Theater artists and peers paid tribute to National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador “Badong” Bernal who died Oct. 26 at age 66.
The Philippine Theater Actors Guild said it was paying a “final standing ovation… to the master.”
“Philippine theater is now one major pillar less with the demise of Salvador Bernal,” the group said.
“In his art, Bernal brought the Filipino spirit to the stage with his design,” said TAG. “He will always be remembered for his massive scenic pieces, in which the challenge to the actor was always to equal the grandness of the space he created. No acting space was small for Bernal, because for him, that is how theater should be—grand and majestic.
“He was not only a designer; he also played the part of mentor to his juniors. He wanted to leave a legacy, but more than that, he wanted to kindle their passion. Because passion is what he had for the theater. It was always like a marriage, a fusion of the old and the new. He worked with tested materials, employed new design aesthetics, and thus was able to transcend time and differences in culture.
Dramatist Tony Perez also gave his fond remembrance of the National Artist:
“In the 1990s, when the Cultural Center of the Philippines finally built a design center to service its three theaters, Badong told reporters, ‘We have finally entered the 20th century.’
“He was one of our greatest fashion designers but refused to be known as one. I have the honor of owning a ¾-balloon, witch’s cape—the last piece of clothing that he ever executed for anyone.
“He was also one of our greatest stage directors, computer-graphic artists, and film collectors—he refused to be labelled as any of those, too.
“Whenever he put his best foot forward, it was always as production designer. Again, I have the honor of having him as production designer for most of my plays, especially my recently completed trilogy ‘Indakan ng mga Puso’ (‘Oktubre…’; ‘Nobyembre…’; and ‘Disyembre…’)
“He was an obsessive-compulsive, but so are the most disciplined artists all over the world. Stupidity and mediocrity constantly annoyed him. Ironically, the students he frequently scolded should have felt the most flattered: He scolded them only because he felt that they were promising. Always enigmatic, he was selective with friends, but, once he had selected them, he chose only to give to them rather than receive from them.”
Theater director Ricky Abad wrote:
“Badong was more than just a designer. He was an ethical designer. He respected the integrity of stage design: design was for one play and not for any other. And that design cannot be sloppy or mediocre; it has to pass by high artistic standards; it has to be true to the play’s concept and to the character being played; it has to be nailed, sawn or sewn properly. Otherwise he fumes, in part because of the person’s incapacity to do things well, but more because an improperly done set or costume is a violation of the order demanded by the artistic universe—an aesthetic blasphemy, a creative sacrilege.”
“Badong is a very dear friend, a long-time collaborator and my most trusted critic,” said Denisa Reyes, former artistic director of Ballet Philippines. “He was forthright and brutally honest, an incorrigible romantic, but was most generous with his art and criticisms, sometimes to a fault. He had no tolerance for mediocrity, despised the ‘bahala na/pwede na’ attitude in the arts because he had such impeccable taste and was a perfectionist. May his legacy live on.”
Bernal was named National Artist in 2003. The award citation notes that “sensitive to the budget limitations of local productions, he harnessed the design potential of inexpensive local materials, pioneering or maximizing the use of bamboo, raw abaca and abaca fiber, hemp twine, rattan chain links and gauze cacha. In doing this, he exemplified the versatility of Filipino materials for design and proved that the poverty of a production need not imply a poverty of the imagination.”