Sofia Ângelo is the artistic director of the Carnide Theater. But she is not only limited to directing this theatrical space, she also writes, plays and acts in many of the plays that go up on the stage of this company that is defined by the creative originality of their works.
You're an actress, director, and you play parts for the theater. These three strands inhabit you, but who is the first and why did you decide to follow these other paths in the theater?
Sofia Ângelo: First, I took acting classes for theater as an actress, then I started writing and interpretation classes and later I felt the desire to create, to write texts. I was in Barcelona for a while. Then, I entered the School of Theater and Cinema and there I started to identify myself more with the textual production and to create small plays, shows. I left a bit the work as an actress, I began to identify more with the creation and I was having many scenarios while I was on scene, I never did just one thing. As a rule, I have in a season on average two to three shows, in the Carnide theater where I am, and in the middle, a play in which I am the director and author of the text that is on stage. It is almost a methodology, besides I teach classes and always try with my students to feed this will of creation from the tools that the actor owns, I also make their presentations and create shows for my them.
When it comes to plays do you own much of your texts? That is, you write, enactments and set them on stage, do you usually give your plays to other directors and they show a different view of your ideas?
SA: I think that my works must always be reused to some extent, so that you can also gain a vision of others about what you wrote. I find this very interesting. Anyway, I've had some situations where some students at the Conservatory asked to use my texts, my shows to work with, and I liked that idea. Regardless of whether they are my plays or not, there is always an aspect that I try to work with my actors, a text that I write may be far from what I think the actors' concerns might be. What do I mean by that? I have written several scenes, but there are texts that I will write as I work with the actors. And therefore in this measure, I do not feel that they are solely and exclusively mine. Of course, it is I who write them, then I am the one who directs them, but I always start from the concerns and scenic challenges that I put to the actors and from there I elaborate texts. It happens sometimes that when I go to rehearse with the actors there are new phrases that come from their improvisations and scenic tracks that I put for them to collaborate with me.
It is very difficult to write, stage and act on stage and have a certain distance from your own work. Is it very critical or not?
SA: During the season I'm as a director and write the texts, then I'm in another play as an actress. I've done this a couple of times, shows that I've staged and performed, but it's not something I like to do because I think it's really important to have some distance, as you said. It is possible, but it is more difficult, the director becomes more enlightened when it provokes the essence of the artistic object and if you get too involved in the scene, you lose the critical capacity of what is being done. I do not think that in the past I had been bad, I did this experiment three times in 12 plays and I think it clarifies that it is not something that I like to stage a text of mine and to act in it.
Let's talk about the plays you wrote, you have on scene, "Que Frô?" which is a work that comes from an observation that you have made over the years and the cast is practically masculine.
SA: Yes, it's all masculine.
In writing, how do you as a woman put yourself in the shoes of six different men?
SA: I think it was one of the great challenges that I decided to put to myself. How would a woman manage six men? Not that is a very difficult task at all, but what characteristics these men may have on the scene and how do I decode them to create a dramaturgical score and make sense of the show? I took a lot of the observation of those men who called "Qué frô?", they were sellers who called us to sell roses, who often walked in Bairro Alto and had a very theatrical side. Imagine that you were with a person to have dinner and suddenly this meddling has a dramatic tension, which has a sense more than exaggeration, is theatrical, buy or not this rose? Do it or not? If you give what does this mean?And if you don't? And on the street when you met these people, there was always a lot of confusion, some always tried to bargain the price and others were more unpleasant with those who "qué frô" So, this really happened to someone who was a character. And as all this created a certain instability in people, I thought that I myself was missing this dynamic of the spontaneity of the offer, the ones that appeared next to us made us think, why not offer a rose? Such a beautiful thing, so spontaneous, in a world where everything is by messages and whatapps. It is not? Nowadays no one spontaneously offers a rose and gives it to someone. This nostalgia, is a very Portuguese term, in relation to a foreigner who is the "qué frô" also belongs to us, because of our collective memory. I kept thinking about this for some time and decided to put together six actors that I know and that many of them had already worked with me. I thought I'd talk about this with them, what experiences I'd had with these rose vendors, and recall some of the stories they had with the "qué frô" My challenge was to know who these six men are, with their individual stories taking care of roses. And why take care of roses? Because the initial idea of the show starts from the memories of a scenic figure who remembers the experience of "qué frô" and there is an actor who has a hierarchical dramaturgical position clearly superior to others and why? He sows, plants and cares for roses, he does this at the moment and he summons all the others to take care of his flowers, in the background they take care of their spots, of their problems, always having a parallel with the roses. There are six men who become fragile when caring for flowers and who talk about their lives almost in a context of intimacy.
You have other plays that you wrote, but you often refer to "the armchair"?
SA: True, these two plays, "Armchair I" and "Armchair II" are the two in which I am on the scene. These are the only shows in which I permit this, precisely because it is a very particular spectacle, almost biographical. I wrote this play at a time when I was thinking a lot as how I could find me, revealing myself in the theater. It is an idea of radiography, how it works and it is almost a more intimate photograph and with which we have not identified, it seems a strange thing. However, it is the most internal portrait we have and I worked hard on it, which was basically an x-ray? I developed the dramaturgy of these two shows based on a consultation of psychotherapy in which the person spoke with a therapist, where they approached several questions and opened and closed the light on the several radiographs that were behind. There is a lot of my writing and the two works are all built before going on the stage and usually this does not happen. This gives the idea of how important they are to me, I already wrote them and as I said before, as a rule, I write a part of the textual play and then I discover the other parts in the creation with the actors, but in the case of "The Armchairs " were texts that I wrote at one time and then for the scene, I only developed them from there on.
Did it ever occur to you to write, stage a monologue and put yourself in that position on stage?
SA: I think it would be more interesting if someone wrote a monologue for me. Precisely because I believe that the theater is not only a place in itself, but it is a place of revelation about itself and when I approach it, I speak of the actor on stage and of the creator in that same position. And again, when I wrote the two plays "Armchairs" I discovered new things about myself that I think can reach the public and that they can understand them. I think they can empathize with some of the scenes, because it is inevitable in theater that there is no empathy with what is happening, we can see what that means even through emotion. It's very interesting when I think I've already written everything and while I'm on the scene I realize what it's revealing, it's like an x-ray, and not in the sense I'm here to meet myselve, no, I'm here because I believe people will also find something about themselves when they are watching this show. So what I believe in is a lot like what someone wrote to me and that would make me write a lot more things, something that I have never discovered yet that I will find and I find that more challenging. I think writing about myself would also be interesting, but I do not know if it would be so much from a creative point of view, it would be for those who write and without a doubt a great challenge for those who do it.
Is that what you brought with you when you were an actress in "Catch My Soul"?
SA: I already knew the director, Rui Neto and as I am responsible for the artistic direction of the Carnide Theater I prefer a collaboration, because we had already worked together. In "Catch my soul" what appealed to me was the text, because he had already elaborated it, I already knew it and the very challenges that appear in the scene were very motivating in terms of growth, there were areas of work that for me were important, even creatively. Rui Neto gave me some space to create an idea that he already had and sometimes this is difficult, we could not always do that, but I felt that I was not stuck with anything and that we could try out many ways of saying, being in scene with those texts and I found this important.
And for you as an actress what did you learn from the character?
SA: What I learned if we can say that with this term, I think I developed a kind of scenic maturity that I do not have and that I cannot classify on scene. The character was a bit malefic, dense, the text was even sarcastic and I discovered ways to make it sarcastic without being too obvious, as if there had been a kind of humanization and therefore, how one with a certain humanity can be so bad? And that is what I discovered, how to make this text that might seem clear, without making it obvious through representation. I discovered at the level of interpretation important things in relation to the text, namely, to gain a weight and a form that were faded.
Now, let's talk about the project you have for the Carnide Theater. You are the artistic director and for some time ahead of this space and what is your vision for a near future?
SA: What I intend for the Carnide Theater is that I get a space of Portuguese cultural fabric, that makes it identify with the company, a form and a concrete artistic management, that is easily identified and that is important for a theatrical structure. As a fruitionist of culture, I know as a spectator that I will find these answers, ideas or aesthetics, even if the company can do a host program, regardless of that, this theater has its own scenic language and I think this is important. On the other hand, it was good that the Carnide Theater could expand even more, we have a very broad educational service, we give classes to children, young people and adults and we have a series of community works in various districts of Lisbon. We worked in various capacities from the point of view of artistic practices and citizenship, and I would like us to be recognized in a few years from the work that we have developed together with new audiences, from emerging groups in other formations and from the community in general where we work. It is my vision and I think that we have been able to give positive answers because of this idea of creating in an emergent way, giving space to new creators, it is very important from the cultural point of view and this of which I am speaking fits for all the companies of theater. We worked with few resources but a lot of demands and I think that makes the artistic objects themselves have value in my giant vision. We have excellent creatives, scene designers, scenographers and actors, in Portugal there is a cultural network that is always creating with the few and scarce support that there is at the moment. I intend that the Carnide Theater has more resources, more support beyond that already available to support the new creators.
And since you have this educational aspect, do you notice that the new generations like theater and are interested?
SA: I think in fact, in my time as a teenager there was more demand and less supply. Nowadays everything is available afterwards we have a tendency to minimize because it becomes more common and there is a lot of supply even now and the teens looking for the theater are the ones that were already sensitized, those who somehow seek an experience, some for along term and others a more intensive artistic dynamics. There is interest from the young people who had a workshop, or a teacher who was more available and attentive to give creative stimuli to students, or schools that go regularly to the theater, exhibitions, or even cultural study trips, if this does not happen hardly the youth look for us. I can speak, for example, in the case of adolescents in the theater they observe other artistic reactions, other areas of experience to better understand their role in the theater and society in general. The theater manages to bring together all the other artistic areas, from dance, music, painting and sculpture. I think young people like it, but they need a teacher, a monitor, a school or a family to stimulate them to show them what their country has in terms of supply.
And the rest of the public? Since you have a very specific aesthetic offer in the Carnide Theater, do you note this specificity or not?
SA: Yes, you can already see a specific audience that will see the Carnide Theater productions. Although, we are careful not to invite only one single director per season, one I am directing, but the other two plays are very different from me, even though there is a language of dramaturgy that is based. So people know they are going to see shows that open many doors for interpretation. At the carnide theater at the beginning the public is aware that they will not see a closed play, with beginning, middle and end, it is not our practice to do this and we already recognize people who will regularly see the shows.
And do you think the Portuguese public likes theater in general?
SA: I think there is great respect from the Portuguese public. I think they like it, because who come to see theater appreciates it and what do I mean with it? Regardless of whether languages are different people like to see theater, even if it is for the feeling of breathing something live, I think it is a unique moment. Theater spectators, in essence, more than looking for a language are in search of this great experience very simple to see something that is being done for me and I am witnessing that moment. On the other hand, there are spectators who may not like certain theatrical language, but recognize the scenic quality that is being developed.
Why there very few women director's in Portuguese theaters?
SA: I even think that there are many even, usually they are little divulged which is a pity.