And it was at Teatro de Belomonte, home of Teatro de Marionetas do Porto (Porto Marionette Theatre), that I met one of the most important figures in the national marionette theatre: João Paulo Seara Cardoso. Artistic director and director of this fantastic company, he received me with his usual friendliness, answering my questions in such a natural and sincere way that it seemed we were talking as old friends rather than in an interview.
Interview by Sónia Esteban for Elegy magazine
How did you discover the world of marionettes?
I don’t really know (laughs). A course at Teatro Universitário do Porto gave me the basic knowledge, which I extended doing some courses in France. Later I joined Teatro Amador de Intervenção (TAI – a theatre group led by Mário Moutinho – current director of the FITEI International Theatre Festival), which was developing an important activity in the city. Children shows with puppets were one of the strong points of the group’s production, and this led to the creation of the company Teatro de Marionetas do Porto in 1988.
How is the political-cultural situation in Porto?
One has never lived such difficult times in this city. From a strictly financial point of view it doesn’t affect us, since we do not depend on the Town Hall and for 5 years we have not performed at Teatro Rivoli. We have never again sent a proposal to Teatro Rivoli since the Mayor (Rui Rio) made his “cultural policy” clear and began to ostensibly antagonize the cultural agents. Although the situation doesn’t directly affect us, it is disastrous for the city. And it’s unfortunate that events, institutions and festivals of great importance and providing a great public service don’t have the support to which they are entitled by the municipality.
Do you think this situation will change?
No. It has reached a state that can be considered “hit bottom”. During Rui Rio’s term we have no hope. The only hope we have is if PS wins (the only opposition party with the possibility of winning the elections) in 3 years. Until then this city will live a nightmare.
Will the professionals in the area have to emigrate?
A few years ago, I began to feel a great disenchantment with this “collapse” of a certain cultural utopia that had existed in Porto until 2001, which led me to create a play in which I expressed this feeling. A feeling that may have led people to give up their projects and move to another town. Although I remain “disenchanted” I am not a person to give up and I think the right attitude is to continue fighting, against winds and tides.
Tell me about the play Cabaret Molotov.
Since the 1930’s, marionettes have had the spirit of cabaret: marionettes were mixed with singers, dancers, music hall artists, etc. There was a German Post-Expressionist film about the Berlin Cabaret that influenced me a lot. I have also seen beautiful shows of contemporary circus that have touched me. They are background elements that motivated me to create this play. During the production, we watched and discussed two important films for understanding the cabaret atmosphere: “Moulin Rouge” and “Cabaret”.
For this play I was worried with finding a dramaturgical structure that would act as a guiding thread uniting the different parts, so that there wouldn’t be just loose cabaret “sketches”.
The show has two parts with two different structures: the first part is more Cabaret-like, expositive, and the second part is more theatrical: the meaning of time – another time – and the place – a different place – begin turning into uncanny elements. At the end we enter the personal universe of the performers and we realize that the end of the show is the beginning of a journey.
What is your favorite part and why?
In technical terms of marionettes (in the sense of looking for new things) my favorite part is the ballerina sketch. This is only possible with the technical experience we have: doing it with 3 actors and such limited means: a ballet for five sticks and a ball. On the other hand, it pleases me having managed to create a parallel universe of marionettes and actors and getting to the end of the play with the feeling of a violent confrontation in which nobody wins.
What I seek in our way of doing theatre is this confrontation, this dialectic, the game between the actor that is alive and the marionette that has an intermittent life which only exists on stage. It is, in a way, a metaphor of our life, of ourselves, of our ephemeral existence.
What do you like least?
I still don’t know. Little time has passed since the debut and I don’t have enough distance yet. Usually it happens to me one year after. Now it’s still early, although there are always things I want to change, but they are minimal and intimate.
How did you find Shirley Resende (musician)?
One of the main doubts that I had while creating this show was: what music should we use without Cabaret’s primary associations and how to use it. I spoke to Shirley, who has been working with us for many years as a pianist, and I set her the challenge of being a woman-orchestra. We decided that the music of the show would be fully played live, without recordings. And after a lot of work Shirley managed to play the piano and the accordion, to sing and play drums with her hands, feet and whatever else… We used various songs: from Yann Tirsen to Eric Satie and Gotan Project.
An important fact for the construction of the show and for its theatricality was the day I realized that she could also be a character of the story, and not just sit alone playing in her own little stage. She acts with Vladimir, and in the eyes of the audience, they seem to be the only ones who know the true story of that melancholic cabaret.
This trio of performers has worked with me for several years and as we know each other well we have a shared creative process. They all have theatrical training, although Sergio’s is in the area of set design. Our creative process is almost educational or formative. Any good actor who enters a work process with us can become a good puppeteer, since an osmosis effect occurs.
Is the Marionette Theatre linked to the Marionette Festival?
We are not linked to the Festival, but we have a very close relationship with it. In the early years of the Festival, Isabel (Isabel Alves Costa, director of the Festival) and I used to meet a lot in shows throughout Europe and we exchanged impressions and analyzed what we saw and the trends of the marionette theatre, which influenced the concept of the Festival that she created.
Are you planning a tour?
The next play will be “Nothing or the Silence by Beckett” in Santiago de Compostela (Spain), on the 19th and 20th, in Sala Nasa. They are good friends with whom we already have an old relationship. In March we will be with this same show in Cologne, Germany.
What kind of audience do you usually get in your shows?
Our audience is essentially young people, from 20 to 30 years old. I began to notice it, especially in “Os 3 Porquinhos” (The three little pigs) (Teatro Rivoli), an urban-themed show that I consider very contemporary. Our decision to do it during weekdays at midnight was risky, but the truth is that it was always sold out.