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By the Grace of Geito

Attila Clemann (23/12/02)

In the film “Shakespeare in Love”, Geoffy Rush’s character keeps being harassed about the show with people fearing that it would never happen and he keeps answering “I don’t know how it will work . . . but it just will.” as though there is some magical force that will not permit a theatrical performance to fail. Here in Brazil there is another equally mystical force that will permit anyone’s desire to be fulfilled. People refer to it as the geito and it is thanks to this unorthodox road that most adventures meet their destination. And for a group of six European actor/directors in their exchange with a Brazilian dance/percussion group of street kids these two magical forces were definitely hard at work.

Our final week of rehearsals started with a grueling three hour run of the show in a local plaza curiously watched by street children and popsicle vendours. The complete chaos of the show was overwhelming for all. Even the students, whose calm could even be called unnerving for those of us who are used to people coming into action under pressure, began to feel a little tense. Our schedule of full five hour days for the final week never saw the light of day as students continued to take off for all manner of reasons. We ran the show every day with at least one or two missing. Our set was still not complete and I had to run after people to help me complete what in the end were rather simple jobs. Our afternoons were spent on sets, costumes and working with the few students that stayed.

After our most disastrous first run on the Monday, Julie insisted that they, by themselves, run through the show with whoever was there. This lead to an interesting turn in their work as the group suddenly took responsibility for the show and with full concentration actually completed it cutting out the better part of an hour. This was a major step and enabled many of the students, who rely on us to in effect mother them, to actually have to listen to the show and figure out what they had to do. This way of working is not something that that the school normally does but in a way it was very appropriate because many of these kids are very used to taking care of themselves. Their lives have dealt them a difficult hand and they have had to face many very hard times completely on their own so they have a sense of self preservation which we played into making them rehearse on their own.

The next day came the rest of the set which had to be put together. During the next rehearsals more problems came up and details had to be attended to. At one point, one young percussionist who had one line simply exchanged his role with another who was not there very often. To our surprise we had a new “Priest” for the scene. Later we started to see our lead actor start to lose her voice. The poor students had only one real chance to work with the completed set and one of our understudies for the gods was not always present and hadn’t even time to run through the show before the actual performance.

On Wednesday we went out to see the space we were to play in and try to work there. We took the cast and in the midday heat attempted a run. Difficult as it was, it was very good. The kids still wandered off during the run through to fetch popsicles and what not and it continued to clock in at around two hours. We gringos also had to face sun burnt skin for the next few days including Sharon who had a bit of sun stroke.

Thursday saw the very best run of all which surprised most everyone. Only an hour and half. The show should still have only been an hour but this was not too bad. We then went to the Patio de Saõ Pedro to bring our set, props and costumes, and try out a few scenes. The understanding was that we would have a tech run but this was far too hopeful here in a country where most everything is improvised at the last minute.

Then came the day of the performance. We asked that everyone be at the school at noon so we could have a warm up and perhaps just check a few things in the show before heading over to the plaza. By three o’clock we still had only about two thirds of the group and we were a little concerned with their casualness. Do they not realize they have a show tonight! But at the same time we had simply become used to all of this and began to let the show take on it’s own life. At the plaza by the early afternoon we dealt with a handful of minor last minute details and basically waited. We waited for the technicians to help us with our lights and microphones. We waited for the students to arrive to perform and we waited for eight o’clock to role around to see just what would happen. The show was out of our hands.

The Patio de Saõ Pedro was full of about five hundred people most of whom were at the half dozen bars that line the sides. As we started a crowd of about two hundred gathered close to the stage as we were poorly amplified and it was difficult to hear with the murmur coming from the bars. The young performers pushed through the show maneuvering through a couple of missed cues and sudden changes in texts. All eyes were wide with excitement and attentive to every moment on stage. Julie performed along side the students in a minor role. Sharon was also on stage insuring that all props and costumes were in the right place and changes went smoothly. Servane stood next to the percussionist to be sure they were on cue. Steph started with marching amidst the audience frantically smoking with her hair in disarray a little worried about the sound then finally settled right in front of the stage her head propped up on her hand with her elbows on the stage and simply enjoyed the show.

The audience stuck with it. They followed the story and the action amidst all the distractions. In the final scenes fireworks were being let off in a nearby street but the actors pulled through. They poured they energy on the stage, each in their own way, and were greeted with a wonderful applause when they finished.

In a complete state of high the kids bounced and off the stage and into the back stage area, thrilled with the rush of performing. Their satisfaction played out on their smiling faces. Hugs and clasped hands circulated amongst the group and all felt both elated and relieved.

A few of the audience members came to talk to some of us to congratulate us and ask about the show and what we did. We then settled in for a drink with our friends Gê and Celia who have been so supportive all along and enjoyed the first bit of real down time in weeks.

Our second show was perhaps less well done, and with more confusion on stage but somehow through it all it was clear the kids had more fun. Steph had told them to try something new, something they had never tried before, this being the last time they probably would be able to. And they did, whether it was appropriate or not. Again the show clocked in at nearly two hours but once again the audience stayed with it. Amongst the crowdwere the usual assortment of races, classes and ages. Young street kids hung onto the front of stage looking up at the their older “brothers and sisters”, while just behind them an old man sitting on the floor hushed a loud woman who wandered into the crowd and began speaking back to the actors. “Get out the way, woman!” he said rather rudely. Clearly there was something of interest here. Our second night also had fewer people in the bars giving the actors a chance to be heard. And once again after the show we celebrated including all of the “Metissages” team being hoisted in the air by the company. Again people approached us in congratulation and thanked us for showing something not seen very often in Recife. While there is certainly a theatre scene it is limited and nothing much sees the lights of Patio de Saõ Pedro. After us, Brazil went on the the tradition of loud jubilant music and Brecht went to bed.

The project comes to a close with still some time here in Brazil to enjoy the country and culture. We still are assessing and reassessing the way things turned out; trying to learn from our mistakes and enjoy our successes. It is difficult to say what difference this project has made or will make to the kids that we worked with. I can’t even say right now what affect it will have on me. And while we all would like to come back in two years and see where these kids are and what they think of the project with some perspective the odds are we will never actually know. It seems rather fitting though, that in the end Brecht was performed in Brazil, on the eve of a new leftist government with children who have come out of the very environment with which Brecht and the incoming president Lula are concerned. And it will be perhaps through the same forces of geito and maybe some theatre magic that things change here in Brazil in the coming years.