The 2D and 3D Epidemic versus The Eruption of Events
No, I don’t mean two-dimensionality or three-dimensionality. I’m talking about the 2-day and 3-day stage seasons of an artistic production. There are several of them. They are multiplied without any understandable criteria. What is the current struggle for alternative spaces that can welcome theatre plays within borders and abroad?
The absence of stimulus right from kindergarten is a very relevant factor for the lack of interest in artistic representation in Portugal. We also “want” to exhaust time and human resources, removing visibility from the various art objects.
By not being “visible”, due to the speed with which they enter and leave the programming of various stages in the country, they no longer have a social impact.
The transformative actions of art, even when they represent an opposing force, belong exclusively to a small group of spectators. The creative act, when matured, suffers from this communicative obstacle communication before the other(s) by its (reduced) representation on stage. Not all cases are like this.
Umbigo spoke with the actor, director and teacher at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema in Lisbon, Álvaro Correia, and with Miguel Abreu, the artistic director of the production company Cassefaz (now 34 years old) and of the TODOS Festival.
Pedro Sousa Loureiro – How can we solve or extend the three or four days? Is it something irreversible?
Álvaro Correia – The two, three, four days has been a reality for quite some time. It was not that common in Teatro Nacional, in São Luiz or in Maria Matos (which no longer has any ongoing programming). But it was always common practice. What worries me even more is the disappearance of alternative places beyond the institutions themselves.
PSL – You are someone who encourages students and former students to achieve their projects. Do you feel that we are in a phase of artistic eruption?
AC – I think there’s a lot of things emerging right now. The major issue is the scarcity of funding means and venues for presentation. If, on the one hand, it is positive that the intuitions are attentive to what is happening to younger people, on the other hand, alternative spaces are needed to make room for new projects. Then, everyone can decide, having the freedom to present in a place with different visibility. These spaces with greater creative freedom are increasingly scarce and this is negative.
PSL – Is working with different people from project to project a way not to avoid a (creative) formula?
AC – Yes, as you know, I spent many years in Comuna. Since I left, I’ve never worked outside the institutions. That’s good and bad – it seems impossible to do anything beyond the scope of the institutions. I only worked at São Luiz and Teatro Nacional, which leads me to question whether these are the only “alternative” spaces. I want to make a project of my own. But I don’t feel like knocking on the door of institutions. It’s very difficult to find a place. dgARTES has given some money, which is good. But one of the points appreciated is that the application has a co-production. And that’s not good. After all, if you’re starting, it’s much harder to get a co-production. I think that the system is flawed at the moment, especially at the state level, it is extremely dependent. I’m talking about the ways in which the institutions themselves are financed. Companies do not receive as much because part of the money they used to get is now allocated to those intuitions. Something perverse is born: co-productions. There is a lack of responsibility on the part of institutions. It resembles more a hosting than a real co-production. Even by the pace of the programmes they have. Obviously, teams look at the situation as a hosting and not as a co-production.
PSL – Miguel Abreu also gives his testimony, based on his career. He deals with methodology, management and strategic visions for the future.
Miguel Abreu – I don’t know if it’s irreversible. Everything depends on the production paradigms of artists and institutions. There are public venues where it makes sense to have a short-length presentation, to give work and opportunities to others. Then, there are other venues where there should be longer seasons, as was the case in the 1990s in Barcelona. In a public theatre, it doesn’t make sense to risk three months for each company. What if, after a month, there’s no more audience? There are public venues that should have shorter periods. In the 1990s, in Barcelona, a piece could be sold out in 15 days. Then, there would be another venue only for reruns – which normally happened the following year, with the aim of ensuring a longer duration. Either we have a theatre that takes a risk with two simultaneous plays, with concerted management, or we haven’t.
PSL – What about the time you ran Maria Matos?
MA – At Maria Matos, I was able to do three or four plays simultaneously: one or two with a duration of three or four months; others with shorter durations. Any theater management model has to be thought differently when we have four or five public theatres.
It’s necessary to organise and plan any theatre management model in a different way. You have to think of all the details needed to provide an extensive exhibition of plays on stage. You have to bet on that and not the other way around.
The whole organizational paradigm has to change and this is not feasible for just one person. Management needs to be rethought by everyone, risking things.
PSL – Is there really a desire to have the plays on stage for two or three months?
MA – From here on, how can we organize the different theatres with this objective?
It’s a kind of pact: public/private. In theory, it is beneficial. In practice, it is not easy, because of the egos involved. In Spain, objectives were established: a minimum of six months. The goal was to sell out the venues, paying for tickets, creating organized groups or offering invitations. In London, this is done for economic reasons. If the play isn’t sold out, it stops. We don’t invest in advertisement, nor do we organize stuff with schools and other audiences if we believe that it’s not worth it.
I will not fill the city with advertising, even with subsidies. That’s unjustified, if we only have four or five days. Are we going to spend 30.000 euros on advertising for a four-day play? Selling out four or five sessions can help to advertise false major successes. Will it sell out if it stays for a whole month?
PSL – Aren’t risks taken?
MA – No. There is a time when you have to risk a whole month and you have to work hard to do that. To go beyond my own network in order to get audiences. Or else I have plays that are on stage three or four days a month. And, every month, I repeat those same three or four days again, extending it further. For that, I have to manage the resources and the actors in another way. Do we have a national strategic objective or not? If not, nothing I say will make sense. If everyone has to work to achieve this goal, we shift the paradigm! Or I’m happy with four plays, deluded by the idea that I have great audience figures, when it’s usually the same people.
PSL – You are one of the founders of the Revista O Actor – expositor de signos teatrais, an archive of that time. In your opinion, what place does memory have at this moment and what is being done to keep future memory?
MA – Revista Actores was one of the first magazines in the 1980s. Cassefaz created that magazine while focused on a new generation. Lately, the number of theatre-focused issues have dropped considerably. There’s more digital space and less physical space.
Digitally, there are many blogs and op-ed pages. Quantity does not mean quality. Memory is short, there are no great memory records for the future. This is part of individual responsibility. Each group and company can make an effort: organizing debates, radio meetings and strengthening communication. I did that with Revista Actores. I knocked on the O Sete newspaper to create a network for the dissemination of brand-new theatre talents. I did interviews between the magazine, O Sete and radio programs. Today, there are tools that I didn’t have in my day. We can’t think about the present and the future as we did in the past. There’s something common to everyone: to want or not to want according to concrete ideas to develop, working collectively and not individually. This is the problem of the Portuguese class: not being able to work collectively to achieve common goals. If the objective is to have financial and intellectual autonomy, it is necessary to create a management model. I use the pyramid model, with three different projects. Some projects are more focused on the box office, others on the provision of services and others of short duration. With this, we can float between them, not depending on A, B or C. When I do a play, I provide a service to the audience and not to myself. I see things from the spectator’s point of view. I look at people and try to understand the needs of the market. If there are many contemporary plays, I do the opposite, and vice versa. I’m a mediator between the desires and needs of people and artists, with an intellectual taste, be it classical music or hyper-contemporaneity. It depends on the people I see and whether their cultural rights are being respected. Therefore, if I think there is a lack of work for people who cannot read or write, or who are not used to going to the theatre, I invest more in artists who want to work with the community! That doesn’t mean that I don’t also invest in a work in a lab and that I have 50 spectators in a single performance. This has to be part of a strategy in which these 50 spectators are the right people to validate this work, originating for example, an international tour. If the objectives are not to fill venues or create an artistic language for the city, the theater becomes an elitist niche. The theatre closes in on itself and will not reopen. Is it worth it or not? This should be the national debate.
There is an unbelievable creative eruption and a frenzy of new works.
People rent spaces for rehearsals and presentations, more or less part-time (in many cases with a self-financing intent). They get together. They want to work together. They want to build a future. Love. There is a lot of love in this work. They always continue. They don’t stop. They give up everything and something else for artistic production. I work with quality, mature work and then the presentation ends in a blink of an eye? Love is not enough. One’s body gets tired and the head stops being in tune with this sort of speed, always with very little return. But everything flows. Theater and dance are born and reborn. There is a lot of production. A lot of writing. New dramaturgy about our times, which mix with past times and the anxiety of the future. With no fear of thinking, of tearing new realities and of being. To be, only that.
What is the memory and what place does it occupy without an archive or without time to allow the act of creating to breathe?
Life passes by. Things pass by and we can’t create a memory? Is that exclusive for some? All this is always based on individual decisions about collectives and masses.
“Authority and freedom are one and the same” – Mário Cesariny.
By Pedro Sousa Loureiro