- Ensaios de Cultura Teatral by Walter Lima Torres Neto
Ensaios de Cultura Teatral informs about the key factors and actors that, on and off the stage, have defined theatrical activity in Brazil since the nineteenth century. These include the attrition and fusion of foreign influences as well as the quest to accommodate both classical plays and genuinely autochthonous works. Beyond the struggles between tradition and innovation, foreign and own, theater in Brazil has been influenced by politics from its inception. It has been largely dependent on, and conditioned by, public policies in the form of direct intervention and financial support, or fiscal incentives for partnerships with the private sector. Walter Lima Torres Neto does not [End Page 150] view this as a problem per se and maintains that open debate may refine such policies to benefit theater throughout the country. As with other aspects of Brazilian society, marked discrepancies come to the front. In the profitable venues of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, for example, famous actors from TV boost ticket sales and enjoy a structure capable of hosting Broadway shows. Elsewhere, one finds the idealism of travelling actors accepting food items as tickets. Despite such circumstances, and however intermittently, theater is a creative facet of Brazilian arts that carries clear social value for the author, who repeatedly refers to Pierre Bourdieu as a theoretical source.
An actor and cultured playgoer turned professor of Theater Studies, Lima Torres Neto stresses the challenge, and the need, to map the evolution of theater in Brazil. He concedes that it does not have the same popular appeal as music, soap operas, and soccer. There is scant research devoted to theater in the country. The author’s motivation to take on such challenge is best expressed in the last chapter of the book: “The Love of Theater.” Despite its beginning as an activity only accessible to the elite, Lima Torres Neto claims that theater may epitomize inclusion in a society where the inequalities of the past have long survived. To foster a love of theater, it is necessary to assign it importance as a cultural heritage, be it regarding universal works or plots telling the stories of small communities in Brazil. Granting access to such heritage is more than safeguarding a constitutional right to culture. It is providing individuals with a social experience magnified in theater: getting a new grasp on reality, attaining self-knowledge, understanding human diversity, and overcoming prejudice.
Ensaios de Cultura Teatral does not afford a comprehensive history of theater in Brazil, and, as a collection of essays, it wanders through different aspects of performance art in a rather superficial and disconnected fashion. Still, the author offers a detailed map that can prove handy to his target audience: students of the arts, practitioners, scholars, critics, cultural producers. Sensibly, each essay poses a number of questions in the effort to both recognize the limitations of the book and the issues that must be thoroughly addressed to write, by many hands, a more complete narrative of Brazilian theater that consolidates its practice and social function in the current century. [End Page 151]