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50 Years Under The Spotlight: Monino Duque As A Master Lighting Designer and Theater Director

It’s now Monino’s turn under the spotlight—the man who has professionalized theater management and brought color and light to Philippine theater

Theater, musicals, dance, and productions have always centered on the artist, the main protagonist who brings the show to life. While they have always carried the burden of the spotlight, no show can be successful without the equally—sometimes even more talented—people behind the scenes who are doing all the magic.

This time, we’re pointing the spotlight at the man who has always worked the lights from the dark back of the theater: Monino Duque, the master lighting designer and Gawad CCP awardee who defined stagecraft in the Philippines. This is his 50-year journey in the theater—and just like the masterful storyteller that he is, told in three acts throughout his career and life.

Inset: Lighting Designer and Theater Director, Monino Duque; Background: Ang Huling El Bimbo | Courtesy of Monino Duque

Act I: How it all started

It all started in 1967. Monino was an English Literature major who somehow got wheeled into the world of theater and stagecraft when a visiting professor from Northwestern University in Illinois came to teach stage management and short courses on theater. It was also this professor who introduced Monino to the man who would forever change his life: Teodoro “Teddy” Hilado, the father of lighting design in Philippine theater.

Monino recalls, “We were only 5 people in that one session. We went to Meralco Theater and he was showing us the equipment and gave us a tour. And in that lecture, he said, ‘You know what? Sometime next year, the CCP is going to be up. Who knows? Maybe one of you will work on that?’”

It was a long story of Monino going back to Sulu to teach, working in ABS-CBN, and taking a break from working in general before their paths crossed again and Teddy’s prediction would come true. It was nothing too fancy at that time, but Monino set up and directed the lighting for a show in CCP where he sang with an OPM group called The Ambivalent Crowd. As if fate has planned that encounter in 1970, Teddy saw the show and appreciated the lighting work. When he found out it was Monino who designed it, right then and there, he offered him a job to work with him in the CCP.

The Ambivalent Crowd | Discogs

“I started as an assistant to the technical director, who was Teddy. So I would spend a lot of time, watching him work, running the theater,” Monino shares. But their mentorship had to take a pause when Monino flew to the US for a scholarship program for scenic design at the University of Hawaii. After the program, since he couldn’t come home right away in 1972 because of Martial Law, he took advantage of a Rockefeller Foundation grant that allowed him to visit several theaters in the US. And when he was finally invited to go home, it was so he could tour with the Bayanihan Dance Company, a folkdance company.

In 1973, the Folk Arts Theater (now Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas) was built, and Teddy was asked to become its theater director—leaving CCP in Monino’s capable hands. From then until 1986, things remained pretty steady, with Monino running CCP and designing the lighting of hundreds of theater and dance productions such as Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, Nutcracker, Jesus Christ Superstar, Madame Butterfly, Magic Flute, and so much more.

Bayanihan Dance Company | CCP

In 1986, Teddy was asked to resign due to his untimely connection with the Marcoses. And when he did, it was Monino who took his place as the associate artistic director for theater operations of all the CCP theaters.

Monino's former mentor, Teddy Hilado | Philippine Daily Inquirer

Outlining what he did and accomplished throughout his 24 years in the CCP is almost an impossible task, since he has worked with Teatro Pilipino, Tanghalang Pilipino, Dulaang UP, Repertory Philippines, Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), CCP Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines), Philippine Ballet Theater, Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company, Ramon Obusan Folkloric Dance Company, and so many local and international groups. In 1982, he also toured the world with the Ballet Company, which trained him in the international level of theater and production.

Tales of the Manuvu, lighting design by Monino Duque | Kurt Copon/Theater Fans Manila
Kitang Dalawa concert, lighting design by Monino Duque | @fjlaurel

But if there’s one thing that truly stands out, it’s that Monino was responsible for professionalizing house management, which is the running of the theater. For the longest time, people thought that doing lighting design meant having to become the technical director because he was doing all of these during his stint. But not everyone could be Monino; so he made sure that there was a delineation between roles in the theater.

In 2008, he was finally acknowledged for his efforts in institutionalizing standard operational procedures in theater management and ushering world-class standards in local productions when he was awarded the Gawad CCP for Theater, one of the highest recognition given to individuals who helped develop and enrich Philippine art and culture.
Monino awarded the Gawad CCP for Theater |

Act II: A whole new world outside CCP       

Monino’s years in CCP were indeed some of the most pivotal moments in the history of Philippine theater. But being the man who helped make all of that possible was tiring. In 1994, Monino finally retired from the CCP to concentrate on doing what he loves best: lighting.

Lighting always felt like a secondary element in any show or production, but very few people give it the merit that it truly deserves. For Monino, “Lighting is supposed to help tell the story, to visually underline what the story is saying. Your lighting has to have a language of its own and it’s the lighting designer who develops that language.”

While he continued lighting for theaters across the Philippines and even abroad, it was during this time when he started dabbling in film and cinema. He started working as lighting director for teleseryes and TV programs, and even crossed the threshold of lighting to work on award-winning films as director of photography. Two of his best films, Sigwa in 2011 and Dukot in 2009 won Best in Cinematography in various award-giving bodies.

Sigwa (2011) | Robert Manuguid Silverio
Monino with the cast of Ikaw Sana, a TV series where he worked as a lighting director |

Monino has a way of channeling inspiration and executing his vision that goes deeper than many would expect stage lighting to be. He has done hundreds of productions in his lifetime—all of them spectacular in their own rights—but when asked what his favorite lighting project in his career was, he humbly goes back to a dance production of Romeo and Juliet that he did for the CCP Dance Company in 1980.

“I thought the lighting challenges were so humongous!” Monino shares excitedly. “During the burial scene, where they had to go down sa hagdanan to bring Juliet to the catacombs—my inspiration was my trip to France. I came at the time when the rose window colors were hitting the walls of the Notre Dame. That is my own personal story, and I translated that into the burial scene.”

More recently, he was also the lighting director of Ang Huling El Bimbo, one of the most famous and well-talked about musicals in the last years. The lighting at the ending part of the musical was spectacular, and Monino reveals that the confetti used during this scene was, in fact, all white—it was the trick of the lighting that brought color to the confetti. Magical illusions and genius like these were all part of a day’s work for Monino—but for him, it’s never really enough.

Ang Huling El Bimbo musical | ABS-CBN News
Ang Larawan, lighting design by Monino Duque | Vlad Gonzales

Act III: Leaving his legacy

Monino has lived a fruitful and colorful life, surrounded by beautiful lights and productions that have shaped his taste and outlook. And in the same way that the has learned a lot from his former mentor, Teddy Hilado, Monino also strives to leave a part of him with his students, for them to continue—or even revolutionize—what he started.

“I hardly take reviews and awards seriously because at the end of the day, it is only me that can judge my work. And I’m never happy. Honestly, I always go home and say, ‘What could I have done to make the work better?’” shares Monino. “Pero ’yung mga dumaan sa’kin, ’yung mga natuto sa’kin, parang ako ang nanalo ’pag sila ’yung nananalo sa awards. I consider them my victories. It’s a good feeling to be praised, but it’s a better feeling to be quiet and just know that you did well but you could have done better.”

Monino working in the CCP |

He also believes that while he has proven to be the country’s master lighting designer, he has more to learn about his craft and the world.

“At the end of the day, you really need to study more. You really need to see more. You really need to observe more. Because life is changing so there’s nothing that is permanent. So you have to continue to learn and have the humility to know that you don’t know anything,” he says.

That’s why these days, Monino is trying to grow outside his box and learn more about the bigger world outside the theater. He has found a new mission, this time dedicating his energy into festival management and workshops all over the country.

“In the last 3 to 4 years, I’ve been conducting workshops on setting up festivals in the provinces,” says Monino. And it’s not just setting up festivals ripped off from the famous festivals that we know in bigger provinces. For Monino, he believes that each province should celebrate their own culture, roots, and produce. It’s not about doing what others are doing; it’s about creating a festival that gives the province a sense of pride because they can rightly say that it is theirs.

Recently, he worked with the Bambanti festival in Isabela, derived from the Iloko word for scarecrow, which the province considers as protection despite the common notion that it rouses fear. The Ilokanos would create these colorful straws and grasses and dress them in farmer’s clothing, and hold events based and tailor-fit to their province’s products.

Bambanti Festival in Isabela | The Jerney

“I am from Cagayan valley and nahihiya ako na we are so unlike Isabela; they are united. The province is so progressive. It’s amazing. Gov. Faustino Dy is one of the best governors because he is one of the rare leaders who feels that culture is important to uplift the province,” adds Monino.

Apart from doing festivals, Monino is also working on his perfume business, Perfume 101 handblend, which endeavors to create specialty perfumes crafted specifically to the customer—although this, he says, has taken a backseat in this pandemic to focus on the more basic necessities.

Apart from perfumery, he also has a Duque home line that he worked on with his brother, who is an interior designer. His brother is currently based in the US, but Monino is looking forward to continue working on more projects soon.

Project 101 with Lea Salonga, Lani Misalucha, Celeste Legaspi, Jed Madela, Rita Avila, and Pilita Corales | @project101_handblend

Epilogue: Bringing Monino’s lighting to your home

Monino believes that every single day is an opportunity both for learning and for lighting. That’s why he does not only treat lighting as a special component of shows and productions; lighting is all around us.

“Every single day for me is a learning experience. When I do my walks, I try to observe how the sun lights the surroundings, how night affects the situation. Nasa puso ko na ’yung pag-iilaw so I don’t think about it—I can just tell if the lighting is good or bad,” Monino says.

So when it comes to our home, there’s also so much from Monino’s teachings that we can bring to our everyday life.

1. “I’ve always believed that lighting enhances the home. Lighting usually has an effect on the people inside the house,” says Monino.

“I hate fluorescent lighting kasi para kang nasa ospital; it’s all white. So I hardly use fluorescent. I like warm light.”

2. Instead of using top light or light bulbs that are affixed to the ceiling, Monino also recommends using a lot of lamps.

“Most of my lighting comes from table lamps, because that makes you look good. ’Pag galing sa level ng mukha mo ’yung ilaw, nakaka-ganda. When it comes from above, it creates shadows under the eyes. 

3. Just like theater, learn to accentuate. 

"A home that is beautifully lit makes people feel beautiful.”

In his 50 years doing lighting, Monino has learned and impacted many lives and things under Philippine art and culture. There is much to say about his legacy, but he encapsulates his journey in his own words:

“It has been an incredible 50-year journey of a career, blessed with grace from the Greatest Lighting Designer up there, and filled with love and friendship from those whose lives so generously touched mine.

“Thank you The Ambivalent Crowd for the first ever lighting job at the CCP. To Teddy Hilado, who in 1968 at the Meralco Theater Lighting Workshop told our class of five, ‘Who knows, maybe one of you will work at the soon to rise cultural center?’ Teddy later on in 1970 became my boss of 16 years. National Artist Alice Reyes, for her genius, artistry, and generosity in our collaborations with the CCP Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines). Joel Lamangan for opening the doors to film and television. Nilo Agustin for unearthing my probinsyano passion for town fiestas and beladas through my present journey in festival planning and workshops. To Governor Faustino Bojie Dy III, the exemplary public servant with an unconditional passion to serve and uplift the lives of the Isabelino, for believing that art and culture is essential in the development and progress of a people, and giving me the opportunity to share 50 years of theater with the province of Isabela. To Delfin, my guardian angel; to Glen, my inspiration; and to Papa, Mama, and the family for their love and support. Thank you…and the journey continues.”