plays and presentations during his college days.
Truth be told, Lizaso was taking his pre-law at the University of the Philippines when he took a detour and dropped his undergraduate course. When he attended a speech class for his English degree at the University of the East and did a public reading, he found his calling. Realizing he could command his audience quite effectively, he explored the world of theater.
During his heyday in theater, he founded the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) with Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, and the UE Dramatic Guild. He did acting stints with both PETA and Repertory Philippines. Lizaso shared that one of his most notable lead roles was that of Professor Henry Higgins in the local adaptation the Broadway classic My Fair Lady. To date, Lizaso has acted in approximately 50 stage plays.
The discipline of the theater and the experience of interpreting the soul and genius of such world literary giants as Shakespeare, Cervantes and Sophocles gave him a fine blend of heart and mind that became useful to a meaningful career. Later on, when he had gained enough experience on the stage, he organized acting and theater workshops where he trained and mentored some of the big names in today’s entertainment scene such as noted directors Joey Gosiengfiao and Elwood Perez, among others.
Eventually, he ventured into film and TV, appearing in Anak ng Dilim, Ulo ng Gapo, Flordeliza and Markadong Angel, etc., and directing television drama series and anthologies such as Nang Dahil sa Pag-ibig, Guni-Guni, Ipaglaban Mo, Hiyas and Balintataw, among others. A leading figure in the Directors Guild of the Philippines, he was president from 1983 to 1985.
Because of his unrelenting dedication to his craft, he has received many accolades including: Dangal ng Lipi Award in the field of Theater Arts (1999) from the City of Manila, Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Arts (1995), Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan(1995) from his hometown Sta, Maria Bulacan. He was also a recipient of the British Council Grant Attachment with the Nottingham Playhouse and the Royal Shakespeare Company (London and Stratford-on Avon), as well as a Fullbright-Hayes Travel Grant to the U.S. on theater arts, film and television.
In 2009, he was the only Asian to be invited to be a member of the jury in the 6th International Student Theater Festival held in Belarus, where he also conducted a workshop on Voice for Performance.
In July 2011, Nick almost singlehandedly organized the 1st Philippine International University Theater Association Festival / Conference / Workshops, a five-day international event wherein 24 foreign theater experts and educators conducted workshops and gave lectures at Miriam College in Quezon City, attended by around 150 teachers and students.

Building on CCP’s gains
As he takes the reins to propel CCP to greater heights, he swears to continue what he has been doing. “My job is to build on the gains of CCP,” he said during the press conference held at the CCP recently. He aligns his plan of action with what the center’s has been doing in the past decades.
During the media conference, CCP vice president and artistic director Chris Millado enumerated the accomplishments that the center has done in the last five years. “We are proud to say that the arts and culture activities of CCP have significantly develop in the last five years. It can be characterized by the following developments — a spike in audience attendance, the vigorous development of new and original content, the commitment to excellence, the development of new audiences for the arts, and the strengthening of regional arts and culture.”
There has been growth spikes in audience reach. The audience attendance at the CCP complex surged from 290,000 in the year 2010 to 670,000 in 2015. Off-site activities - implemented by the Outreach Program, in collaboration with satellite venues in the regions - reached 75,460 participants in 2015, quite a big jump from 13,100 in 2011.
The combined audience counts for both on-site and off-site venues reached 770,000 in 2015. These numbers didn’t include online audiences. For our social media engagements, our CCP website logs at least 25,000 users per month. Our YouTube channel, featuring videos of CCP flashmobs and special events, have reached thousands. There was an ad for Cinemalaya 2016 that reached a record high of 1.2 million views within 10 days of its posting.
“The spike in attendance could be attributed to the substantial increase in the number of show at the CCP and its satellite venues in the regions. The CCP has presented 1,182 shows and cultural events in 2015, a far cry from the 755 shows in 2010. The surge in audience attendance could also attributed to two of the center’s largest festivals — the Pasinaya and the Cinemalaya. Pasinaya reached a peak of 55,000 viewership, while Cinemalaya received about 100,000, making these festivals the largest and most attended of their kind in the country. There is also a steady increase in the attendance for the season offerings of the center’s resident companies,” shared Millado.
Likewise, the number of the artists and cultural workers who have worked and collaborated with the CCP more than doubled. In 2011, there were 11,351 artists and workers. It grew to 25,755 by 2015. The participants in the workshops, training sessions, forums and other educational activities initiated by the Arts Education Department rose to 8,139 in 2011 to 21,405 by 2015.

New plans from the new leadership
As the new president, Lizaso hopes to bring the performing arts closer to the Filipino masses. “As far as I could remember, I’ve been advocating to bring arts and culture, particularly the CCP, to the people. As a CCP trustee, I brought the PPO to the Philippine General Hospital to perform for indigent patients. Now that I head the CCP, I think I can do more and will continue to reach out to those who cannot afford to go to the CCP,” enthused Lizaso who has also been advocating teacher empowerment by organizing workshops focusing on teacher development by infusing theater techniques to their teaching methods.
Lizaso is looking for ways to bring more people who can’t afford to see a show.”We should find a way to bring as many people as possible inside CCP. Bring people from the villages, from the barangays by the buses. I want them to experience art in CCP,” he said.
For the welfare of the CCP employees, Lizaso pushes for the salary standardization and health benefits. He observed that some employees of the center have been working here for years, even decades, but they have never been regularized. He aimed to achieve this before the end of his presidency. “Just recently we have talked to the Chinese General Hospital to plan out health benefits for CCP employees,” he updated.

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