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Stage director random thoughts

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Pedro Ribeiro

Pedro Ribeiro

stage director

During two weeks in Belgium we travelled back and forth between 6 cities and had the opportunity to see 14 shows, 7 rehearsals of different productions, to attend 16 meetings, 3 visits to art institutions, 1 workshop and 1 conference. I think I would have to devise a show in order to explain well what I saw in this amazing experience! I’m not a writer or a philosopher - but I can note down tons of questions! These questions are not about the shows or people I’ve meet in Belgium. They are thoughts that have been navigating in my mind for a while now, and during many enjoyable conversations with my unforgettable partner in crime - Lola Gruber, they were triggered again, back to surface.


Every time the show is about to begin and I’m sitting in the auditorium I look around and try to see who surrounds me (and how white is their hair). After seeing so many shows in my career I have loads of questions in my mind about: Who is the audience? To whom is the artist actually working for? Is it for anyone? Is it for the sponsors? Is it for the people that would understand this? Is it for the housewife? Is it for children? Which ones? From where? How old? Should I actually be worried about who are the people to whom I’m presenting my work? Am I thinking too much? 


I realised in the last years that it doesn’t make any sense for me to present something for a crowd of people if in fact I don’t have anything to say that really matters. I’m not closing into the idea of community or participatory projects… no, not yet. I’m just lingering on the actual idea of stepping on a stage to present “anything” to an audience. That “anything” should be something that matters, something I can’t just say out loud, but I need to create a full performance about it.


Shouldn’t we be looking for a connection? Isn’t that the reason why we sit down to see a show? Or is our main objective to find a way to tell things differently from the way others already did? When people are having sex and they really connect - they have orgasms. Aren’t all pieces of theatre about “connection”? Why is it so easy to destroy their main objective? Is there a craft specialized on how to do this well? Or can “anyone” create this “connection”? Is the actor’s craft the same as a singer? Is the dancer’s craft the same as a bartender, or a doctor?


Isn’t my culture, my life story, my education that makes me who I am – and the artist I became? Isn’t that what makes an audience different in Portugal or in Belgium? Isn’t it important to acknowledge these differences as an artist/creator? And isn’t it important to keep these differences that are the culture landscape of Europe? Do we want to sterilise culture into becoming the same everywhere? Are we looking to create a shared language of imagination that its main purpose is to cross cultural barriers? How should opera be staged in order to be called “opera”? Is limiting a genre a good thing? Is the multipluritransinterdisciplinary something of the past? Is it enough? Is it not enough? Does it offer that “connection”? Can that “anyone” read the “message”?


Why are the educational – outreach – community – participatory - projects so important? Do we bet more on children then on teenagers? Should we care about the young adult that doesn’t really care about art? Is there an art gap between 25 and 35 years old? Should we think so far head? Is it necessary to create strong connections between the artist and this audience? Should the actual artist care about these subjects? Should this audience be the main focus of art institutions - especially now that so easily budget cuts are made to the arts because people don’t really get it? Do we need the audience to be with us? To care about our work, understand it and be changed by it? If we don’t care and trigger the imagination how can we expect to have more connected politicians, artists, doctors, audiences, to our art form? Can we “art spike” people? 


Through these questions I hope (even if only inside of their own mind) people are compelled to imagine other forums of interaction and dialogue about “what stepping on a stage means” that needs to exist outside de rehearsal room, the stage, the office, the meeting room, the auditorium. We are not alone when we step on a stage. There´s no point in doing it for an empty room. Connect = Transform. 


Because unfortunately I don’t invent - I just underline :-) “Culture is not a luxury of the privileged, but a fundamental need of all men and all communities. Culture does not exist to embellish life, but to transform it.” This quote is from an intervention of the writer Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen in the Portuguese Constitutional Assembly, one year after the 1975 Portuguese Carnation Revolution that overthrown the longest dictatorship in Europe.


Is not every day I really think about these subjects that also make me who I am. It’s hard to pin down my thoughts on a piece of digital paper. A sincere thank you to all that questioned me, to ENOA/LOD/LA MONNAIE for opening doors and challenge discussion.


Pedro Ribeiro