I love many aspects of theatre, but my main interest for a long time has been cultural fusion and things to do with theatre anthropology and anthropology of performance. My undergraduate dissertation was an analysis of the performative elements of the Quarup, the funeral ritual of Brazilian indigenous tribe, the Kamayurá.
This week-long festival involves rites of passage for girls and boys, mourning, celebrating, bartering, music and dancing. My aim was to investigate and discuss the aspects of the ritual which lay in the threshold between religiosity and performance. I analysed one specific iteration of the festival recorded by Brazilian Globo TV channel, made available to me on DVD, and drew mainly on the work of Richard Schechner and Victor Turner about performance and ritual, Eugenio Barba on Theatre Anthropology, and John Emigh and Patrice Pavis for the identification and discussion of the performative elements of the ritual. Working on this project spurred my interest in liminality and liminal spaces as elements of performance, and it raised noteworthy questions about cultural appropriation, the creation of tradition, and the relationship between postcolonial thought and academia.
These concluding thoughts lay the foundations for my current research proposal, which has changed considerably from the original idea I submitted. I had been thinking about engaging in postgraduate study since 2012, just after I founded my theatre company, Fronteiras Theatre Lab. I drafted a proposal which was never submitted back then, titled Towards a transcultural performance aesthetic: a case study for a Scottish-based transcultural theatre company. My aim was to find a way of documenting my company’s processes in the creation of transcultural theatre. That was the first time I used the term syncretism as well, a term borrowed from Religious Studies (also found in Translation Studies) and defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought”. I am a self-confessed atheist, but I inevitably grew up surrounded by religion in Brazil, having attended a Catholic school and university and been exposed to different variations of Afro-Brazilian religions, spiritualism, several types of Evangelical strands, and, to some extent, shamanism. Also having grown up in the border between Brazil and Uruguay, my interest in the amalgamation of cultures and languages started from an early age.
Although I have never seen it, I remember a theatre production in Porto Alegre, capital city of my home state, called Hamlet Sincrético (2009) by Grupo Caixa-Preta, an all-black theatre company. This was a version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the main characters were merged with Afro-Brazilian deities. A similar concept had been used earlier, in 1994, in Augusto Omolù’s solo performance Orô de Othello (Odin Teatret). In fact, I met Augusto in Bristol in 2008 and worked with him for one week on an Afro-Brazilian dances workshop at the Tobacco Factory. It was this encounter which introduced me to the work of Eugenio Barba, and a great deal of my current work was shaped by those early conversations with Augusto.
The idea of practice-led research appealed to me more than traditional theory-based research, and my original proposal was to create a piece of syncretic theatre using a canonical European text and the Kamayurá mythology, but I dropped that idea due to time, funding, and location constraints.
The new aim was then to follow and document my own work with my newly established theatre company, focusing on the dramaturgical processes involved in the creation of transcultural theatre. With this, I hoped to revisit the issues of the role of theatre scholarship or performance studies, definitions of performativity/theatricality, and further investigate where notions of tradition and syncretism could take me. Parallel subjects that arose from that initial venture were the subtle differences between inter/intra/multi/transculturalism and matters concerning aesthetics, linguistics, morality and sociopolitics.
My unfinished pitch was to use the three years of doctoral studies to work on a scripted but unpublished and never produced play based on the myth of Dracula, documenting and questioning the process as I went along. I thought this would be more manageable than using the Kamayurá mythology, which I am less familiar with in practical terms. As I said, however, that proposal was never submitted to any programmes but I returned to it a couple of years later to draft the actual proposal I submitted to the RCS/St Andrews and which mutated into what I am currently working on.