Nossa Cara

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Article

To be or not to be?

Nossa Cara is a drama group of street children who at the start of the 90s was founded within the framework of Projeto Axé in Salvador da Bahia. With its play O Rei Do Trono Do Barro, a Hamlet adaptation, the ensemble toured very successfully through Brazil and Germany.
The question about to be or not to be is seldom posed more dramatically in a new context than by the 16 year old Hamlet Fabui Tobias, who spent 3 years of his life on the street. He and his 9 fellow actors were among the countless homeless children living in the 2.3 million city Salvador da Bahia on the coast of Brazil.
The Projeto Axé – axé means power, energy and life-force – has decided to support these children. Cesar Florio da Rocca, founder of the project, says about the aim of the work: ‘We do nothing for the children except join them in looking for new opportunities. That calls for time. Unlike the police we do not want to get children off the streets but rather to inform them about alternatives to their past way of life. They themselves have to make the decisions.’ One of the most successful initiatives launched by the project has been the drama group Nossa Cara, Our Face.

At the behest of the Goethe Institute in Salvador da Bahia, there was co-operation between the head of the drama group Nossa Cara, Maria-Eugenia Milet, the dramatist Vera Achatkin and the director Volker Quandt. Together with the children they worked out the drama O Rei do Trono de Barro, (The King of the Lime Throne) – the ‘Street Hamlet’.

In their Hamlet version the young performers act out their history and experiences and also reveal the modernity of the Shakespeare prototype. Violence, power, betrayal, love, death and sex keep their validity as basic motifs within the context of Brazilian child gangs as much as within the Danish royal house.

The stage-props are taken from the children’s world of rubbish, old tyres and walls of graffiti. The rhythm of the performance is given by tin drums, and with their feeling for their own bodies and movement, the youthful actors have a great presence.

As regards the choice of the material Volker Quandt says: ‘It was an early idea to use Hamlet as the starting point for showing the situation of street children, but can Shakespeare’s Hamlet be put into the milieu of Brazil’s streets? After all, Shakespeare’s England and the children’s Brazil lie worlds and centuries apart. Yet betrayal remains betrayal, vengeance remains vengeance, and murder remains murder. The time and the place matter little, as shown chillingly by the murder of eight street children in Rio only a few months after the play’s premiere.’

Decisive for the final choice of prototype were the experiences brought to light by the youths during a workshop. ‘A 17 year-old improvised one of his repeated dreams. His friend has recently been shot by the police, and he dreams of the latter’s ghost crying out for revenge – Hamlet’s ghost! In role-play about power structures in a gang, a leading couple emerges quickly.

The youth is given the name Cabeça (Head) and the girl Rainha (Queen) – Claudio und Getrud! Again and again the fate of the girls becomes a focus of improvisation. How did they happen to land on the street; how did they happen to join a street gang; and what attitude do they have towards sexuality? For them, sexuality is often the same as violence. Some of the girls act out their rape – Ophelia!’ says Volker Quandt.

The constitution of the group was taken into account in reworking the drama. ‘The conflict between the youth-gangs and the police tallies with the war between Denmark and Norway. Violence is not shown directly but is visually and acoustically apparent throughout, in the form of sirens, red lights, graffiti and rubbish. The drama was meant to be a Salvador Hamlet, so relevant details found their way into the production,’ adds Volker Quandt.

Performances of O Rei do Trono de Barro in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador da Bahia, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Köln, Bonn, Neuss (Shakespeare-Festival) and Berlin thrilled audiences. The Berliner Morgenpost wrote: ‘What talent, what tempo, what temperament!’

In 1998 the Harlekin Theater in Leipzig held the German premiere. Performances in Köln and Bonn followed.

(The text of the drama, translated by Volker Quandt from the original Portuguese, is available from the publisher of the Harlekin Theater: www.harlekintheater.de).


Author: Beate Mielemeier

Works

O Rei Do Trono Do Barro (King on a Lime Throne)

Production / Performance,
1994
Thursday 22nd – Sunday 25th September, 1994 Straßenhamlet (Street Hamlet) performed by the group Nossa Cara Organiser: House of World Cultures together with Pachanga Promotions