Global Development Opportunities for Leaders Working in Arts, Screen, and Creative Sectors

Dougie Irvine – Structure and Chaos Too

ICE fellow Dougie Irvine is currently on his placement in Brazil. He’s a writing a blog over here. This is his latest post, in which he discusses protest, politics, theatre and structure. Among other things.


Rehearsals of “Cacilda!!!", Teatro Oficina

Rehearsals of “Cacilda!!!”, Teatro Oficina

“If you’re tee-total, you’ll come back an alcoholic and if you’re married, you’ll come back a single man!”

These were the words used by a British colleague who knows well the work of Teatro Oficina here in Sao Paulo. He was trying to describe the revolutionary influence that being hosted by the company might have on me. Another said that being in their rehearsals for a month “will change the type of theatre you want to create”. And when I was in Salvador, as soon as I explained to colleagues that “I’m going to work with Ze Celso at…” they would finish and augment my sentence “… at Teatro Oficina – no way! THE Ze Celso! You are so lucky!”

So you can imagine that it was with some wonder, excitement and frankly more nerves than an opening night that I went to meet the company for the first time.

I was to see a production that they had decided to mount for only two performances. In light of all the protests across the nation, they had decided to stop rehearsals for their current production and re-present a previous one from their repertoire, a piece entitled “Acordes”.

For the theatrically knowledged amongst you, a quick way to explain the work is to quote someone else again, “Imagine the Bacchae – and treble it!” For those who don’t know theatre – don’t worry. The production, inspired by a German playwright Bertolt Brecht, was a story, song, dance, poem, drama, video and ritual all at once. It’s political, emotional, ancient Greek in style yet feels hugely contemporary. There was audience interaction (though nothing like a British pantomime), full cast nudity, puppetry, food shared with the audience, a curtain call in the middle of the show with the producers, administration and technical team included and when Brazil scored a goal during the Confederation Cup against Spain and the obligatory fireworks went off outside, the cast talked to the audience about it during the show. It was a wholly glorious, unashamedly theatrical, totally structured, chaotic, beautiful, dramaturgically nonsensical yet totally coherent, visceral, two and half hours straight through without an interval mish-mash that adds up to one big whole. I have never experienced anything like it!

I can’t begin to imagine how it was created – and talking with some of the creators hasn’t really shed a huge amount of light on my question either. I can’t quite perceive the structure that must have been put in place to make it happen. But then maybe there was no real structure! Maybe structure just isn’t the way things are done here – or not the structure that we in the British Isles seem so fond of.

Looking at the content, the openness, the free nature of the expression and work and I daren’t try to understand the imagination of the director Ze Celso either! At 76 years old and after creating work with Oficina for 50 years, he still seems a powerhouse of ideas, creativity, with things to say, fascinating ways to say them and with a group of artists & collaborators who are excited to say it with him. The apparent boundary-less, fluid nature of his work feels ever so Brazilian in temperament (even though the country still feels incredibly conservative). From here I can only reflect on what we are at home with our relative love of structure, process and rectitude. Why are we like this and the Brazilians aren’t? Are we missing something in our lives that makes us places so much importance on this?

And I can’t begin to imagine what’s about to happen next because now that the company are back in rehearsals for the show they were originally creating, “Cacilda!!!” and there’s a new revolution ahead. This is the 3rd part of an ongoing trilogy the company have been making for a while now about the legendary and hugely influential Brazilian actress Cacilda Becker and with 9 days to go, the director and team have made a radical decision. With a show which will last about 3-4 hours in total, with all the elements described above, and employing a cast and crew of about 60 people – the director and team have decided to fundamentally and completely re-write Act 2. With 9 days to go until opening night, this hugely technical and ambitious piece of work is being re-worked, re-written and re-imagined to make it more responsive to the protests that are currently taking place.

The company’s infrastructure is going through a fascinating re-birth too – tough I imagine – as they try to find a new way to structure their management and finances. A re-working, re-writing and re-imagining of their company’s by-laws, their team’s responsibilities and income possibilities. A new way to create the best circumstances to create great art.

It’s the strangest of feelings to be surrounded by so much change. And after all I’m in a new country, with new people, new culture, new circumstances and can feel myself trying to hang onto something familiar – anything – my love of process, structure and rectitude. A Brazilian colleague here commented to me on his regular visits to Europe – a continent that he clearly loves. And he said a very fascinating thing. “Over there” he said, “your nations seem to be so old, so familiar with things. You’ve done it! And now with all the big problems that exist you’re not sure what to do about them.”

And as he said it, I felt he might be right.

“Here,” he said, “we don’t know what we’re doing, we’re still relatively new, but there’s a feeling that we’re creating it for the first time and that’s exciting and terrifying and… it feels alive. I miss this when I’m not in Brazil”.

And as I sipped my coffee and reflected on Oficina’s work, the protests, structure and what it might mean to live in the British Isles – with our love of structure, process and rectitude – I felt somewhere deep down, that I knew exactly what he meant.

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