Note from BW of Brazil: The topic of black Brazilian theater is something that we cover from time to time here on the blog. As the black aesthetic, the black community and black issues are for the most part non-existent in Brazil’s mainstream media, these presentations allow the black community to speak and bring topics to the forefront that viewers will simply not find in television and film.
Echoes that don’t stop
Black theater redraws new scenario with creations that take place in the artistic production
By Joyce Athiê
In elongated conversations with calm voices as if to explain something they would like to be understood, alternated by moments of enthusiasm, those interviewed for this article seemed wanting to say this about black theater itself.
In a moment in which the performing arts reflect the organization of the Movimento Negro (black movement), with increasing artistic initiatives that address their issues, there’s a long way lies ahead for a solid insertion into the artistic market for black actors. It is from this reality that the Mostra Benjamin de Oliveira (1), which is receiving applications for a show with a predominantly black cast.
Despite the difficult definition, there seems to be common ground around the term that is based on the affirmation of black identity, that drinks in values of African origin, experiences and the fight against racial discrimination on the stage.
For researcher and actress Soraya Martins, the aesthetics of black theater is political and is based on a constant creation and recreation. “Remembering is to recreate a culture that will dialogue with its roots and bring it in a different way.” Actor Alexandre de Sena actor believes that the nomenclature comes to mark a territory in artistic production that does not cover the creation of blacks. “The term itself is a resistance,” he says. The actor and researcher Marcos Alexandre thinks of black theater as a place of enunciation, from the points of view of this black subject who approaches his knowledge and individual and collective experiences.
The consensus also sets out to tell the aesthetics of this theater, that prefer the plural, aesthetic, according to the diversity that it presents, although the embodiment is emphasized. The body, understood as an instrument of memory, is a form of access to the history of these subjects. “From the time when blacks were enslaved and taken from their place of speech, they had no other place, apart from the body, to leave and enter in contact with their culture,” says Soraya.
The construction of this theater has bases in other times. The classic O Imperador Jones (Emperor Jones), a text of the American Eugene O’Neill, caused one of the first impacts in Brazil. The tragedy of a black leader was seen in 1941 on the stage of the Municipal Theater of Lima, the capital of Peru, by Abdias do Nascimento, intellectual and militant of the black cause. The impact was associated with a shock: the black hero was represented by an actor who had his white skin painted black (2)
Three years later, in Rio de Janeiro, the Teatro Experimental Negro (Black Experimental Theatre), TEN, was born with the desire to combat stereotypes and occupy the space that had been denied to African descendants. Of a strong political affiliation, TEN described itself in its manifesto as being a group appreciating the black contribution to Brazilian culture and equipping the stage with an intrinsically black drama.
With cast that had names like Léa Garcia, Ruth de Souza, TEN produced pieces that express black drama like the aforementioned O Imperador Jones and Anjo Negro by Nelson Rodrigues. “They put this subject in the theater as a man,” says Mark Alexander, who still recalls the occupation of TEN in other territories beyond the stage, conducting seminars, forums and working in the education of the black community.
Inspiring other initiatives, TEN is the base of Bando de Teatro Olodum that stands out for significant experiences in the black theater in contemporary Brazil. Appearing in 1990, in Bahia, is one of them that comes with the discourse that takes on the criticism of the so-called teatro panfletário (pamphleteer or political theater) (3). “We set up Shakespeare with black kings and queens and nevertheless didn’t fail to address the genius of the playwright. We want to assume the leading role. Maybe being a pamphleteer yes, but I think we still have to be,” said Cássia Valle, an actress of the group since 1991.
The discourse of the pamphleteers that arrived to the stage often times without receiving an artistic treatment, taking in an almost direct manner academic and militant discourse and to the stage, is almost a vomit. “The risk of the pamphleteer exists because when we find a place to talk, we’re already filled with screams. And this next part of an artistic construction is in the background maybe. The feeling of being and occupying a place that doesn’t accept you is to get there and really scream,” says Alexandre.
Following in line, Cia dos Comuns appeared in 2001 in Rio de Janeiro, inspired by Bando Teatro Olodum. Created by actor and director Hilton Cobra, the company creates a poetic research that shows the challenge of “giving voice to the unspeakable.”
“Silence to discover our own speech, that the voice exudes
Individual silence, historical Gangrene, When you write, don’t speak, and for what?
Silence to discover our own speech
Is there a dam in the soul? Individual silence, historic silence. And the poison?
When you write, don’t speak. Have you shut up?
I don’t want to shut up anymore”
Text “Silêncio” by Cia. Dos Comuns
Source: O Tempo
1. Benjamin de Oliveira, born in 1870, was the first black clown in Brazil. He is considered the creator of the Brazilian circus-theater, a genre that led to the street parodies of operettas, theater fairy tales and great classics of literature. In the interludes, he sang lundus, chulas and modinhas (folk songs) accompanied by his guitar. By choosing the name of the man known as the “Rei dos Palhaços” (King of the Clowns), the company reiterates its desire to enhance the cultural richness of black Brazilians.
2. Although Nascimento’s experience with blackface happened in 1940s Peru, Brazil has its own long history of white and non-white performers wearing blackface that continues to this today.
3. A type of political theater that focuses on social issues and causes with the objective of informing oppressed people of their situation.