Street teatro, Oficinia style

by Artist Development Fellow

Enzo Vasquez Toral ’14, a resident of Eliot House concentrating in History and Literature and Brazilian Studies, was awarded an Office for the Arts at Harvard/Office of Postgraduate and National Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to serve as an apprentice this summer at Teatro Oficinia in São Paulo, Brazil. Toral 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 second post from Brazil; read his first post here.

I spent the last three weekends traveling with the cast and crew of Teatro Oficina as they debuted Cacilda!!! in the interior of São Paulo. Unlike other productions by Oficina, Cacilda!!! was not presented initially at the company's usual theater space. It was hard to imagine how Oficina’s unconventional space would be reproduced in three separate cities.

Under the motto "The street is a theater," Oficina’s stage is a long street with audience seats on both sides and three levels, simulating sidewalks. Aside from this, Oficina incorporates a variety of art forms, such as singing, film, a live band, complex sound effects and trapeze acts, among others. It was indeed a great opportunity for me to see the production side alongside the acting training I had been learning during my first weeks with this theater company.

Oficina’s way of doing theater is also known in Brazil as a form of ritual. Actors have a strong relationship with the characteristic stage they always use. For such a connection to prevail, the crew traveled from city to city to ensure that a close reproduction of their original space was achieved. Also, actors would travel two days in advance to rehearse and to establish a connection with their new space, as this is the first step of their theater ritual.

Another important aspect of this ritual is the connection established with the audience. It was interesting to see audience reactions in each city and how actors incorporated audience members into parts of the performance. Like past productions by Oficina, Cacilda!!! requires participation by onstage audience members, which is an immense contribution to the social empowerment message that Oficina strives to create.

Oficina has a longstanding tradition of creating long theater pieces; without doubt, Cacilda!!! is no exception as it lasts five hours. Being backstage during the performances allowed me to see the concentration and the momentum of the cast and crew. Many of those who have seen Oficina while on tour understand how the ritual element of the shows works. However, it is always a challenge for the actors to connect with more than 400 people even if they are all willing to participate in Oficina’s theater ritual. As a result, all pieces produced by this theater company are in constant change to work with the personality of each audience.

It is said that whoever sees the opening night and the closing night of a production by Oficina would probably see two completely distinct pieces. Although the script is not modified most of the time, changes include the creation of new songs based on the script, more audience participation, incorporation of visual and sound effects and major changes in costume and make-up. All such changes are envisioned by the collective creation by all actors and crew, which characterizes the work of this theater company.

After 52 years, Oficina’s work is still considered revolutionary. Zé Celso Martinez Correa, the director of the company, always strives to modify aspects of his shows to make them more relatable to spectators. Oficina’s essence is, indeed, one that focuses on the transformative experience that the audience takes away -- each and every audience.

[Caption: Brazilian actress Camila Mota as Cacilda Becker in the opening night in São Jose dos Campos.]

[Caption: Zé Celso Martinez Correa opening the first show of Cacilda!!! in Araraquara. (Photo courtesy: Teatro Oficina Facebook page).]