By Lance Belville
Guaramiranga, Cear, 109 kilometers up the mountainside from beach-hugging Fortaleza, may seem a strange place to be seeing approximately 200 actors from 43 different productions strutting their few brief moments upon the stage, but here they were.
This mountain village of little more than 5,000 souls swelled by 10,000 theatre lovers for the Thirteenth Northeastern Theatre Festival of Guraramiranga.
Nine plays from five of the nine-state Brazilian Northeast area competed for the best in the Northeast from 15 to 23 September at Festival Nordestino de Teatro de Guaramiranga. The festival also featured productions flying in from Germany, Portugal and France. The other shows, big and small, were here as invited productions.”
Actors Mingle With Crowd In Front of Municipal Theater
The festival also includes workshops and debates as well as daily early morning critiques where bleary actors, directors and technicians along with the morbidly curious meet in the chapter house of a local Franciscan monastery to hear the panel of judges criticize, analyze and sometimes eulogize what happened on stage the night before.
A unique feature at this festival are nightly performances outside the Rachel de Queiroz theatre, the festival’s principal stage, by regional “popular theatre” troupes which feature, among other themes, local variations on the Bumba Meu Boi folk dance/theatre traditions.
The festival’s two principal stages in Guaramiranga proper, a children’s theatre tent, as well as other playing spaces in the neighboring towns of Baturit and Pacoti, host a wide variety of theatre.
On one end of the artistic spectrum was the Natal, Rio Grande do Norte company, Clowns of Shakespeare Theatre with their production of Bertolt Brecht’s “THE MARRIAGE OF THE PETITE BOURGEOISIE.”
The Trupe Metamorfose clowning through a moment of The Marriage of Tabarim.
The Natal company came in with a cast of very talented actors also able to play the musical instruments on stage to accompany themselves singing the music composed for this production – “MARRIAGE” is not one of Brecht’s musical plays. And the company brought along a clever set of slowly collapsing furniture. With this range of talent on state, The Clowns of Shakespeare is the equal of any good company to be seen in any of the theatre capitals of the world.
Meanwhile, hardly 20 kilometers away, in Baturit, Trupe Metamorfose (The Metamorphosis Troupe), consisting of two brothers, a friend and a wife, play, clown, sing, contort, and mime their way through their own pocket play, “O CASAMENTO DE TABARIM,” (“The Marriage Of Tabarim”), a commedia del arte confection that could knock ’em dead in Renaissance Milan or in Renaissance Fair Minneapolis.
A moment from Natal’s Clowns Of Shakespeare Company production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Marriage Of The Petite Bourgeioisie.
On a more somber note is The Harn Pictures company’s dramatization of Plinio Marcus novel, “O ASSASSINATO DEO ANO,” (“The Murder Of The Dwarf”). Marcus has been called Brazil’s most banned and most awarded playwright. In the days of the military dictatorship most of his work could not see the light of the footlights. “ANO,” tells a darkly comic murder story in a circus clown format.
This annual theatre festival came about through the efforts of a local arts training group, the Associaão dos Amigos da Arte de Guaramiranga (Association of Friends of the Arts of Guaramiranga. or AGUA). They were 14 artists who had come to live in Guajaramiranga and had been teaching mostly music to local youth. AGUA wanted to open their students perspectives by bringing in outside theater artists to this isolated part of Cear. AGUA convinced the city fathers and local businesses to get aboard and 13 years later they have a year-long program involving approximately 400 local teenagers in the arts. AGUA and their theatre festival now enjoy have the support of some of the major players in Brazilian arts funding. And the festival has brought Guaramiranga from a dying mountain town to a new life as a refreshing, mountain tourist destination for visitors from all over Brazil.
But it’s no miracle that Guaramiranga was able to turn itself into a theatre mecca for at least one week a year. Theatre is talk and Brazil’s Northeast is a talky place. It’s sort of an Iberian Ireland. The pace of life and the point of view of the locals means everybody has time to talk to everybody. One is tempted to say, time to talk to anybody. And where there’s talk there will often be poetry. And where there is poetry, theatre is not likely to be far behind.
And so, a little like the Irish, the verbal preoccupation of the Northeast spawns a vibrant theatre culture. And from these actors strutting their moments upon the stage, Guaramiranga has found a way to develop and educate their own young people and revitalize the economy of the area. Not bad for a bunch of talk.
But there is plenty here for the visitor whose Portuguese leaves something to be desired. The popular theatre in the streets is enjoyable for its music, color and dancing. And each evening, around midnight, after the last shows come down, theatre square is taken over by music groups of every description invited in from all over the Northeast. There are probably as many music groups here as theatre companies. And a few, like Trupe Metamorfose, perform both as a theatre troupe and band.
The town has developed as a tourist mecca in tandem with Agua’s efforts with youth in the arts. It now hosts a number of festival weeks. Most notable among them is the Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival held every year during carnival. With the town’s clear air and comfortable mountain temperatures, it is proving an ever-more-popular refuge for visitors fleeing the sweat and confusion of Brazil’s warmer sea level carnivals.
Guaramiranga also hosts a culinary week where the local restaurants – some of the best are German and Italian – strut their stuff with the help of visiting chefs.
The mountain area from Baturit up to Guaramiranga is an ecological preserve so there are plenty of trails to wander along and some nice waterfalls to enjoy. Pico Alto, a scant 13 kilomoters away by decent road, is Cear’s highest peak – or so they tell me – and affords a view from sertão to sea.
The trip up the mountain is easy. The road is a decent, well-maintained blacktop. The town of Redenão, about half way between Fortaleza and Guaramiranga, is worth a stop if you are driving it yourself. It has a preserved sugar plantation museum with special emphasis on the slave quarters which will give you a pretty clear picture of how things were in the bad old days of slavery. It also has a beautiful monastery atop a nearby hill featuring a hillside staircase up for the strong of leg and heart.
The hotel scene, once you get to Guaramiranga, is more complex, to put it diplomatically. The local hotels and pousadas – and there are a good number of them – are working hard to come up to Brazilian national levels. So far that has mostly meant raising their prices. My best advice is call, fax or email ahead to the local SENAC training hotel. They have wonderful rooms, a staff you will not know are actually students, probably the largest pool in town and a restaurant with good cooking at reasonable prices. They can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. If they have no room for you, I would suggest waiting until they do.
If there is no room at SENAC and you are set on going up the mountain for jazz or a great meal, then there are a couple of charming local hotel customs of which the traveler from other parts of Brazil should be aware. First, you get but one sheet on your bed. If are accustomed to two sheets, you must ask for the second – and expect to dress the bed with it yourself. If you want bath soap, you must ask for it. And the local custom, as explained to me one surprising afternoon, holds that rooms are cleaned and sheets changed only if the customer specifically asks for it. None of the applies to the SENAC hotel, which is why my wife and I moved there mid-way in our stay. The above probably does not apply to all the hotels in town, but who has the time to research each one?
And, be advised, while Senac accepts Visa, most of the local restaurants take only MasterCard. There is no multi-purpose ATM in Guraramiranga. So take plenty of cash and do leave home without your Visa – but with your MasterCard!
Lance Belville is a writer, teacher and translator. His most recent project is the translation of a novel from Portuguese to English for a Rio de Janeiro publishing house. Two of his plays are in pre-production in Rio, scheduled to hit the boards in early 2007. He’s in Guaramaringa covering the annual festival of theatre in the Northeast. Prior to that he was in Natal for a meeting of Northeastern playwrights.
Previous articles by Lance:
Brazil: Mossoró’s Biggest Play on Earth Heads for Guinness Book of World Records
Brazil: House of Sand Impresses at San Francisco International Film Festival
Brazil: Lower City Helps Kick Off San Francisco International Film Festival
Brazil’s Kayapó Tribe
San Francisco International Film Festival: ALMOST BROTHERS Adds More Fans To Its List of International Devotees
San Francisco International Film Festival: Nelson Friere Documentary Enchants Audiences
San Francisco International Film Festival: Three Brazilian Films