Friday, July 28, 2006

More on Germany and the Play-off Festival

I wrote a lot about the Play-off International Theatre Festival and my trip to Germany, in June. It also inspired several related posts (about the Krupp family on Essen, about Rembrandt). But... it's all in Portuguese! The good news is that I love rewriting and translating and whenever I find some free time, I will translate (or rewrite) some posts to English. I'll post a few more very soon. If you are curious and in a hurry, I suggest 1) learning Portuguese, 2) browsing my other blog to see the pictures and speculate about what crap have I written in that caption beneath your photo, 3) using the Google Translator to translate the site into a weird and confusing English-like dialect (do it one post at a time or Google will screw things up even more). If you use Bloglines or some news reader, you can subscribe to this blog using this Web feed link and know when I update it, or (if you don't have the slightest idea of what a Web feed is) simply come back once in a while and see if there is anything new.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Play-off/06: the village

Sunrise over Portugal. Flight São Paulo - Paris.

This is an English version of a post originally written in Portuguese.

Our trip started on Sunday, in São Paulo. The flight to Paris would leave at 4:30 P.M. We all met at Guarulhos International Airport (São Paulo) and waited until boarding time. We arrived early and we had a lot of free time. Enough time for Ricardo to sit on a luggage car, slip and fall, and for Aninha to get lost in the airport. But, in the end, Ricardo was back alive and well, and Aninha finally was finally found, so we all boarded with no other problems.

A row in the Air France Boeing 777: Ricardo, Aninha and Peterson; Luís and Wanderley (window); Teka (window), Ana Pereira and me. The other three: Fabiana, Andressa e Maria were in another row in the plane.

I think most of us did not sleep during the flight to Paris (those who were near me certainly did not). When we arrived at the immense Charles de Gaulle airport, we had to get a bus to change terminals, we lost time waiting in the wrong line, we got incorrect information more than once and we only boarded the flight to Düsseldorf on the last minute. The flight lasted about an hour. André Wülfing other people from Play-off/06 were waiting for us at the airport. All arrived well except Ricardo's backpack (it certainly was not his lucky day), which prefered to stay in Paris. But, it was recovered and sent to our camp by the end of the day. We shared the bus with the actors from Togo and arrived at the camp in early afternoon. It was cold.

Antje. Foto: Play-off/06
As soon as we arrived, we were received by an exotic looking girl in red hair and taken to our new residence in Germany. It was a village made of several little canvas houses (tents), build around two castles (big tents). The castle which had coloured walls was a meeting place open to all inhabitants of the tented village. The red castle was governed by queen Antje, the girl whose hair had the colour of her tent (but it became brighter during the week). She was always rushing from her castle to some other part of the village. She had a sherriff's badge, and several pockets and gadgets hanging from her stylish belt, and was usually seen with a mobile on her ear while making notes at the same time. She would visit each house in the village in order to know if everything was OK, and if anything was missing. She would wake up the sleepy ones so they would not lose their bus, and keep track of all events, plays, parties and feasts. When she wasn't there, for some reason (did she sleep?), or when there was too much work, André would appear out of nowhere to bring us some important news like "your bus is leaving now, so hurry!"

The Consolidation coal mine and the international tented village
Photo: Play-off/06

The village was set up beside a former coal mine. On one side there were two other buildings where the theatres were located. On the other side there was a park. Beside the tower, bathrooms and showers were installed. At the camp's entrance there was a kitchen (another big tent) where we ate lunch, breakfast, dinner, and partied all night. It was the main meeting point of the camp and right beside the coloured tent.

Little canvas houses. Photo: Ricardo Socalschi.

The little houses were spacious and confortable (ok, they were a bit too cold or too hot, depending on the weather). They had a solid floor and five mats each. We were eleven and we used two little houses. Besides ourselves, the tents were already inhabited by other creatures, so called "spiders", of several species and sizes, and German, I believe. Us humans and them spiders had no problems sharing that space and lived together in peace during the two weeks (not considering some eventual accidents due to incompatibility of size and weight). Between the houses there was a place where we hung our flag. But it didn't last long. Someone liked it and took it away, but we got another one later.

When we arrived it was very cold. Freezing. To make things worse, we were informed, by Antje, that there would be no warm showers for the boys, since there was a problem in the heating system, and it would take a few days to fix. Great news after a long plane trip. The girls had hot water. After a while Antje came with a solution: we could use the theater's shower, but me Luís e Ricardo, the brave ones, had already decided to face the cold shower (based on a theory of mine that the coldness was psychological and that we would get used to the cold water in a few minutes), and so we did. The water was not cold as I had thought it was. It was nearly freezing! Every single drop that hit the skin felt like a whipping. My theory was proven false, but after I left the shower I felt like I was in heaven. Everything becomes beautiful. It's like a trip. It's like being in Nirvana.

Sunny evenings and lively nights Gelsenkirchen-Bismarck. Photo: Ricardo Socalschi.

At night, we would all get together around the tables near the kitchen or under the coloured tent and stay awake until late, or until dawn. The symposium* mixed voices in several languages, French wine and German beer. Oh, and what about getting some sleep? Sleep? What's that? Well, it wasn't easy. First, the nights at Northern latitudes are longer in summer, so the Sun would set around 10 P.M. and at eleven, the sky was still not dark. Midnight came very early. Second, morning comes back very early and during the hotter days, it's impossible to bear the heat inside the tent. Third, during the days of our plays André would be at the camp early to make sure we would be awake to get the bus at 7:30. But that's not the main reason many of us would stay awake. We stayed awake because, although we were sleepy, we didn't feel like sleeping since too many interesting people were also still awake.

But on the first night, I think I got some sleep. The party was not in the village. It was in Essen. I will tell that story in my next post.

There are many other pictures at the Play-off/06 site, the Play-off/06 group in Flickr and Benjamin Stöß's Yeeeha site.

* Symposium = from the Greek, means together (sym) + drink (potere). Don't confuse with potere in Latin, which means power. The most famous symposium was one that happened long ago when Plato and his friends gathered together to drink and to philosophize about love. Never heard of it? Read the book: The Symposium, by Plato.

The Play-off/06 theatre festival

This is an English version of a post originally written in Portuguese.

I'm back after two weeks in Germany participating as an actor in an international theatre festival called Play-off/06, organized by four independent theatres in the state of Nordrhine-Westfalen (NRW): Consol Theater, in Gelsenkirchen, theater im depot, in Dortmund, Studio-Bühne, in Essen and Flottmann-Hallen in Herne. The festival is officially supported by the cities fo Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Herne and Dortmund, by the state of Nordrhine-Westfalen and organizations like the Goethe Institut and the International Association of Theater for Children and Young People.

During those two weeks I seldom used a computer (I only used them in Internet shops as cheap means of communication) and saw no TV or any news. I ignored what was happening in the world (except for the World Cup, which is impossible to ignore since it was happening in Gelsenkirchen). In Brazil, I work professionally as an information technology consultant, so two weeks away from those calculating machines and away from any news were the best holidays from that kind of work. But, as for my other life, in theatre, those were intense and very productive weeks. Besides acting, watching plays and getting to know interesting people, the trip was also an opportunity to discover a very interesting part of Europe: the Ruhr area. It's a place where I probably could have been before on a business trip, but possibly would not have considered as a tourist destination. I also had the time to spend a day or less in the cities of Cologne and Amsterdam, which were nearby.

The festival

Christian Strüder, director of the Flottmann-Hallen, Herne; André Wülfing, director of Play-off/06 and Berthold Meyer, director of the theater im depot, Dortmund. Photo: Play-off/06.
The Play-off/06 festival was planned two years ago and directed by André Wülfing, from the Consol Theater in Gelsenkirchen. The idea was to bring together in the Ruhr area young theatre groups from all over the world and use all the publicity around the FIFA World Football Cup in Germany to make it easier to obtain means for funding the event. Initially, the plan was to gather groups from each one of the 32 coutries participating in the World Cup. With help from the government, non-profit institutes and private companies, the project was able to get together 16 groups from 15 countries and 4 continents, who settled in a camping site set up for the event during two weeks. It was a great achievement. From the camp, the participants would leave to see the plays in four tightly integrated cities of the Ruhr area.

Kerstin Plewa-Brodam, director of Studio Bühne, Essen, during welcome meeting at the camp's central tent. Foto: Play-off/06.
Play-off/06 was a unique festival, unlike any other I've ever seen or heard of. It had the original idea to keep all groups together in a camping site, an international village, and that is what made all the difference. Twenty-four large standard tents and some extra smaller ones formed the small village which was home for 140 actors from 15 countries and five continents during two weeks. The place was a Babel of people speaking different languages, but despite all differences in culture and language they were able to understand each other. Sharing a camp for two weeks broke many barriers of communication. We all wanted to mingle. It certainly would not have been as successful if each group had stayed in a hotel or hostel, as it usually occurs in many festivals. Eating breakfast together, staying awake till late, learning how to say "hello" or "kiss me" in another language; there were too many opportunities to start a conversation and get to know someone that came from the other side of the world. The camp was like a miniature earth, and in two weeks those people who came from all parts of the earth were like one.

And how did we, from the Núcleo Experimental dos Satyros end up in Germany? I've already told that story in another post.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

How did we end up in Germany?

Our group during rehearsal in the Consol Theater. Photo: Laerte Késsimos.

This is an English version of a post originally written in Portuguese.

We travelled to Germany because of our play Vestir o Corpo de Espinhos (Dress your Body in Thorns). The play is the practical result of one year's research by our theatre group: Núcleo Experimental dos Satyros. We are theatre students and Os Satyros (The Satyrs) is an acclaimed theatre group established in Brazil since 1989 and which has travelled the world with their award-winning plays. If you have never heard about Os Satyros, please read my last post. Our group (the Núcleo Experimental : experimental core) is formed by actors and students selected from the annual theatre workshops Os Satyros promote in their theatres. Every year we choose a subject of research, and develop scenes, seminars, short interventions and finally a play which usually shows for at least two months.

We spent the year of 2005 studying the life and works of Antonin Artaud, reading his plays, discussing his views, and exploring his ideas through improvisations and creative exercises. The resulting play was an accidental result. What I mean is: we did not plan it; we really had no idea where we were heading or what story we were going to tell. Not one line in our play was written by Artaud, nor any part of it (except the radio recordings we use as sound effects) had anything to do with Artaud, the artist. Of course the scenes, images, themes and text were inpired by the process, the artaudian obsession to innovate, but near the end of the year we still had no play: only a bunch of conflicting ideas and no agreement within the group. Everything was fragmented, including our group. There were conflicts of opinion among the actors and also disagreements with our teachers and directors. In face of the possibility of not achieving anything with such a chaotic process, some people gave up and left the group. The rest of us sought ideas we had in the beginning of the process, when we hardly knew who was Artaud, so all the work wouldn't be in vain. And then, when everything was nearly lost, somehow, we came up with the text. Several texts sprouted. During the second crisis, came the music, the dance, and something that resembled a play. But it wasn't that easy. The play was born at the last minute, like a premature child, moved by the necessity of survival. If it had taken any longer, it would have died in its uterus, shattering the group which had tried to bring it into existence. The play happened because it would be unbearable for all of us survivors if there was nothing to be shown, nothing to be seen by an audience, after a whole year's work. And so it happened that, on the last week of december before Christmas, after once more having considered to cancel everything, we put together everything we had and staged two performances during two days: a Saturday and a Sunday. They were to be the only performances.

Scene of the nine sisters, in Studio-Bühne, Essen. Photo: Play-off/06.

But they weren't. The audience reacted to our play in an unexpected way. People left the theatre with tears in their eyes, or frightened, or looking thoughful. Since during our first performance most of the audience consisted mostly of other actors and directors from Os Satyros, our teachers and invited guests, I thought that reaction would not repeat. But it did. I spend the whole play busily concentrated, either acting or playing an instrument, and never get to watch the whole play, so I never understood why people reacted that way. What did our play make them think about? What did they feel? Was it what they saw? Was it what they heard? The fact is we were surprised with the reaction (at least I was), but we still didn't know what would be of our play in the next year. We didn't know if it would survive.

When the Play-off/06 project was published in 2005, interested parties from all over the world were invited to submit their plays. We didn't know about the festival, but in December, Gustavo Fijaklow, from the team of organizers of the Play-off/06 festival, saw our second performance. He told our theatre directors about the festival and suggested that we should participate.

In the beginning of the year, we had to get together one more time to stage the play a third time and record a DVD which had to be sent to Germany before the deadline. There were other candidates from Brazil and the selected group would represent our country in the festival.

Maria Campanelii Haas, during performance of our play at Flottmann-Hallen, Herne. Photo: Benjamin Stöß.

Moved by the possibility of being selected and stimulated by the new weekly acting workshops coordinated by Roberto Áudio: fantastic teacher and actor from the Teatro da Vertigem theatre group, we again started to meet more than once a week, and finally returned with a two-month season of shows every Saturday night. And it was during this period that we received the news: we were chosen to represent Brazil in the Play-off/06 festival in Germany.

Preparation was not easy. We translated some scenes to German, others to English, and left part of it in Portuguese. We rehearsed, we argued, we quarrelled, and in the end, we staged two performances in Brazil one day before travelling to Germany: a regular performance in Portuguese, and an open rehersal in English, Portuguese and German for invited guests. On the next afternoon we left São Paulo to Düsseldorf in an Air France flight, and that's how we ended up in Germany.

Os Satyros

One of the theatre houses owned by Os Satyros at Praça Roosevelt, no. 214. The other one is at no. 421. Photo: Satyros.

The award-winning brazilian theatre company Os Satyros was started in 1989, in Curitiba, by the actor and playwright Ivam Cabral and director and playwright Rodolfo García Vazquez. It's main field of research is experimental theatre. Their productions span from classical texts to contemporary theatre, including their own texts, adaptations and collectively written plays. They always explore alternative interpretations and unusual forms of communication and expression in theatre, and frequently divide opinions among critics and audience.

Their first successful play was Marquis de Sade's The Immoral Teachers, in 1990 which took the group to São Paulo where they won several awards. Two years and several plays later, they were invited to represent Brazil in two European theatre festivals: the FITEI, in Portugal, and the Castillo de Niebla festival, in Spain, during the EXPO of Seville. After the festival they also established headquarters in Lisbon, where the founded a theatre school, produced several plays and performed in many important theatres all over Europe, from Great Britain to Russia.

Ivam Cabral, in De Profundis. Photo: Satyros.

This page, from the Satyros's website, features a list of all plays produced by the theatre group. The description of each play is in Portuguese. The list features controversial Sade plays such as Philosophy in the Bedroom and 120 days of Sodoma, Oscar Wilde's De Profundis, Lautreamont's Chants of Maldoror (which had its original soundtrack composed by the British composer Steven Severin), Büchner's Woyzeck, Heiner Müller's Hamlet-Machine, Goethe's Urfaust, Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Sophocles Antigone and several other plays written by Ivam, Rodolfo and other Brazilian playwrights. Their last play: the award winning Life in Praça Roosevelt written by the German playwright Dea Loher and directed by Rodolfo Vazquez, has recently returned from a successful tournée in Germany sponsored by the Goethe Institut. The play was written for the Thalia Theater in Hamburg and is the result of an intense cultural exchange between Brazil and Germany, Loher and Satyros.

Poster for Life in Praça Roosevelt by Laerte Késsimos.
Today Os Satyros is present in Curitiba, with one theater, and in São Paulo with two. They are also involved with several educational projects partly funded by the government which help to promote culture. One of those projects include free theatre workshops, cultural activities and job opportunities for young people who live in poor districts. They also maintain workshops for professional and amateur actors, which are coordinated by the group's actors, directors and invited teachers.

The acting workshops consist of weekly 4 hour classes during a full year. They do not follow any traditional acting method, but lead its participants through creative exercises which aim at improving qualities such as perception, truth and body language. The exercises help the actors to discover their abilities and limitations, and to find ways to materialize their creativity in theatre as creative actors, as playwrights, or in other roles. They are part of a "method" called Teatro Veloz (fast theatre), developed by Ivam Cabral and Rodolfo Vázquez, inspired in bio-energetics techniques, Stanislavski, Meyerhold and Artaud (but not limited to them). Several articles about Teatro Veloz are available (in Portuguese) at the company's website. During the year, each workshop focuses on a theme, or playwright, and produces scenes, improvisations, seminars and other performances. At the end of each year, the workshop's participants produce a full play (usually by collective writing) which usually runs for one or two months at the Satyros's theatres, with weekly performances (one recent workshop production ran for seven months).

Selected actors from the workshops are invited, every year, to be part of the Núcleo Experimental (reseach group), which continues the process at a higher level. Last year's production from the Núcleo Experimental: Dress your Body in Thorns, a collective production inspired in Antonin Artaud, was selected among several other Brazilian candidates to participate in the Play-off/06 festival in Germany, this year.

Both theatres in São Paulo are located at Praça Roosevelt, centre of the city. They started the first theatre located on the decadent town square which was a formerly a meeting point of tranvestites and drug-dealers. Os Satyros helped Praça Roosevelt recover from its dark past mixing with its history and its people. The place is today a lively cultural centre and has attracted several other theatres houses and schools.

More information about the theatre group Os Satyros is available in Portuguese at their website, and in blogs maintained by Rodolfo Vazquez and and Ivam Cabral.

Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Herne and Dortmund

St. Liudger Abbey Essen-Werden
Abbey of Saint Ludger, in Essen-Werden, which today is the Folkwang School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

This post was originally written in Portuguese.

The Play-off/06 theatre festival plays were staged in four cities of the Ruhr area: Essen, Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen and Herne.

Essen is one of the largest cities of the Ruhr, with slightly less than 600 thousand inhabitants. It was born around a monastery built in the year 852 and grew together with the rise of the Krupp family and the mining companies (I have written a post about the Krupps and I will translate it in the next days). The Krupps became prosperous in the steel business and their estate, Villa Hügel, in Essen, is now a museum and hotel.

During most of the 20th century, Essen alternated periods of intense industrial activity with economic crises and destruction caused by the two World Wars. Today, all the coal mines and steel factories in Essen have been closed, but the largest steel and mining corporations in Europe still keep their headquarters in the town. One of the main attractions in Essen is the Zollverein coal mine, which is a symbol of the rise and fall of the region's industry. When it was build it was considered the most beautiful and efficient coal plant when it was built. I'm not a fan of Bauhaus architecture (it seems spooky and lifeless to me) but Zollverein is awesome. The stage where we performed our play: Studio-Bühne Essen, is located inside one of the Zollverein buildings.

An old building in downtown Gelsenkirchen.

Gelsenkirchen is a nice quiet town (except when there is a World Cup match in the local stadium). With 280 thousand inhabitants it is the fifth city in the Ruhr area (after Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg and Bochum). Like the other Ruhrgebiet towns, Gelsenkirchen has large parks, many houses and low buildings. Most of the buildings are recent (less than 60 years old) and many residential areas are former mining colonies. The city was heavily bombed during World War II due to its great amount of steel plants and mines, and by the end of the war, one third of all public buildings and houses were destroyed. It's a great town to walk and there are trains, buses and subways to all parts of the city and neighbouring towns. It's very easy to leave Gelsenkirchen and drop off at any other town in the area by subway, or get a train to any large city in Europe. The festival's camping site was set up beside an old mining plant (Bergwerk Consolidation) that gave its place to the Consol Theater.

The transport system in the Ruhrgebiet is very efficient. There are U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (surface urban train) stations everywhere. The one nearest to our camp had the name of the mine: Bergwerk Consolidation. You buy the tickets using an electronic panel which includes instructions in English (I still took a while to understand the whole thing), and then you stamp your ticket at the station or in the train. There are schedules printed in several places in the station and the trains usually arrive right on time. A subway ticket from the Consol Theater to Gelsenkirchen Hauptbahnhof (central station) cost €2,00.

Flottmann-Hallen Herne
Flottmann-Hallen, in Herne

We didn't see much in Herne, a town that is home to 170 thousand people located between Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund. We usually went straight to the theatre where our play and other Play-off/06 plays were performed: the Flottmann-Hallen. Like most other cultural installations in the Ruhr area, the Flottmann-Hallen is located at in a building which used to be a factory. The building's architecture is slightly inspired in the Art Noveau school.

Dortmund is the largest and one of the most important cities of the Ruhr. It's practically the same size as Essen. A few months ago, the city was invaded by several coloured winged rhinos. Fortunately someone turned them into statues and now they are harmless. Dortmund is also the home town of the crazy Borussia-Dortmund football fans. Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to get to know Dortmund neither did I see any play at the Theater im Depot, which was one of the four theatres which hosted the Play-off/06 festival. I expect to visit the city during my next trip.