A showcase theater: superb scripts in the hands of exceptionally well-trained actors in performances crafted with attention to detail. This is the formula of Grupo Tapa (from the Portuguese acronym for Theater of Amateur Artistic Productions), a theater troupe founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1979 and extended to São Paulo in 1986.
“What I find most fascinating about theater, what distinguishes it from any other art, is its living presence. It’s the actors. It’s something that happens right in front of the public, with that same vibrancy as a soccer match.” This statement by Eduardo Tolentino de Araújo – who has directed the group since its inception and is the author of the children’s play Apenas um conto de fadas (Only a fairy tale) – says more than you might first realize.
Through the group’s longstanding commitment to comprehensive, ongoing training and its policy of making no concessions, it has made its name as a perpetual creator of top-rated theater. The 1980s brought outstanding productions like Nelson Rodrigues’ Viúva, porém honesta (A widow, albeit respectable) (1983), J. B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways (1985), and the launching of the Brazilian Theater Festival.
Researching and disseminating major texts by Brazilian playwrights has always been an integral part of the mission of the group, which renders an invaluable public service with its celebrated performances of works by Nelson Rodrigues, Martins Pena, Jorge Andrade, Machado de Assis, Artur and Aluísio de Azevedo, Plínio Marcos, and João Cabral de Melo Neto, among many others. Plays like Nelson Rodrigues’ Vestido de noiva (The Wedding Dress) (1994) and Oduvaldo Vianna Filho’s Corpo a corpo (Body-to-body) (1995) are part of the history of great presentations in Brazilian theater.
In addition to maintaining a steady flow of new shows and new stagings from its repertoire, Tapa routinely offers theater courses at its main office in Barra Funda, São Paulo, taught by members of the troupe. In the opinion of Maria Silvia Betti, professor of graduate studies in literature at the University of São Paulo (USP), recognizing this emphasis on training is essential to understanding the group’s importance. “The role that Tapa plays in training is not only about the study and practice of the craft – the act of doing theater – but also about the development of critical thinking,” she says. “This is something that theater schools haven’t been able to offer anymore, something that is also left out of regular college or school education, for all the reasons we know too well.”
Betti believes that Tapa “has a history that is relevant to everything of major import that has happened in theater from the late 1970s to the present, in terms of production and dramatic art.” This fact becomes all the more remarkable when we realize that the group’s longevity is a feat that was accomplished without any public support or funding, and at no cost to quality. The group has thus become a model of artistic creativity as well as a model for those who want to make the craft of theater their profession.
Clara Carvalho, Zécarlos Machado, Denise Weinberg, Brian Penido Ross, Guilherme Sant’Anna, Sandra Corveloni, André Garolli, Fernando Paz, and Sérgio Matropasqua are on the long list of actors who have done or continue taking part in great work inside and outside of Tapa, always characterized by the intermingling of generations. Things are no different today with the newest generation of young people, such as Isabella Lemos, Marcelo Pacífico, and Renato Caldas, appearing in shows like Dennis Kelly’s Orphans and Luigi Pirandello’s De Um ou De Nenhum (Either somebody’s or nobody’s), both of which premiered in 2012 and are still running.
Making art without making concessions, grounded in excellence and forged in a context of interpersonal exchange both on stage and off, has put Tapa on the front line of defense of theater as a source of reflection and critical thinking. “When I started going to shows, there was much more pretentiousness than mastery of the craft,” says Tolentino. “Theater is renewed repetition. It’s about overcoming your boredom and your weariness, and discovering what is new. This is what allows you to delve into ever deeper layers and subtleties.” It is theater as craftsmanship.Republish