For Filipinos born after 1945, the Metropolitan Theater in Manila’s Liwasang Bonifacio has little significance. For more than three decades the ‘Met’ had been this country’s premier venue for concerts and theatrical presentations. There was no noteworthy artistic or cultural event that was not staged there. But by the early 1960s the Metropolitan Theater had lapsed—more accurately, had been allowed to lapse—into non-remembrance and decrepitude.
Little wonder, then, that the recent bidding war between the City of Manila and the NCCS (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) for the Government Service Insurance System-held title to the Liwasang Bonifacio property generated scant interest and excitement among the nation’s—especially Metro Manila’s—youth. The news that the City of Manila was the winning bidder was received with indifference by the born-after-45 crowd.
But it is not only among today’s youth that there is disinterest in, and indifference toward, the venerable institution in Liwasang Bonifacio. The truth is that disinterest and indifference toward the Met appears to be widely felt. There are two reasons for this.
The first has already been started. The glory and pre-eminence of the Met existed a long time—many decades—ago. How long, and how many decades, ago, is indicated by the Met’s architectural design and its present physical appearance. Clearly, the Metropolitan Theater has seen many better days.
The second of the two reasons is the more important because it will be determinative of whether the current resurgence of interest in the Met is likely to lead to a long-term stable future for the Grand Old Lady of Liwasang Bonifacio.
The fact is that the City of Manila’s success in regaining ownership of the Met is but the first step in the direction of re-installing the Met permanently in the life and culture of the nation’s capital. Other steps will have to be taken. These will have one common objective: ensure the Met’s financial viability.
To b—and remain—financially viable, the Met must have a stable market. The theater will not be able to survive mainly on non-theater activities. There has to be a fairly steady stream of theatrical presentations, shows and exhibitions. Many decades ago the Met had no competition. Today it has a lot of competitors: the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Folk Arts Theater and, in recent years, Resorts World and Solaire. The competition has become formidable.
The Met’s location is no help. At the start of its life, the Met sat in solitary splendor at the heart of Manila’s epicenter, with the legislative buildings, City Hall, the Central Post Office, the Manila Hotel, Luneta and the Sunken Gardens all nearby, and Malacañang was just across the Pasig River.
Today the Met lies smack in the middle of City of Manila traffic, with buses and jeepneys from Quezon City, the Port Area and the southern provinces converging in Liwasang Boifacio. The Theater must have been surrounded by some greenery decades ago; today one steps out of the Met right into the street, with all the noise and fumes from the buses and jeepneys.
Unlike today’s competing venues, the Met does not have its own parking area. Whereas the other venues have expansive parking areas, the Met only has a nearby parking building for the vehicles of patrons. Anyone who drives himself or herself to an entertainment place knows what an incentive—or disincentive—the availability of parking space can be.
This time around the interest in bringing the Metropolitan Theater back to life must aim at its financial stability and institutional continuity. There have been several attempts in the last three decades to revive the Met, but each time the process did not go beyond giving the theater a facelift. Each facelift was not accompanied by a realistic financial plan. Thus, each revival attempt ended in failure.
Almost every major theatrical/musical institution in the world—including most of the great opera companies—enjoy some subsidy from the State. There’s no reason why the Metropolitan Theater should be any different. By all means let the Met enjoy a subsidy from the national government—and from the City of Manila—but most of its operating revenues should come from theater-related operations. The subsidy should merely be for deficit-covering.
To repeat, the government of Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada must put together a realistic plan designed to keep the Met financially viable. The theater must be here to stay this time. Otherwise, like some of the pugs who fought there when it was under lease to the Besa Boxing Arena, the Metropolitan Theater will be out for the count.
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