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Dateline: Curitiba, Brazil

May 22, 2012

Last month, I returned to Southern Brazil, where I spent part of my youth.  It was magical to catch up with my former Brazilian schoolmates and the little side trip to Ipanema Beach wasn’t too shabby!

While planning my trip, I realized I’d be near the city of Curitiba during the annual theatre festival.  Over the past two decades this festival has grown exponentially to include all kinds of live performance.  I like to call it Brazil’s answer to Edinburgh, so I had to check it out.

Though I could write several blogs on the experience of watching Brazilian theatre, I’ll try to synthesize a few ideas, which I hope will be thought-provoking for the Green Room Blog readers.

1.)  Diction, Diction, Diction:  Those of us who trained in a theatre-oriented environment will remember the constant harping from our voice teachers to improve our diction, no matter what the character, accent or situation.  Of course, I still try to remember to do my diction exercises regularly (cram them in before big audition…) But never before was the importance of diction more to evident to me then while watching a play in my second language. Though I’m fluent in Portuguese, there were times when I lost my way during speeches by some of the dictionally-challenged actors I watched.  Overall most of the players were superb and crystal clear.  But when they weren’t, it confused my non-native brain.

Remembering how many of our audience members in the United States aren’t first speakers of English, I now vow to work the tip of my tongue, the lips and the teeth like crazy.

2.) It’s not all about the diction:  What? Didn’t I just spend the last 151 words extolling the virtues of good speech?  Yes, I did. But I have to admit:  at the same time that I was mentally critiquing the actors’ speeches, my theatre-watching companion, who does not speak Portuguese, just sat back and took in the action, the tone and the mood.  And guess what…. in most cases, he knew what was happening in the play without comprehending a single word. Dropped r’s; popped p’s, lazy t’s or not, he got it.

This reminded me to relax a bit and remember that theatre is a whole-body/mind experience for both the actors and the audience. Of course, we need to be understood, but there is so much that happens besides the words.

3.)  English and American theatre is not the end-all, be-all:   Theatre in Brazil can seem a little weird to us from Anglo nations.  It doesn’t always look and feel like theatre we know.

Brazilian theatre grew up slowly, starting with the religious-oriented plays by Jesuit missionaries, through European-imported comedy-of-manners to finally breaking free from colonial influence in the 1960’s with the radical, subversive, brave and ground-breaking Theatre of the Oppressed, led by Augusto Boal.  Because of this unique development, Brazilian theatre has an unusual style.  I won’t pretend to be an expert in reasons, but practioners use a lot of clowning and mask technique, employ archetypes and slapstick, often use dark sexual or violent undertones, champion the underdog and, following Boal’s inspiration, involve the audience much more than we do here in the US or Europe.

Because of all this, it can sit a little uneasy for those not used to the Brazilian style of theatre.  One play we saw (where there were children in the audience)  had an actor onstage wearing a dildo (outside of his clothes) that represented a ticking bomb.  It was strange, yes, and full of metaphor and, well, a bit disturbing.  But you can’t critique Brazilian (or theatre from any other country) with American norms.  Their theatre history is so wrapped up in their struggle as a nation to break from colonial influence and the current problems with the huge socio-economic divide, that we can’t possibly begin to understand it from our point of view.  And that’s totally cool.  Because we aren’t the final word on global theatre… we are just one part of it.

Have you even seen some “foreign” performance that taught you something new about your own technique?  I’d love to read about it here! Obrigada!

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