Consuming all of my creative juices with “NTRL at 15”

The National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory (NTRL), the department I work under, celebrates the anniversary of its inauguration once every five years; and this year, it has remained standing strong for a decade and half. As it rejoices for its 15th birthday, NTRL has assigned the unit I belong to, the Laboratory Services Unit (LSU), to organize the programme (together with the Program Support and Quality Management or PSQM Unit) and to physically arrange the venue. The party was held at four in the afternoon on 22 March 2017 inside the NTRL Courtyard.

Brainstorming the designs

A lot of motif suggestions and theme ideas transpired during the event’s conceptualization process. For one, the initial plan was to hold a debut-like party. In the Philippines, a debut celebrates a woman’s coming-of-age at the occasion of her 18th birthday. However, since we are honoring NTRL’s 15 glorious years of existence, we opted to modify the theme a bit into a Quinceaňera program. This is Mexico’s version of the Philippines’ debut, but it is held when the lady reaches 15 years of age.

For the motif, pink, silver and crystal were the first suggestions. Crystal was among them because this is the term used to refer to 15th wedding anniversaries. But when Quinceaňera was put into picture, it was decided to use more hues as this celebration is typically adorned with colorful flowers, as with Cinco de Mayo. Hence, we settled with a rainbow-like motif with emphasis on pink, silver and crystal.

First sketch of the stage design plus notes detailing the programme

The conceptualized stage design featured ultramarine ceiling-to-floor drapes that will serve as contrasting backdrop against the vibrant cartolina wheels that will be suspended at the middle. Some of them will have crystal beads dangling from them. Finally, the words “NTRL at 15”, written in script, will be cut out from illustration boards, painted in silver, and hanged in front of the paper wheels. Thus, the overall set-up will have a sort of three-dimensional effect.

Exploring Divisoria and Quiapo solo at high noon

We had to limit the cost for the décor as much as possible, so we chose to purchase the materials needed where they are priced lowest. Evangelista Street in Quiapo, Manila is the go-to place when hunting for various kinds of beads, like the crystal ones that we were going to use; whereas Ylaya Street in Divisoria is the perfect spot to look for our drapes as it is jam-packed with lots of makeshift stalls selling different fabric types.

I went alone (cue Celine Dion’s “All by Myself”) to the two places on Sunday before the event. I originally planned to travel early, but I ran a bit late and found myself strolling against Quiapo Church-goers at half past noon.

I am not very familiar with the Quiapo stores that sell beads. Hence, I had to do a Google Map search prior to my solo escapade, and I was directed to Evangelista Street. The first shop I went into sold beads in strands, and they were a bit pricey. For this reason, I decided to leave the store within three minutes.

As I continued to walk along Evangelista Street, I chanced upon DIY Beads, whose Facebook page I had previously visited during one of my Google hunts. The physical shop was located at the second floor, and lo and behold, it was probably heaven for people who use all sorts of beads in their craft. The interior was spacious and was arranged as if it were a grocery store, with shelves here and there stocked with beads in all types, colors and sizes. I was lucky that the crystal ones were just in the middle, in front of the escalator. I bought three packs of clear, acrylic (crystal-like) beads worth Php 150.00 each. Then, I continued my travel to Divisoria.

The beads dangling from one of Ma’am Pao’s Japanese paper bouquets, making a chandelier-like decor

It was my second time to go to Divisoria. My first was when I bought masks and fabric for our department’s Valentine’s celebration. Thus, I already know where to head straight to for our drapes.

Rolls and sheets of textile in varying colors abound Divisoria’s Ylaya Street. Because of its many fabric offerings, I had to walk along the street’s entire length to score the cheapest deal and find the color that matches Prismacolor’s ultramarine the most. I found it near the end of the street, although it was not exactly ultramarine (it carried a purple tone). The fabric was called Geena cloth, and it was priced at Php 20 per yard. I purchased 32 yards, divided into eight lengths.

The stage backdrop featuring the Divisoria-bought Geena cloths

After my lone adventure, I was so exhausted that I had to stop over at the nearest McDonald’s and have myself a refreshing drink. Well, who would not be tired as eff if you walked for around one or two hours under the midday sun? Haha.

Setting up the venue

We began to decorate the NTRL Courtyard the next day, Monday, just two days before the Quinceaňera program. It also happened that our department was in charge of leading the flag-raising ceremony of the whole Institute, and that a Thanksgiving Mass was held at ten in the morning on that day. For these reasons, we started making the decors in the afternoon.

I was probably too much excited that I began with a big paper wheel in white, yellow and red. Perhaps, it was due to this that I made it wrong. Yes, I wasted three sheets of cartolina. Sorry.

After more trial-and-errors, we were able to discover the best and proper way to make the paper wheels. However, the day has already come to an end. Hence, the mass production of paper wheels actually began on Tuesday, with the help of some of my colleagues from LSU.

I spent all of my Tuesday morning cutting out the “NTRL at 15” text. I have to admit that I am not good at doing cut-outs, and I really hate this process. However, I had no choice but to do it myself.

After lunch, I asked one of the PSQM ladies, Ma’am Rai, to spray paint the cut-outs as I have a history of asthma. Once they were completely dry, I started to hang them. By the end of the day, only the cut-outs were set-up. A lot of work still had to be done.

Ma’am Rai’s spray-painted masterpiece
It rained that night, and that left me devastated. The NTRL Courtyard was an open space, and if it rains, the text would be made wet and soft. I just had to hope then that they would not be entirely messed up.

The next day, the actual day of the party, the cut-outs have remained suspended. However, the illustration board became soft and some parts of the cut-outs folded inwards. Because of this, we had to repair them with more nylon strings.

Then, I began to make strings of crystal beads and attach them to the paper wheels and the Japanese paper bouquet that Ma’am Pao and the PSQM peeps made. Afterwards, I began to hang them behind the text cut-outs. Soon, some of my LSU workmates came to my aid as we started to attach the drapes and the bouquet-slash-chandeliers.

As afternoon came, I knew it that we were running out of time. The program was scheduled to commence at three. Hence, I had chosen to just duct tape the remaining decors instead of tying the nylon strings to secure them better. I fervently hoped that they would not fall off, but they did. Sad.

Aaaaand the big event is here

The Quinceaňera party opened with an invocation led by Sir Dodge of the Policy and Research Unit (PRU). Then, the employees who have stayed since NTRL’s humble beginnings were awarded Certificates of Appreciation. After this was the highlight of the event – the grand cotillion.

Sir Dodge opens the program with an invocation.

I was one of the 12 chosen dancers, and my partner was Ma’am Rocelle, my immediate supervisor, head of the Routine Section of LSU. The waltz was adapted from a YouTube video, and the music used was “Potter Waltz” from the movie “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”.

We began to practice the dance on Friday before the event. At first, we had a hard time twisting, twirling and turning in time. When we first danced along with the music, we were like tops spinning out of control. Thus, I had to slow down the tempo.

Our actual execution of the cotillion on the event proper was not perfect, but it was better than during our practices. Some of us missed a step or two, but it was okay. We made it through, and after the dance, we all breathed sighs of relief.

The portion 15 Well-Wishers came after the grand cotillion, and this was followed by a Thanksgiving Toast from our department’s head, Dr. Cindy. She also blew the candles for NTRL’s 15th birthday while we sang “Happy Birthday” in acapella. The buffet began to serve afterwards.

Dr. Cindy after her Thanksgiving Toast

I spent the time allotted for dinner inside the office. You see, I was video recording the entire celebration, from our flag-raising ceremony up to the Quinceaňera party, as I was planning to make a same-day edit (SDE). It was my first time to do one. I used my dear five-year old laptop to make the video, but I rendered it in another laptop with higher processing capabilities since my own was already beginning to run slow.

During dinner, Ma’am Vanessa shared her singing prowess with the audience. It was also her first time to sing in front of a large crowd. She was really nervous prior to her stage debut, but she cannot back out because this was her promise when she refused to sing during our previous LSU head’s despedida party. Well, she actually did good, and everyone was proud of her. Aside from her intermission number, there were also games to enliven the crowd.

15 Stories to Share came next. I took this opportunity to take my dinner while I was manning the video presentations of those who were unable to come personally to the event. Then, it was time to show my SDE and another audio-visual presentation (AVP) showing NTRL’s brief history (which I also made with the help of the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, and PRU).

Nobody actually knew that I was going to make an SDE except for a few of my close workmates under LSU. Hence, the SDE came as a surprise to all, and the two AVPs were probably the perfect way to end the program.

But the celebration did not end there as an after-party immediately took over, thanks to Sir Verge’s Grand Karaoke.

Exhausting yet fun

As we moved on to the after-party, it seemed as if all the tiring things we did since the day we planned for the event took their toll. We wanted to sing our hearts out at the videoke but we were dead exhausted to do so. Despite this, I say that being the event’s unofficial photo-slash-videographer, as well as one of the programme organizers and venue designers, was a fun and memorable experience.

I am truly grateful to NTRL for believing in me. Thank you most especially to Sir Lorenz, our new LSU head, for appreciating my efforts. Thanks too to those who helped in setting up the venue, to all who attended the program, and to everyone who made the celebration a success.

What a literally sweet token of appreciation from Sir Lorenz. Thanks, Sir!

Of course, the most unforgettable thing that probably happened to me during NTRL’s 15th Anniversary was being part of another family with Ma’am Vanessa, Ma’am Thea, Ma’am Rai and Ma’am Pao. Thank you for catering my ideas, and bearing with my [im]patience. Cheers to us, and onwards to the Institute’s 36th Anniversary!

By then, we probably would have already put up our new business – the Perez Events Co. XD

The staff of Perez Events Co.

Head on to my Facebook profile for more photos from the event.

Event Title: NTRL at 15
Date: 20 and 22 March 2017
Venue: National TB Reference Lab Courtyard, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Muntinlupa City, Philippines


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