Note from BW of Brazil: Although Brazil is often described as the country with the largest black population in the world outside of Africa, one would never know it if judging by television series, stage productions, commercials and the media in general. Many experts point to this invisibility as having a huge influence on the low self-esteem and denial of racial identity that many Brazilians of visible African ancestry have. If one never sees him or herself in the mass media, on magazine covers or in books, how does one see their place in a society that for all intents and purposes says that said person doesn’t exist? In São Paulo, a theater group has been earning critical acclaim for the past few years bringing the black aesthetic to the stage and approaching themes relating to this invisibility that are fresh, intriguing and ground-breaking. Learn more them in the feature below and check out the accompanying videos at the end of this article.
Text by Christiane Gomes and Renata Felinto, Photos by Crioulla Oliveira
According to the definition in the dictionary, the word collective can be an adjective: it means to understand and encompass many persons or things, or relating to them in said respect, or belong to a group of people or things. It can also be a noun: expressing the meeting of several individuals of the same species. The central characters of this text assemble, together, the two definitions, with the addition of another word, strong and full of attitude, that can also be a noun or adjective: Negro. But more than words, the Coletivo Negro (Black Collective) action is made from action! But what do they have to represent? To say? To show?
The Coletivo Negro is a theater group whose embryo emerged in the city of Santo André, of the ABC region in São Paulo, in 2007, from an experimental montage performed in the direction course of the Escola Livre de Teatro de Santo André (ELT or Free School of Theatre of Santo André). Uneasily with the social invisibility of the negro, Jé Oliveira, director of said experimentation, began a research project with Afro-Brazilian actors. This was when he invited Jefferson Mathias and Thaís Dias Mathias to add to the investigation Then came Flávio Rodrigues who brought Aisha Nascimento and then finally, Raphael Garcia. Common to all was the willingness to deepen the study of a theatrical and political aesthetic and whose invisibility of the black population was a central theme. Experiences that, experienced individually, found each other and, finally, make the scene.
“Our presupposition as a group is racial research. Not necessarily that it be placed on the stage for the discussion, but the point of view of the negro on issues is always there. In all matters. It is a political choice,” as Jé Oliveira put it. The only member who graduated from the School of Dramatic Art at USP (University of São Paulo), Raphael Garcia, adds: “At some point in his life, the artist has to position himself and we did so directly on the racial question. And the Coletivo Negro was a key to that.” Breaking with the role of black-as-object is something that guides the work of these artists.
And this option leaves it clear that there is much to represent on the subject with agendas that include long research processes involving deep searches for biographies and ways of playing of their black ancestors, the first of collective (as an adjective here) to rebel in search of freedom, as is the case with quilombolas (maroon society inhabitants). In the case of the Coletivo Negro, they seek the concretization of the desired freedom for their ancestors: that of coming and going (alone or in collectivity); that of representing, as actors and actresses, subjects that they desire and deem relevant; interpret, report and recount their history, as the black population, with dramatics , poetry and consciousness.
Very well, we ask the Coletivo Negro even you, dear readers of O Menelick 2º Ato, a question that doesn’t remain silent: what is black theater? Is it that produced by black people? Is it that that talks about blacks? Is it that puts in the scene black issues? Plus, what would be its aesthetic, its shape? “We’re trying to understand the negro on the scene. Is there a black character? Or does he play some type of character? Do we have a form of a specific narrative? It’s in this place that issues that we have come up,” says Aisha Nascimento. The lack of literature and research on this issue is something that makes it even more difficult to be understood.
But one thing is a fact: this search undertaken by the Coletivo Negro is inextricably linked to the heritage of the concerns of that that was may have been the first company of black actors in Brazil: the Teatro Experimental do Negro (TEN or Black Experimental Theater), formed in 1944 by Abdias Nascimento (1914-2011). “TEN was a counterpoint to another theater that was not black or it wouldn’t have needed to even have this name. I don’t raise the flag that we do black theatre period, because we still don’t have clarity if that’s really what we do. There are some elements that are common in these works, such as dance, the presence of orixás (African deities), capoeira (Brazilian martial art). They are always present. But using this does it make it black theater? Or are we doing theater and using these elements? We are on the path to reflecting on all this,” Jé says. Flávio Rodrigues adds: “Above all, we are actors and actresses. And black!”
These are questions that move and unsettle the quest of these young artists of the Coletivo Negro, who are reflecting on it in terms of aesthetic as well as content. A complex issue as one can be read even here, and that is far from easy answers. It’s better that way.
MAKING THE SCENE
In the year after its birth in 2009, the Coletivo Negro was contemplated by the Programa de Ação Cultural (Cultural Action Program) of the Government of the state of São Paulo, PROAC, the fundamental award for the research and realization of the first montage brought to the public entitled Movimento Número 1: O Silêncio de Depois (Movement Number 1: The Silence Afterward), presented in various areas of São Paulo. This show earned the group two nominations for awards from the Cooperativa Paulista de Teatro (Cooperative Paulista Theatre) in the categories Grupo Revelação (Best New Group) and Melhor Elenco (Best Cast).
The show tells the story of a community that had to be expropriated for the construction of a railway line. A metaphor of the constant deterritorialization always faced by blacks in Brazil (still persisting terribly these days, as evidenced in recent stories of the fire in the Moinho favela (shantytown) in São Paulo and the expropriation of Pinheirinho, in São José dos Campos). It was necessary to have the color question directly addressed in the show, says Aisha, because only those who have this skin tone face certain things in our country. “Whoever has this nose, this mouth, this hair will go through problematic that others don’t go through. And it was important to have this in the piece in order to make this reality something social.”
In the construction of this show, what wanders through the sweetness of the poetry of a boy flying his kite, to the bitter social reality of expulsion and death, the artists had a long process, where they went through several experiments before the creation of the characters of the show. Texts of TEN, experiences of performances, visits to the quilombo (that awakened ancestral questions in them) and research in racial theories of the 19th century that planned to whiten the country. The rehearsals took place in Tendal da Lapa, a space that is located right next to a train line. During the rehearsals, every time the train passed, they had to stop and remain silent to resume work after its passage. A feeling that the audience would also experience because the setback was eventually incorporated into the montage. The care in showing that black universes are different is also present in the play. Some characters were even created to account of the discourse the group wanted to pass on to their viewers. The samba mulata, the boy who starts his life and the guardian of memory, are some examples.
The Coletivo Negro was awarded several prizes, one of them being an artistic occupation that earned them three months of performances at the coveted (and elitist) Teatro da Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo Theatre, better known as TUSP). They participated in festivals and exhibitions. However, it is clear, given the acceptance of their production by an elite thinking of the studies of performing arts, that they reflect on the image of “somebodies”: invisible black men and women battlers and inquirers; white men and women, Asian men and women, Indian men and women, multicolored sensitive and committed to the need for an egalitarian Brazil and seeing art as a possible pathway for the transformation of minds.
The Coletivo Negro received a sort of seal of quality by being nominated for such a representative award that attests to the scenic quality of their work. “There was a recognition of the craft by people who have remarkable understanding of artistic knowledge. For people who develop a political work, which includes this racial question is very important,” says Jé.
Along with the so-called Núcleo Duro (Hard Core), also known as the Núcleo Artístico (Artistic Core), occurs the working partnership with collaborators like Julinho Docjar, set designer of the first montage and with the cultural group Casa da Lapa, from São Paulo, who are in partnership for the group’s next montage.
Speaking of this, the symbolic and collective burial that involves viewers of all colors in “Movimento 1…” which takes place at the end of the show also signaled the continuity of work and the need to celebrate raciality and “turning the key”. But be advised, the Coletivo Negro warns that celebrating doesn’t mean going out happy and content singing about the racial democracy in verse and prose. “We know that the issues of Movemento 1 are still there, have not been resolved, but we needed to talk about them, but don’t want to only stay there. So we’re going to the second movement,” Flavio reveals.
The second movement is already being constructed by the Coletivo Negro: “A Celebrização do Homem Comum (The Celebration of the Common Man).” And the “sticking point” in the research is knowing exactly who this common man is and if there is anyone that values normality. And who becomes this common being in someone different? The moment is of questions (and research) for the group.
The technical, conceptual and thematic specificities span a range of responses that need to be given or, at least, answered so that the Coletivo itself continues the construction of its pieces. They are firmly on the path. However, Flavio made a beautiful and psychoanalytic observation that the Coletivo “is in intimate depths of the intimate movement of being black.”
During the conversation with the six members of the Coletivo, on a cold but cozy night in one of the halls of the Condomínio Cultural on Rua Mundo Novo (street) (a suggestive name of many good vibes!), where the group finds an excellent room for rehearsing, we talked about how in a country that loves to proclaim itself multiracial, culturally diverse, and mestiço (mixed race), this united Coletivo Negro, walking through the streets with their hair, mouths, colors and noses draws attention wherever they go. But, being nothing doesn’t exist, because as the Ile Aiyê song “Mundo Negro (Black World)” goes: “Somos Crioulo Doido somo bem legal (We’re crazy negros, we’re really cool)/Temo cabelo duro, somo black power (We have nappy hair, we’re black power)!”
USP – Histórias de desocupação entram em cena com Coletivo Negro
Movimento nº1: O silêncio do depois
Coletivo Negro Mvto1 video
Christiane Gomes is a journalist, with a Master’s in Communications and Culture from the USP (University of São Paulo) and coordinator of the dance ensemble Bloco Afro lú Obá de Min.
Renata Felinto is a Ph.D in Visual Arts from the Instituto de Artes/UNESP (São Paulo State University), with a Bachelor’s and Master’s from the same institution. Works as a researcher, plastic artist and educator
Source: O Menelick 2º Ato