Politics as theater: 1968=2013

by Artist Development Fellow

Enzo Vasquez Toral ’14, a resident of Eliot House concentrating in History and Literature and Brazillian Studies, was awarded an Office for the Arts at Harvard (OFA)/Office of Postgraduate and National Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to serve as an apprentice this summer at the Teatro Oficinia in São Paulo, Brazil. Enzo is the President of Harvard College TEATRO, for which he has acted in three productions and directed a fourth. After graduation, he plans to pursue a graduate degree in Latin American Literature. He filed this post from São Paulo.

The date of my arrival at Teatro Oficina was planned without thinking of the unexpected events that would happen both in Brazil and in this theater company. During the month of June, a series of protests started around the country against decisions on government spending. My first day as an apprentice in Teatro Oficina was ten days before the debut of their new play Cacilda!!! (yes, three exclamation marks since this is the third part of the play), which the company had been rehearsing for over two months.

Cacilda!!! portrays the life of Brazilian comedian Cacilda Becker, an activist against censorship imposed on cultural representations by the Brazilian military dictatorship during the 1960s. Teatro Oficina’s director Zé Celso Martinez-Correa, who is considered a legend in political and social theater also during the dictatorship times, wrote and is directing this piece whose first part was represented in 1998.

Martinez-Correa directs Cacilda!!! both with a passion for what Becker represented in the past and with an understanding that such a figure is greatly missed in current protests. Although different protests have erupted throughout the nation, none have advocated for more investment in culture and the arts. There is not a Cacilda Becker around in 2013 and as a result, Martinez-Correa’s piece becomes more relevant than what he had planned.

The process of the creation of Cacilda!!! took an unexpected turn due to its increasing relevance the very day I arrived at the theater company. Martinez-Correa brought a completely new script for act two to present to the actors. When everyone in the company read it, a collective feeling of empowerment was instantly created in the room. The new script talked about how Cacilda Becker was a motivating force in protesting cultural repression in 1968. More importantly, this new version more strongly emphasizes how current investment in the arts is limited and almost a contemporary form of censorship. "68, aqui, agora" and "Contra censura, pela cultura"—which translates to "1968, here, now" and "Against censorship, for culture"—are some of the chants that start off this act. These phrases, among other ones, make the piece relatable to the audience, and mimic a cultural revolution that happened in 1968 but is missing in 2013.

As a History and Literature concentrator and as performer, my work with Teatro Oficina could not be more relevant to my interests. Through the text being performed I see the history of Brazil and the present forging of the arts in this country. Aside from the series of unconventional techniques that this theater company uses, the collective creation of the performance of the text offered by the actors really stands out as a key contributor in the transmission of the play’s message. Almost all of the actors did not live or perform during Becker’s time, except for Martinez-Correa, but they all feel the urge for making the arts relevant in current Brazil. Their collective creation is indeed one that they hope will translate in a collective creation of a new phase for culture and the arts forged by all Brazilians.

[Caption: Rehearsal for "Cacilda!!!"]

[Caption: 1968=2013 Segundo dia de ensaio, Zé reforça a importancia do momento e do teatro como instrumento político (Second day of rehearsals, Zé reinforces the importance of the moment and of the theater as a political instrument.) PHOTO: from Teatro Oficina's facebook page.]