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Pernambuco Students’ Theater

There have been three plays by Pernambuco Students’ Theater.

Pernambuco Students’ Theater

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 11/10/2013

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

The plays that the students of Recife want to perform are an audacious attempt to make the art of representing go back to its former and genuine format, in direct contact with people, outdoor, free of charge, in a public square, without taking into consideration the idea that barefoot men are insensitive to the beauty and seduction of the word (BORBA FILHO, 1943, p. 74).

There have been three plays by Pernambuco Students’ Theater. The first one dates back to 1940, when Law students acted Paulo Gonçalves’ play, 1830, directed by Raul Priston. It did not go on. The second one, started with the Campaign Ginasiano Pobre (Poor Secondary School Student), created by Joel Pontes and Felipe Gomes. As they needed a room for the classes of this free course, the solution was to organize a Students’ Play to raise funds. It was a phase of Mambembe Theater (visiting rural towns), with simple plays (easy, comedy plays). At the beginning, they played O escorrego, among others, to a less demanding public. During their activities, there were excursions to Caruaru and João Pessoa, with the comedies Era uma vez um vagabundo Simplício Pacato. The third one began in 1945, with the accomplishment of the II National Culture Week, organized by the Campaign Ginasiano Pobre. At the event, there were several lectures and, one of them was delivered by Hermilo Borba Filho: Theater, the art of people.

His dissatisfaction with the eclectic compilation of Pernambuco Amateurs’ Theater brought up reflections about the road the theater should run through in order to be with the people. He would say: the Brazilian theater must touch the public with the same heat as carnival and football. For this purpose, the way to go was to take advantage of the Brazilian and regional plots, such as the story of Maria Bonita, Lampião, Antonio ConselheiroZumbi, the heroes of popular literature:

If this kind of play were presented, the people would leave the fairs and move to the show houses and then there would be an understanding of the elite plays. The people should first get used to the dramas they carry in their blood. […] Brazilian plays have been locked inside show houses, being expensive and inaccessible for most people. Our plays need some vacation. They need to get some fresh air, take a deep breath. (BORBA FILHO quoted by PONTES, 1952-1965, p. 103-104).

Hermilo’s words had an almost immediate effect and conquered a lot of followers. On April 13, 1946, Pernambuco Students’ Theater was founded by Hermilo Borba Filho along with Gastão de Holanda, Joel Pontes, Aloísio Magalhães, Lula Cardoso Ayres, Aristóteles Soares and Ariano Suassuna, with a proposal to fight the mercantilism as well as the elite art. The group was almost entirely composed by the Law School students. Hermilo chose two plays: The Bear, by Tchékhov, and The Secret, by Ramon J. Sender. They have been translated by him and presented, without censorship, on the tables of the Law School Library. Lula Cardoso Ayres designed the scenarios and made the clothes. The critics praised it.

The presentation of these plays in other spaces was crescent: Technical Schools, Operation Centers, parks, squares, sanatoriums, factories, prisons, wherever the people was. Also, to help them during the journey of taking the theater to the people, the Naval Base of Recife built a traveling stage baptized by the group as TEP de Barraca (Tent of Pernambuco Students’ Theater). It was assembled at 13 de Maio Park and the opening day was September 18, 1948 with the plays Haja Pau, by José Moraes Pinho, and Cantam as Harpas de Sião, by Ariano Suassuna. The stage that was supposed to be travelling turned out to be a problem: it was difficult to disassemble and it took them days to do it. It ended up being abandoned.

After the debut, this new group presented two plays at the Technical School: A Sapateira Prodigiosa, by Garcia Lorca, and Rosmersholm by Ibsen, considered one of the most perfect plays in the history of TEP. Since the beginning, the group wanted to maintain a good acting, the purpose of taking the plays to the people, and the antifascist view. All this was possible due to the friendship they had either in Law School or in Hermilo’s house, where the rehearsal and heated discussions took place. The reviews were almost unanimous to approve the activities of TEP. Telga de Araújo, in her newspaper article for Folha da Manhã, on December 13, 1947 said:

[...] The people need to be artistically disciplined, without paying for boxes or cabins, seats or balconies, at exaggerated prices. What the guys from Student’s Theater are doing is something formidable […] and, in the end, they present plays for free, without benefiting any class, just benefiting the people who learn to really enjoy theater, without spending any money.

Nevertheless, the fact of being for free was one of the causes for the end of TEP activities. Since the beginning, Pernambuco Students’ Theater was maintained with monthly donations registered at a book and with the values the spectators deposited on the trays that were passed around during presentations in places other than poor neighborhoods and institutions. Other donations came from schools that lent their stages for rehearsals free of charge; from wholesale traders, from printing offices, from families (old clothes, hats…) and from the Naval Base, with the donation of the travelling stage. Even though the movement to help the students’ group was big, the donations were not enough to maintain the spectacles in poor suburban areas.

In 1948, the economic situation of TEP was very complicated, thus the groups was obliged to charge for admission tickets and, against their will, to present in Santa Isabel Theater which, for Hermilo Borba Filho quoted by Cadengue (2011), was the refuge of the middle class in Recife. It was, in the end, the refuge of Pernambuco Amateurs’ Theater, which was seen at the time as the most middle class theater one may imagine.

On May 12, 1949, they open with the play by Sófocles, Oedipus the King. In the same theater they presented: O Vento do Mundo, by Hermilo Borba Filho (Nov. 5, 1951); Otello, by Shakespeare; A Cabra Cabriola, by Hermilo, Mãe da Lua, by José de Moraes Pinho, A Caipora, by Genivaldo Wanderley (three plays in one act, on Apr. 5, 1952); and the last play of TEP, Três Cavalheiros a Rigor, also by Hermilo (Sep. 18, 1952).

In the end of 1952, Hermilo Borba Filho moved to São Paulo and the Students’ Theater, that was already fragile for financial reasons and lack of support, is extinguished. The end of Pernambuco Students’ Theater was made public by newspapers which announced the closing of its activities. Hermilo said (CADENGUE, 2011)

I couldn’t stand Pernambuco anymore due to several reasons that had nothing to do with theater. As soon as I went to São Paulo, the Students’ Theater was gone. There was nobody to keep it moving. At that time, everyone had left School already, each one was busy with their own novels, paintings, poetry, music, and the Students’ Theater had made the mistake of not attracting successors. It is a common mistake of closed groups. But our group was naturally closed. It defined such advanced ideas for the    time that nobody wanted to be close to those nuts.

Some plays presented by TEP, directed by Hermilo Borba Filho:
The Secret, by Ramón J. Sender (1946)
The Bear, by Anton Tchékhov (1946)
A Sapateira Prodigiosa, by Garcia Lorca (1947)
Rosmersholm, by Ibsen (1948)
Haja Pau, by José de Moraes Pinho (1948)
Cantam as Harpas de Sião, by Ariano Suassuna (1948)
Oedipus the King, by Sófocles (1949)
Quando Despertamos de Entre os Mortos, by Ibsen (1949)
O Vento do Mundo, by Hermilo Borba Filho (1950)
Otello, by Shaekespeare (1951)
A Cabra Cabriola, by Hermilo Borba Filho (1952)
Mãe da Lua, by José de Moraes Pinho (1952)
A Caipora, by Genivaldo Wanderley (1952)
Três Cavalheiro a Rigor, by Hermilo Borba Filho (1952).

Recife, 24 November 2011.

sources consulted

BORBA FILHO, Hermilo. Uma tentativa de teatro popular. Boletim da Cidade e do Porto do Recife, Recife, n. 9-10, [p. 74-75], jul./dez. 1943.

CADENGUE, Antonio Edson. TAP – sua cena & sua sombra: o Teatro de Amadores de Pernambuco (1941-1991). Recife: Cepe, 2011. v. 1, p. 171-17

NEWTON JÚNIOR, Carlos. Montando a barraca. Continente, Recife, ano 8, n. 94, p. 60-63, out. 2008.

PONTES, Joel. Teatro do Estudante de Pernambuco. Arquivos, Recife, n. 21/47, p. 100-117, 1952-1965.

SUPLEMENTO CULTURAL [Diário Oficial. Estado de Pernambuco], Recife, ano 9, jul. 1996. Presença viva de Hermilo Borba Filho: meio século do Teatro do Estudante de Pernambuco.

TEIXEIRA, Flávio Weinstein. Caminhos da renovação cultural no Recife (1940-50): o teatro. Clio: Revista de Pesquisa Histórica, Recife, n. 20, p. 249-273, 2002. Série História do Nordeste.

how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. O Teatro do Estudante de Pernambuco. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife.Available at:>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple.: 9 August 2009.