A Look at the Portuguese World


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The sower of words

Written by  yvette vieira fts bárbara fernandes


Tiago Rodrigues is the most recent artistic director of the D.Maria II National Theater, which passionately assumes the mission of keeping the doors open to the Portuguese public, with a diversified and quality programming, of an institution with 171 years of existence and also where the greatest figures of Portuguese culture passed by. But, his love for the theater goes further than that, his desire is to free words far beyond the physical boundaries of the theater, is to take the Portuguese language around the world.

When you took over the management of the National Theater Dona Maria II (TDMII) in 2015, two years ago, how was it from coming from your owns theater company, in which you managed all and then, a very different universe that is a national theater? What were the challenges you encountered?
Tiago Rodrigues: In the first place it was a radical change, because I ran a company where I did my own work, my days were busy with the shows I wanted to do, finding the right conditions to present them, making tours and therefore fundamentally an artistic work of creation. When going to TNDMII there is a whole dimension that always cheered me up, because in a way I was always an organizer of meetings, of laboratories, but I had never been a programmer. When I go to a national theater, one of the largest in the country and one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the nation, my mission becomes more than that of the artist, who continues to have the passion to perform and to work as an actor, is to program a theater of this dimension, with its own identity that should promote great dramaturgy, the writing of new texts in Portuguese, which should support and spread the theater that is done not only in Lisbon, but throughout the country. D.Maria II must also tour, support and publish plays for the youth, that is, it has a public service dimension, in which I completely review myself, although it is a new role for me. At the moment, the artistic direction occupies all my days, there is also a whole responsibility to know that if it is contributing to the work of these artists is accessible to the public and this contribution causes that there are decisions that inflated the route and the life of many companies. Sometimes I have difficult moments, choose between this show instead of another, when we have two proposals at the table and we can only make one, we are saying a yes to one, but also a no, which is also very important for these artists and this is a still very new function for me. It's a terrific job because it allows me to do things that long ago needed to happen, now I'm on the side of those who have the tools to do this work. Another major change for me was to move from a company where we were three, to a national one where we are generally 90, as a rule a theater of this size has 120 to 150 people working permanently, daily, in that building. These days are very intense and demanding, but at the same time very exciting, to be surrounded by a great diversity of artists, professionals, technicians, spectators and the work hard to achieve even more and better theater and that more and more Portuguese people can enjoy it.

Let's address the programming, the TNDMII has partnerships with invited theater companies that have another type of posture and how do you manage those groups with the fixed company?
TR: The national theater is a house of creation, this means that it must have and more the tools to make their own shows and their productions. These two shows we presented at Baltazar Dias, under the Eunice network, are an example of this, "Ifigénia" is a creation of the TNDMII and the "Origin of the species" as well. These are productions made entirely from our resources, but we also know that in the Portuguese national scene, a national theater is fundamental for independent theater companies to have homes, stages and money to do their work. Many of these groups do not have spaces, but even if they do have it is not at D.Maria II scale and in this scope we have a whole technical and administrative team that fulfills its service. Per year, we have four to five productions and more than 30 co-productions, so there are shows that are entirely created in this theater. Then we have resources for the companies that come to visit us, to live in the house for as long as it takes to create and present a show.

How do you select these proposals? What do you have to take into account for the TNDMII program line?
TR: The way it happens is a constant dialogue with companies and artists, we have both, we go through the proposals of these theater groups, in most cases, they are the ones who take the initiative, but also can go through when I go to see a group, an artist, or artists working and I launch a challenge. If, on the one hand, we have
"O bando" that in the coming months will create the "Divine comedy" in the national theater and was a challenge that we accepted with joy and enthusiasm. Also we will have the choreographer and director Marlene Monteiro Freitas to make a creation of the "Bacchantes" that is a challenge that we launched. But it is true that we have received many quality proposals to be presented at TNDMII, far more than we have been able to accommodate in terms of space and money. We have two rooms and a budget that has grown recently, but nevertheless, it places limitations on us and therefore we cannot say yes to all the shows with quality and pertinence to be in the national theater. Luckily there are more theaters in Portugal to support theater groups and therefore is a more fertile and more serious territory for companies to have houses to present their repertoire. However, we know that D.Maria II is an engine for independent groups and we cannot only have our own shows, it must be an open space for others, to present their shows, to help them in their artistic creation, because this institution has valences that are already rare or that are almost nowhere, dressmakers, carpenters, that is, we have workers that allow us to create a show from the first to the last moment. The selection criteria have to do with the interpretation of what is our ambition, the TNDMII has a mission that is enshrined in the law and the selection criteria arise from that reading. And, what is this about publicizing classical dramaturgy? It is looking for artists and theater companies who have a contemporary languageif they are interested in making a classic repertoire. Who does Molière today and makes accessible the "The impromptu of Versailles" which was one of the great successes of last season? It was a performance like Miguel Moreira with his look of the present on that text. But, why are these great works great for us? It is to think how we live, on our society and this is one of the criteria when we make a great classic, not with the convention in which it was written, but with today's language to dialogue with this great texts.

Do you think this is your personal stamp? Last year was dedicated to Shakespeare, in 2016 there are many Greek playwrights, but I speak not only the texts, but also the interpretations or re-interpretations of these works.
TR: Every artistic director has precisely as a mission what are the obligations of a national theater and I understand that the only relevance of putting together great texts the classicals, or of more contemporary repertoires as is the case with Bernardo Santareno's "the duel" on the scene in the Garret Room, the only reason to do them is that they are relevant today, it has to be seen with a current look. Otherwise we are seeing a great work as if it were a museum piece, something far from us, of that time that is very important. Now, if the reason for making a Molière, or a Shakespeare, a Racine, but also a Samuel Becket, an Eugene O'Neill, a Bernardo Santareno, and a Luis de Staus-Monteiro is only because it is an important text dot, publish it and give it to read people. The reason for putting it on stage is the urgency our days have for that text, to say yes, is a great work, but to see it today, living it and sharing it with a large room, because they pose questions about our life, about the current society. These texts are like lenses, or glasses that we put to see the world. How do we see Funchal through the lenses of Sofócles?

So how is "Ifigénia" a look at a contemporary society?
TR: "Ifigénia" more than a representation is a rewriting, inspired by the play of Euripides. It is a rewriting today, one of the things that led us, especially after having read it in a group and discussed it a lot, was the question of the inevitable. "Ifigénia" approaches a sacrifice that everyone considers inevitable for the good of the country. It was a show at a time in Portugal, for many years, a minority decided that there were unavoidable sacrifices to do for the good of all. This idea of sacrifice in the name of a nation and the struggle between the individual, human personal history and the good of all was something that interested us a lot. But without explicit mention of austerity, or what is happening today, why? Because when we created it a year and a half ago Portugal was different, today, we live in a country with another government, with other phenomena and ideas happening. After talking about great works, like the "Bacchantes", this text today is still worth doing, not only because it is phenomenal, but because it speaks of us, of this moment, too. Hopefully by approaching these texts we will continue to talk about ourselves in 10 or 20 years, that is the definition of the classics, it speaks of us in all times. They are timeless, not because they do not have a date, because we noticed that it is an old text, but what is said will live 400, 1000 years, what focuses is reflected in the days today and that is one of the ambitions, I think of everybody who chooses these texts to bring then on stage. They are also important works to realize what theater we are doing today and therefore, when a director like Miguel Moreira is currently performing "the duel" and presents an unexpected version we are also talking about the text of Bernardo Santareno, his strength in our time, but also the meeting of the today and what was done in 1971 when the TNDMII debuted this work with Eunice Muñoz and João Perry. And what Miguel does with his language is to question this work, to question its validity, after all what it serves for? And in the last analysis, it made a beautiful play that touches people and moves them, because the truth is that the theater that we do is what we want to question, but also that it is a place of celebration, as well as the theaters we visited. D.Maria II always has to safeguard this playfulness, festive dimension which is the theater.
So, is also important the way the actors interpret, the staging, the visual aspect and what goes on stage corresponds to a current discovery, a theater that has artists who want urgently to do it, because it is true that there is a dimension of public service that we have to fulfill and this is a national theater, but before being a mission is something that for artists is unquantifiable, invisible because they are animated, fed by the need to do theater and that is what the public demand. And there may be that genre, or this author, but the national theater demands that there be a reflection greater than that of a space more oriented to the entertainment, above all what the public wants is a theater in which the people are on stage to express what they wish to do and this urgency and the whole team to do that show is the origin of everything. Without these high-quality artists, often facing great difficulties and personal sacrifices that continue passionately to do theater, there was no public service, which are the foundations of what we do in D. Maria II and in all the teather of the Eunice net. In Portugal there are many theaters and when they come to us I hope they leave satisfied and surprised many times, the theater has to have this mystery, that when I buy that ticket I do not know what is going to happen to me, above all there has to be this dimension of surprise.


Does this dynamic fit into the Eunice network? What has been the impact not only on the public, but also on the theaters where these plays are presented?
TR: The Eunice network that went into effect now, is a project that we started to develop two years ago. We have selected, through public candidatures, three theaters one in Funchal, another in Vila Real and a third in Sardoal, which correspond to our will and obligation to be more present throughout the Portuguese territory and not only in the national theater building, which is a beautiful monument, but it is much more than a physical institution is a theater ideal. D.Maria II must be present with as many Portuguese as possible, because they are responsible for this theater to exist and are entitled to this public service that we provide. We have created Eunice for this and this first season is going really well, the reception in the three theaters is phenomenal in the first place, because we have exhausted all sessions and in all spaces. It is absolutely incredible, it is outstanding, on the other hand, we perceive not only the hospitality but the extreme competence with which we are received. However, it is not just another play that will visit that stage, it is an accomplice relationship that will last a few years and we work together, that is, we did not want to come just to a city in a kind of digression, run over and escape that is, it went very well, we had a beautiful weekend and then we do not know when we came back and we can say that we even went to Madeira, that's not what we want. The aim is to create a relationship, to be accomplices of what is done in Funchal and in Lisbon, we want to have a permanent dialogue and inscribe ourselves in the history of the people who work in this theater, from what they see and we want them also to be part of the theater's history And this requires a relationship. In May we are back with "The maids", in the autumn we will present another show that I cannot reveal and in early 2018 we will be back.

What aspects did you consider in choosing these three theaters? And why so few for now?
TR: There are few theaters, because it is a huge TNDMII investment to be able to be in a regular way, that is, instead of being 9 spaces where we are only once, there are few where we go several times a year. Developing a relationship that can create an audience and help in that way, for example, Baltazar Dias in the next years is different because we have as partner and vice versa. We want this relationship to be partnership and this obliges us that instead of betting on many theaters, we bet on fewer spaces, more often and next season we will be four. The applications are open so that more spaces are part of this network and each year that passes we are adding more theaters. And instead of doing what many times, unfortunately is also done in the area of culture which is a great firework and a big fuss, for a limited time and then when we see what remains there are no great consequences, we want to go slowly, solidly building a relationship and expect that in 5, 6, 7, 8 years, this Eunice network will be a fundamental tool to have more equal access to culture in Portugal. When an emergency is closed, or a court there are demonstrations, when a theater is closed, there are no major uprisings, because it seems that we do not need them tomorrow, it does not bother us in our day to day life. Then we silently steal opportunities from this community that go to the theater, then they have to go to another city and silently this asymmetry is deepening, we want the maximum of Portuguese to have access to the theater and we will contribute in what we can.

What then were the criteria of these theaters' choices?
TR: One of the criteria was the technical capacity of the spaces to host the plays, obviously. Another that we considered fundamental, that investing in this audience would make a difference to this theater? And if we were not to sow in an arid land, they had to be spaces that had to do an excellent job, with quality, with courage in what is the cultural offer of the city and we identified three with different characteristics and also looked for that diversity, Were well spread throughout the national territory and that is what we want in the Eunice network, we want it to be present throughout the geography of the country and hopefully in the coming years we achieve this goal and the largest number of Portuguese. The key was to find partners with a remarkable job done, given the budgetary obstacles, or the conditions, or the experience, our presence could contribute so that theater could go even further. There were no political, regional or territorial criteria, more was the analysis of the candidacies and what was the discourse that the theater itself on this network. Then there were visits to the spaces in a second phase, the theaters and the people were known and in the culture of the theater it is very important to know who is ahead in the projects and this is sometimes the factor that changes everything, because culture in Portugal for a long time years has been treated as a very poor relative and is done at the expense of the passion, competence and spirit of sacrifice of the people who are linked to it. Contrary to other professional activities, competence does not arrive, it is necessary to be more, because in order to face obstacles that generate a lot of frustration, because it is not taken for granted in Portuguese society that culture is an equal motor like education. You have to be very passionate about what you do, energize projects and human fact is essential. In the Eunice network is essential the passion and competence of these teams that lead these theaters was fundamental to this choice.

In TNDMII there is now a presentation of books, a space for the poets and literature also occupies an essential space in this programming. Why this choice?
TR: The National Theater was founded by a writer in 1846, it is a space of the word. This is the identity trait of that theater, whether for children or adults, formation, creation or debate, everything is linked to the word. There has been a lot of work with children, with shows about reading. We have the live poets club in partnership with Casa Fernando Pessoa, where there is a poet present and it is one of the great successes of programming, we have had crowded rooms, it has lasted for a year and will continue, because there are more and more poets willing to be present, to share with the public their poetry and national theater actors available to read their poems. We are also one of the largest publishers of Portuguese theater, there are others, we have edited studies and essays, but it is absolutely essential to reclaim and claim the power of words in contemporary society and the TNDMII is a space that ends up playing that role. On the facade of Rossio is written the phrase what is the point of words? That is a bit the slogan of this quarter, because we have fantastic texts and also new works that I do not know if they are fantastic or not, because they are being written for the shows, but we have this bet of a theater that offers us words about the world around us. As I was just said, in a world where we are robbed of our ability to speak, where our voice is manipulated, for example, by populist movements and transformed into other things, in which, although we vote in the background, we do not have much power over the events and I think until Portugal is not the most serious cases, we see this more in Europe and the USA from where I returned a few weeks ago, the feeling of impotence in people is enormous and I think it is worth asking us how we can rescue the words. The theater is important to trust in the transformative power of words, in the way they allow us to participate daily in the world and with each other, it may not be in a theater, it may even be in a square, or a garden, but the important thing is to speak one by one and then we approached another person and we are already three and this is the human scale, a lot of strangers sharing words and if we do not hold that trust, I would go even further, this faith in the power of words to transform, so in my case, it would be better to turn off the lights, close the door, and wait for the next person.

Has it never been hypothesized that the TNDMII will travel abroad, on a tour, a bit like the Eunice network, but outside?
TR: It has happened. The national theater has been doing a lot of touring abroad and I can say we have done more shows abroad in the last two years than in the previous 169 years. We are doing co-productions with international companies and theater festivals, but we will soon have big news that I cannot reveal in this matter. We are part of an international network of 11 countries that will allow us to invite foreign artists with European funding, but also to circulate Portuguese artists abroad. It has been a very important cultural diplomacy work for D. Maria II and we are now developing partnerships to integrate other networks and I would say that this has been the work that has marked these last two years. D.Maria II has to be a national and european theater because it is located in a country in Europe, it must also must be world-wide and in this scope we have had tours in the USA, Canada and we want to work with South America and Africa. We have shows from foreign companies that will be presented at the national theater and this is a highway with many avenues, although we have a fundamental mission with companies, artists and the Portuguese public, the truth is that we are inserted in a continent and in a world where we cannot consider that TNDMII belongs only to its citizens, we want it to be of all Portuguese, that the national artists have better conditions of work inside and outside the country and the publics of the world.

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