Mapping Brazil - Performing Arts: Rio de Janeiro

Mapping Brazil - Performing Arts: Rio de Janeiro

The 2015 update on performing arts in Brazil - by César Augusto and Sérgio Maciel


Tânia Brandão: "There is a public structure of formal education, to which UNIRIO, a federal public university, belongs, and an incipient, inconsistent market structure for the production of art and culture. The goals of the institutions where I work have to do with academic education or the discussion, spread and preservation of market practices prompted by individual creators (critics, awards, festivals). In the political sphere, the three levels of government operate according to whatever cultural activities are being produced, always with very tight budgets and never with consistent arts policies.

The federal government does not see Rio de Janeiro city as a priority, because it should have its own means to foster cultural activities autonomously, but this is far from the truth. Thanks to this attitude, the old theatres, museums and research/documentation centres that belong to the federal government are run on a shoestring. The city has four state-run theatres in the south zone and centre, one of which is shut for building works, which are used to stage plays proposed by theatre companies. One large theatre (Theatro Municipal) should be the city’s largest venue, but it has not managed to establish interchange policies capable of combatting the current precarious state of its programming.

There are also six theatres in the south zone and centre run by the local government, and a few rudimentary venues (marquees) in the suburbs, where professional teams put on productions, but again without any clear planning. There are also some professional/private trade organisations – SESC, SESI, SENAI and SENAC – which do some good work in the realm of culture using money obtained from charges paid by their retail and industry members, offering a range of cultural activities with low admission fees, and high quality cultural and vocational courses for trade and industry. There are also cultural centres and theatres run by banks (Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Caixa Econômica Federal) and telecommunications companies (Oi, Net, Vivo). In these cases, they are maintained thanks to tax relief mechanisms and operate as cultural marketing tools for the companies. There are also some private theatres.

There are no clear policies for developing more regular theatre-goers and the scope of projects to popularise/spread theatre is very limited. The structure developed by SESC is far and away the most effective in the city. The municipal theatres could have a more decisive role in the city’s cultural life, but the policies and objectives for the area are not clear. Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) has become an extremely popular venue, but its cultural offer does not transcend its marketing strategy, which includes providing low-cost or free admission. The number of foreign and international institutions has dropped drastically, as many have moved to São Paulo and Brasília. Big businesses used to use the city as a showcase or calling card – something of its former effervescence can still be felt here and there – but it is no longer the only focus. This has left the cultural market in Rio and São Paulo in a precarious state, having to focus on commercial practices with the shortest-term results to keep going. The kinds of productions that are successful tend to be ones with an immediate appeal with the most naive forms of expression or else offshoots of mass media hits.”

Tania Brandão is a theatre historian and researcher. She is a lecturer with the postgraduate programme in drama of the Drama School at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UniRio). She is theatre critic for the Folias Teatrais blog and has sat on he award juries of APTR, Cesgranrio and Reverência Musical. She has been curator of the Curitiba Theatre Festival since 2005.

Diogo Liberano: “First of all, I would highlight the technical courses and universities for one reason: they coordinate the theoretical and practical elements of the arts, offering opportunities for reflection and creation and for artist-researchers. I would specifically draw attention to the theatre direction course at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (where I earned my degree and am doing postgraduate studies), the drama school at UNIRIO and Escola de Teatro Martins Pena, all of which are maintained by the federal and state governments.

I would then mention the importance of the city’s exhibitions and festivals, which successfully open up new spaces and promote interaction between young creators and established professionals, generally prioritising exchanges that are not so immediately commercial in nature: Festival Panorama de Dança, Tempo_Festival, Festival Home Theatre, Cena Brasil Internacional, Festival Dois Pontos and Mostra Hífen de Pesquisa-Cena. Espaço SESC has for many years had the important task of investing in different aspects of the Rio drama scene, staging new works and offering workshops free of charge. There is also Instituto Galpão Gamboa, which is involved in decentralising the city’s artistic production, taking a number of dance and drama productions and workshops to other parts of the state.

I consider Oi to be an important partner that is proving a major promotor and sponsor of culture in the city. It has an annual call for projects that covers the visual arts, music, drama, dance, exhibitions and festivals. These projects are put on in Oi’s namesake venues and/or are sponsored by Oi but held elsewhere. Another highlight is the artistic occupations by municipal and state theatre companies, ensuring that these government-funded venues maintain an up-to-date curatorial stance, helping to multiply the forms of poetic expression in the scene. However, when it comes to ad hoc projects for theatre venues, the absence of public policies that are more consistent and less liable to budget cuts and interruptions makes them vulnerable. The calls for projects to occupy specific venues are not properly planned or scheduled, so that theatres end up with holes in their schedules and the quality of their work is affected, which has a knock-on effect on the art scene throughout the city.

It is impossible to consider the development of a theatre scene without reflecting on the nature of this art form. I believe that in Rio de Janeiro there is a hegemonic poetic scene, like the one German dramatist Thomas Ostermeier called “capitalist realism”. It is a hegemonic production method that taints a number of creations with the same brush, turning them into mere products for consumption without the sense of danger that the arts can awaken in their audiences.

What I mean is, the Rio scene seems to stay within a zone of safety, without investigating its full inventive and creative potential. Some reasons: there is a hegemonic production pattern (funding by calls for projects and sponsorship); there is a hegemonic dramatic language (something like a “low cost telenovella”, a text-scene-acting method very close to reality); there is a relationship with the audience that is also hegemonic (purchase of tickets and production of shows). In other words, drama production is doomed to operate this way, and as such other ways of doing it are lost out on, as is the chance to reflect on and create drama/stage poetics that develop and change reality or make new pacts with audiences.

One way of overcoming this impasse is for universities to enter the scene. Research in the field of drama at Brazilian universities is absolutely attuned with contemporary output not just in Brazil, but in various other parts of the world. University thinking is dialectic, it is theory-and-practice, it goes through multiple stages and really opens up new ways of making, thinking and sharing theatre. To give an example (from my experience at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), the drama course produces around 35 to 45 new plays a year. Many of these are by new playwrights (who do not have work being staged in the city), while others are by classic playwrights and others are by playwrights who are not even recognised by this title (because after all, a text is not always a prerequisite for creation).”

Diogo Liberano is the artistic director of Rio-based Teatro Inominável theatre company.

Márcia Dias: “The cultural scene in Rio de Janeiro is directly related to the rise of new technologies. The prospects are good, but we need to keep abreast of the growth and transformation in the economic environment of culture.

Today, actors with established careers are doing undergraduate and postgraduate studies in culture-related areas in order to broaden their options on the labour market. The contemporary transformations associated with the new dimensions attributed to the field of culture require qualified professionals. New features of this scene are the figure of the cultural manager, networked projects, art collectives, and a burgeoning market that has to learn how to coordinate the members of this production chain to strengthen the sector and create more jobs. The development and popularisation of different types of performance and stand-up sets on the internet is encouraging more people to go to the theatre, and musicals are attracting new audiences. Something else having a big impact on the development of the creative industries is the Porto Maravilha project – the revitalisation of the historic dock area in the centre of Rio de Janeiro.

The cultural calendar in Rio has a diverse offer of international acts, mostly brought by international festivals and public and private institutions. One example is the range of domestic and international sponsors, partners and financial supporters for TEMPO_FESTIVAL. It is sponsored by Oi and Grupo Contax through municipal and state tax relief laws for cultural activities; the Rio de Janeiro city hall, through direct funding from the Department of Culture; a partnership with SESI Cultural, FIRJAN and SESC; institutional partnerships with the National Institute for Performing Arts and Music (Instituto Nacional de Artes Escénicas y de La Música, INAEM) of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, Acción Cultural Española, the Spanish Embassy in Brazil, Instituto Cervantes, the Performing Arts Fund, the Consulate General of the Netherlands, the TransArte programme, Institut Français, the Consulate General of France in Rio de Janeiro, the British Council, Biblioteca Parque Estadual and IDG-Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Gestão; and sponsorship from Oi Futuro, Flow Travel, WebCultural, Metrô Rio, Stamppa Grupo Gráfico, Pequena Central, Galpão Gamboa and Instituto CAL de Arte e Cultura.”

Márcia Dias has worked as a cultural producer since 1994 and was the founder of Buenos Dias Projetos e Produções Culturais. She is a member of the board and curator of TEMPO_FESTIVAL, established in 2009, which develops artistic and cultural projects and helps develop the market, and invests in the creation, research, training and spread of the arts and reflective thinking.

Daniel Schenker: “There is a good deal of cultural activity, but most of it is restricted to the south zone and centre. There is a dearth of cultural options in much of the city. There are many plays, but they often run for a very short period of time. There is a certain contrast between more academic and commercial work, and a visible gap in theatre geared towards the classical repertoire. International plays are now part of the line-up of two festivals, TEMPO_FESTIVAL and Cena Brasil Internacional, and are produced on an ad-hoc basis throughout the rest of the year.”

Daniel Schenker has a degree in social communication from Faculdade da Cidade and a doctorate in drama from UNIRIO. He writes for O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo newspapers and Preview and Revista de Cinema magazines. He also writes for two websites, Questão de Crítica and Críticos and for the blog, He has sat on the jury of the Rio de Janeiro Theatre Producers Association, Cesgranrio and Questão de Crítica awards.

Claudia Marques: “Rio de Janeiro’s cultural offer is very limited and conservative, and its consumers are rather apathetic when it comes to contemporary options. We are going through a very singular and challenging time not just in this city/state but in the country as a whole. Budget cuts, lay-offs of top managers in the field of culture, cultural venues shutting down, etc. I believe that only those who are inventive, seeking out alternative ways to divulge their work, will successfully ride out the crisis. In the long run, I see major changes in the modus operandi of the way shows are produced. The model still in vogue is somewhat outdated. There are dance, theatre, circus, music and film festivals, all with international attractions. Something else of importance in Rio is Cidade das Artes, an arts venue owned by the local authority whose line-up includes a variety of international productions. Most local culture is funded using government money, which is obtained either through tax relief laws or calls for projects (grants). The tax relief funds for culture come from the wealth produced by the companies. The government withholds part of this wealth in the form of taxes, and gives back (a small) part to the taxpayer through investments in culture. These tax incentives are no more than a way for taxpayers to receive back a part of the wealth they have produced and which was previously withheld by the state. I believe the fruits of cultural activity should be financially accessible and artistically diversified, but this often fails to happen.”

Claudia Marques owns and coordinates projects for Fábrica de Eventos Produções Artísticas Ltda.

Joelson Gusson: “With rare exceptions, the cultural scene is backward and outdated. Most sponsorship comes from large-scale state-owned companies and direct funding by public entities, telephone companies and other independent private companies. Long-term job prospects are unreliable. Only very rarely is any real in-depth study of new languages of theatre pursued. There are some festivals, like Panorama Festival, TEMPO_FESTIVAL and Festival Dois Pontos, and there are some initiatives like Theatro Municipal and Cidade das Artes, which bring international attractions.”

Joelson Gusson is a producer, artistic director, actor, set designer and playwright. He is a member of Dragão Voador Teatro Contemporâneo theatre company and Projeto_ENTRE, a project that provides artistic direction for public and private venues (theatres).

André Vieira: “Conditions have improved since the new municipal department came in (in 2015), but the prospects for private sponsorship in 2015 and 2016 are slim. The market is patchy and the level of red tape for productions has to be reduced (confusing or restrictive calls for projects, too many rules, complicated accountability requirements). Additionally, audience numbers are low. The Rio public tends to go to commercial productions with well-known actors or big musicals; they are not very interested in explorations of novel languages. Some groups are struggling to survive despite the lack of public funding for theatre companies. It is hard to keep projects alive for long periods of time.”

André Vieira is a producer, the general director of Festival Dois Pontos, representative of Câmbio Ocupação Artística and partner of Treco Produções.

Jonas Klabin: “Next year there should be lots of opportunities because of the Olympics, but if it wasn’t for this the overall long-term prospects would be very dim. The country is going through a crisis and the cultural economy depends on tax relief laws, which depend on the circulation of goods and profits. The system that funds cultural projects does not allow them to be planned more than a year in advance, which hampers the quality of planning, especially for recurring projects like festivals. As such, nobody is guaranteed work in theatre over the long term.”

Jonas Klabin has worked as a producer in Rio since 2005. He is a producer, project coordinator, director, author and part-owner of two companies, Oz Produções Artísticas Musicais and Cinematográficas e Treco Produções Artísticas.

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