By Lance Bellville
One doesnt immediately associate the Northeastern town of Mossoró with culture, let alone theatre, let alone very big, big theatre but you will if you visit there any time soon. Right now they are headed for the Guinness Book of World Records on 23 September when they premiere Auto Da Liberdade (The Procession of Liberty) the largest community-based theater production in the world - the enthusiastic folks in Mossoró would probably claim in the universe - with an all-paid cast of 2,000, backed by a 600-member chorus. And those numbers dont include the thousands of hands backstage building everything from an outdoor stage - football field sized - to several thousand costumes.
But this is far from the only ambitious venture going in this very ambitious town of about a quarter million. They already lay claim to having the biggest, brightest and best Junina festival in Brazil and they just missed being designated the official "Capital Brasileira Da Cultural" (Brazilian Cultural Capital) this year and don't bet against them snagging it next year.
A scene from Auto Da Liberdade
Each September the town celebrates its Festa Da Liberdade (Liberty Party) not only with its gargantuan theatre production, but with a five-day Liberty Symposium, a series of pop concerts featuring top Brazilian artists and all culminating in a Parade of Liberty, usually on 30 September, marking the abolition of slavery in Brazil. This year the procession takes place a day early, on 29 September, because of country-wide elections on l October.
This is the eighth edition of Auto Da Liberdade, which runs at 9pm Saturday and Sunday evenings, 23 and 24 September, and Wednesday and Thursday evenings 27 and 28 September, at the Eliseu Ventania Arts Station, the local railroad station turned into an arts center. The railyards associated with the station have become a large plaza with the oversized stage going up at one end. The beautiful sertão sky over Mossoró will serve as the theatre backdrop and a near-perfect setting for a theatre piece about liberty.
Another scene from Auto Da Liberdade
It is not by chance that this town has chosen "liberty," as the subject of one of its town theatre pieces - there is another community play Chuba de Bala no Pais do Mossoró (A Hail of Bullets in Mossoró). The city has a long association with Brazils struggle for liberty, which Auto dramatizes and the town further explores with a Liberty Symposium running concurrently with the play. This is the sixth year of the symposium which this year was dubbed "The Symposium On New Liberties" and will explore what liberty signifies today in the face of so many changes in contemporary life. This years theme, "Does Liberty Have Limits?" promises plenty of heated discussions both on the podium and from the large audiences from all walks of Mossoró life that flock to participate. The symposia is a series of discussions, debates, lectures, demonstrations and a book launching opening each evening at 7pm, September 18 through 22. It all happens in Mossorós new, Dix-huit Rosado theatre.
The enormous cast of Auto Da Liberdade take a bow
Auto is Brazil's biggest community play, but many people across Brazil are familiar with the second Mossoró play, A Hail of Bullets in Mossoró. It has been filmed and shown on television. It is a 50-cast-member-strong retelling of one of Mossorós claims to fame: the sunny June day in 1927 when the townsfolk fought off the fearsome and slightly insane Lampião and his band of raging cutthroats.
The town sees the stand against Lampião quite differently from the way Northfield, Minnesota, in the United States, sees the day it fought off Jessie James gang. Mossoró sees its stand as a struggle for liberty, not merely as a colorful Wild West shoot-out. Lampião arrived demanding tribute; Mossoró said no and backed its reply with blood.
But this was hardly Mossoró's first or only painful down payment on the cost of liberty. In 1875, 300 local women stood up to the power of the Brazilian government and protested the forced enlistment of their men folk to go to war. Then, in 1883 Mossoró freed its slave population, five long years before Brazil as a whole got around to it. And shortly after their brush with Lampião, in 1928 the first woman to cast a vote in all Latin America, Professor and Judge Celina Guimarães, marched into the polling place and cast her vote in Mossoró. Auto celebrates these four dramatic struggles in words and music in the brisk, one-hour show.
In inaugurating Festa da Liberdade earlier this month, Vice Mayor Cláudia Regina, standing in for Mayor Fafá Rosado, summed up Mossoró's strong sense of its own history: "We look to the past without forgetting the future."
That idea is putting it mildly. Besides Art Station, in recent months the city has opened a handsomely designed and immediately popular new library, a state-of-the-art 700-plus-seat legitimate theatre and begun work on a series of public plazas for community activities as well as a new memorial and museum to, yes, Cangaço, that gang of northeastern bandits who gave the town its toughest test.
If you decide to get in on the party at Mossoró, you can also stay at a unique hotel/resort, the Thermas. Its located on the edge of town and its 12 - yes, count em 12! - swimming pools are located on hot springs under the property. You start with the hottest pool, which could warm the heart - and other parts - of the most avid Japanese hot tubber and gradually cool to a large pool of conventional temperature and three water slides ranging from the kiddie kind to giant which could chill the heart - and other parts - of the most avid super slider.
Getting to Mossoró can be a small chore. Located midway between Natal and Fortaleza, in the State of Rio Grande do Norte, frequent buses get you there from either direction in about four and a half hours for between R$25 and R$37. A cab, one way, will set you back about R$250.
For more information, the town's web site is www.perfeiturademossoro.com.br.
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: House of Sand Impresses at San Francisco International Film Festival
Brazil: Lower City Helps Kick Off San Francisco International Film Festival
Brazils 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