Eduardo Sicangco: Broadway Scenographer And Consummate Artist, TOFA-NY 2012 Awardee For Arts & Culture

It is a matter of city-wide, even province-wide pride, when one of our own get recognized, internationally.

Eduardo Sicangco, son of Titong and Nena Varela Sicangco, was a graduate of La Salle High School Batch 1971 (Kauturan Class). His talent shone early in his years, as, while studying at the Ateneo de Manila University, National Artist Salvador Bernal took him under his wing. His talent for stage production design was already apparent in his teens as Bernal put Eduardo “Toto” Sicangco’s skills to the test through making the then-young artist try his hand at designing the Le Carnaval for Ballet Philippines.

As they say:

    “A little fish in a big pond can get to be a big fish in that pond, but a big fish in a little pond cannot get any better off.”

Indeed, for talent as big as Eduardo Sicangco’s, he won’t benefit from being kept in the Philippines, much less in his beloved hometown, at all.

And neither will it benefit the Philippines if we kept him in our shores.

So after his BA in Mass Communications at the Ateneo, he proceeded to get his MFA in Stage Design at the New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, where he got the J.S. Seidman Award for Excellence in Design. From that point on, “Toto” Sicangco’s star shone. From 1996 to 2004, he was the Master Teacher of Design, also at the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. At the same time, he also worked in various Broadway productions, in Hollywood, as well as quite an impressive portfolio of set and costume designs for theater productions around the US. He also has work for international companies and showcases, and was even brought back home to the Ayala Museum in Makati for an exhibit. This exhibit, entitled: “From Inspiration To Illusion: The Scenographic Works of Eduardo Sicangco,” opened on October 26, 2008 and ended on January 11, 2009. It featured Eduardo Sicangco’s prized work, with media ranging from drawings, actual scale models of stage designs and costume plates, and actual stage costumes. In short, the last exhibit in the Ayala Museum was a summary of Toto Sicangco’s life’s work thus far.

According to the Ayala Museum:

    Scenic design is an artistic discipline that crosses over artistic disciplines. The skills of a painter, sculptor, architect, and lighting designer combine to conceptualize what is essentially literature and interpret it visually in three dimensions.

From an old PhilStar article, excerpts as to where Eduardo Sicangco gets his inspiration for his craft:

    “Sometimes I find myself on the subway looking at an outrageously dressed passenger and thinking to myself: ‘If I put that on stage, no one will believe me.’ Ditto with my block’s resident homeless person/beggar. He is a 6′ 3″ tall and skinny black man, dressed entirely in white from head to 6″ platform shoes, no matter the season. I kid you not.

    Some smart person once said that ‘originality is looking at things everyone sees and thinking thoughts no one else does.’ Another smarty-pants also said: ‘Originality is the art of hiding your source.’

    Everyone and everything has a story to tell. If you bother to dig deep enough, more often than not, the story proves to be fascinating. And that is why I love the theater. We are storytellers. Sir Peter Hall, the famous stage director, said it best. To paraphrase him: back in prehistoric times, the cavemen would wake up, hunt for food, then gather in their caves at night and over a fire, tell (or probably grunt) each other stories. Today, our caves are air-conditioned and our fires are electric. Yet we are still doing the same thing: telling each other stories.

    The humanity of the creative arts is what floats my boat.”


On July 2, 2012, the voting for The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA-NY) for 2012 was opened. On October 5, 2012, voting for the TOFA-NY 2012 awardees was closed. On October 27, 2012, the TOFA-NY awardees will be bestowed their awards at the Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, from 8 PM to 10 PM.

And this year’s The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York awardee for Arts & Culture is none other than consummate artiste, Bacolod’s own, Eduardo Sicangco: Stage and costume designer for Broadway and Hollywood, extraordinaire.

To sum up this latest achievement, nothing would do greater justice than a quip from Toto Sicangco himself:

    “I’ve always felt that life should glitter more. I am a bit of a glitz queen, which is an understatement. Everyday life is inherently theatrical, in my book.”

With that, we at You Know You’re From Bacolod If… and laud you, Bacolod’s own, Eduardo “Toto” Sicangco.

Thank you for doing us proud!


Epilogue: We may ask, why do geniuses like Eduardo “Toto” Sicangco have to migrate to the US or elsewhere outside the Philippines, in order to get recognized? To become a big fish in a big pond, so to speak? Here are words straight from Toto Sicangco, via Rinnah Sevilla, in Philippine Star:

    Despite spending three decades abroad, Sicangco still looks to and is proud of his Filipino roots. “They inform my sensibility and sensitivity as a designer and as an artist. And what advantageous roots! Malay/Pacific Islander, Spanish/European/Latino, Asian/Oriental, American/Hollywood, even Muslim. For a designer, the Philippines is a fortuitous and lucky place to be from, specifically in terms of frames of reference. Look around: Spanish cathedrals and cobble-stoned streets, mosques and minarets, McDonalds and Starbucks, pagodas and nipa huts, primitive tribal art and Juan Luna! Short of African, I am fortunate enough to possess a natural affinity for most sensibilities required by various projects. Now take all these and combine them with the ultra-sophisticated mindset of a world-class city like New York and you have quite an edge.”

    Asked to set his sights on theater and the arts in the Philippines, Sicangco gives an all-too-familiar sad refrain. “With all due respect to whomever and without ruffling any feathers, I would like to see more support for theater design in particular and the performing arts in general,” he says. “With regards the latter, one can’t help but applaud the valiant efforts of the committed artists in Manila who keep theater, dance and opera going, defying all odds. One wishes for more funding, from the government and from the business and private sectors.”

    He admits that if he were to design a show in Manila, he would “miss the technical and artisanal support” from scores of craftspeople – wig makers, cobblers, embroiderers, jewelers and the like – that he has access to in New York.

    “The reason they are so good at what they do is quite simple: they get paid well for it. It is a career,” he says. “There is a huge demand for their services and talents. And the reason for this is that the performing arts is a viable and fairly profitable business in that part of the world.”

    He continues: “As I used to tell my NYU (New York University) students, it ain’t called ‘Show Art;’ it’s called ‘Show Business.’ For me as a designer, the challenge becomes: ‘how much art can I inject into the business and vice versa?’”

    But he is ever optimistic. “I hope for the day, hopefully sooner rather than later, when we won’t have to ‘make do’ and that there is high demand for good-caliber performing arts in our beloved country and that we artists can make a decent living doing what we love and have to do. Note I said ‘decent;’ I do not ask for more – unless you insist. Please insist. The rest is icing on the cake.”

    “The natural talent is definitely here and always has been. In spades, mind you. Just look at Ms. Salonga for starters. The lack of patronage and support is the major challenge, along with good training and self-discipline, which both translate into a high level of professionalism.”