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The life of a Brazilian musical theater actress

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Graduated in acting and music, Bibi Cavalcante is a Brazilian actress that worked in many musicals such as Carrossel and Isaura Garcia. She has also composed the original soundtrack of the famous Brazilian soap opera Amor de Mãe. Today, she gave Her Campus an interview about her career.  

Interviewer: What is the hardest part of being a musical theater actress?

Bibi: I believe that the hardest part is the need to be good at three fields: acting, dancing and singing. You are not required to dance in all musicals, dancing is not my strongest skill, so I usually go for acting and singing. But in auditions, there will always be dancing, it is very rare when there isn’t because those are the three things an actor has to do. You have to be well prepared for dancing, as well as for acting, so I think that’s the hardest part. When you have an audition, the dancing test often comes last, but for me, who isn’t good at dancing for example, when the dance test comes first, I am almost immediately eliminated. 

I feel that is the hardest part, you have to have a complex preparation, just acting isn’t enough, you have to act, dance and sing. So, I guess that the preparation is the toughest part. Being able to take dancing, acting, and singing lessons, we have to do a lot. Even financially it is a bigger investment, so that is the hardest part. 

Interviewer: Do you have any pre or post-show rituals?

Bibi: I have the vocal warm-up, which is a very basic part. But, depending on the musical you are in, this happens in groups. Usually, it is the pianist or the orchestra conductor that leads everyone on the vocal warm-up.

However, a particular ritual that I very much adore is the dressing room one. Doing my make-up and, if there is any, putting on the wig. It is a ritual from the moment I arrive at the dressing room, it is time to forget about life. So as soon as I close the door, I slowly begin to immerse myself in the universe of the story that I’m telling and in the character I’m about to play. Even taking off the make-up, for me, is a ritual. 

I enjoy doing it calmly, I hate doing my make-up in a rush. I am one of those actresses who arrive early at the dressing room because I like being on my own there.

So, that is my ritual: undress the person Bibi e become the artist Bibi, available to get in touch with the character I am playing. 

Interviewer: As a woman, what are the barriers encountered in the theater industry?

Bibi: There are tons of barriers. I believe there are only a few women as musical directors, there is a predominance of men in that function. And because of that, the instrumentalists themselves are used to a man bandmaster, for example. 

Because we are women, we have to show them that we are extremely good to show some credibility. On the first big musical direction I ever did, I had to deal with a small orchestra of about 12 musicians. They looked at me and thought I wasn’t the musical director; I was young, pleasant, etc, I hadn’t had the serious posture of a maestro. 

With that, I noticed that I had a lot to show them, the arrangements of the songs I wrote were very good, very well written, and I always was way more careful than if I was working with a man — considering that because we are women, we have to prove that we are way too good to gain some respect. So, there always is a “can she really conduct this?” doubt. As a musical director, this is challenging. Doing what you are supposed to do is not enough, you have to be really good at what you do in order to be respected. That is changing, but we, as women, feel pressured. 

There are tons of functions in the theater that are mostly done by a man. Such as microphonist, I only know two women in that role, the rest are men. But audio is an area that is growing. I also believe that there are those barriers that when they have to choose between a man and a woman, they always pick the man — we feel that. 

As an actress, there is a matter with characters that change depending on your age. There is the vocal part: if we don’t take care of ourselves, the tendency is losing, for example, high pitches. We need to have strong maintenance

And there is harassment. That, unfortunately, still happens. We have quick changes, which, sometimes, leaves us in certain situations — I am not saying vulnerable, because that is a common circumstance. In this musical [Isaura Garcia], for example, I was worried because the band was placed behind the stage and I didn’t want them to see me change. So, I asked the stage crew to place me in a more hidden spot so that I could change, because I had this feeling that if the musicians saw me, they would lose all their respect for me. But I was wrong, I had such a good relationship with them that when I had to do a super quick change in front of them, I realized that they all had turned away to not see me and not make me feel uncomfortable. So, sometimes there are a lot of nice people. 

Interviewer: What was the most complex part you have ever played?

Bibi: It was in Isaura Garcia, the musical. Actually, I played small roles and there were two actresses that played Isaura, the young one and the older one. Turns out that the actress who played young Isaura left the show and I took the part, so it was hard. I had to memorize everything really fast and prepare to get on the scene in a few days. And it is a very intense persona, emotively speaking, she had fights with her parents and husband, and there were psychological abuse scenes.  

And she existed in real life. It is more complex because of it. Playing a character from fiction means you can create whatever you want, but playing a huge radio star that actually existed, that had a personality, mannerisms, ways to talk (an Italian accent from Brás). So I had to sing with a voice that assembled hers, I couldn’t do it with my regular voice. I had to have that Brás’ accent, which I don’t usually do. 

At the same time, I was the spectacle’s musical director, so being on scene 100% of the time was nerve-racking because sometimes I heard something that the musicians were doing and I wasn’t able to check it out. I had to turn the musical director off and be there, giving it all for the character. 

So I believe it was complex as a result of all of these reasons: she was an actual living person that I had to honor because she was wonderful. Also, I had two functions at the same time, and for the fact that I had very little time to prepare for the role. But it was nice and lovely. 

Interviewer: How do you deal with audition frustrations?

Bibi: It is a bother because we never get used to it. We have to get used to receiving no for an answer, but we always create an expectation, especially when the test is good. I read somewhere, I think it was on an American website, it taught you how to get ready for an audition and in the end, after the test, it said to go get ice cream. It is very tense going through it, so every time I left an audition, I went to get some ice cream in order to relax instead of leaving and immediately going to do anything else. Leave and give yourself a gift, because it is a lot of pressure and attention and you have to give something to yourself afterward: “congratulations. You went through all this pressure, you did it and you finished it. Now it is not on your hands anymore”. 

I have already been in the casting bank, so I know that sometimes the actor is amazing, but it doesn’t fit in with the group. In Carrossel, The Musical, we got tons of people that we really wanted and we noticed that one didn’t belong with everyone else, so it is a profile thing. It isn’t because you were well prepared or not, you are good or not. The feeling that we have is always rejection, but I always try to think about that.

I only get sad when I do a bad audition. When I do a great test, even though I didn’t get picked, I don’t get that frustrated because it was a good test. But when I feel that it was bad, then I get actually bad. But it is an effort that we have to make every time, you don’t suddenly learn how to deal with it. We want to be accepted. In our whole life, we want to be accepted everywhere, from school years in which we want to be accepted in a friend group, to our profession. I always try to think that if the test was good, I was not chosen because I did not fit in — I try to see it like that, and not because I am bad. 

I’m doing a lot of casting for advertisements. And recently a friend of mine told me a really great thing. After the audition, you forget about it, and delete it from your mind. So, if you get good news, great, you are winning. But it is so rare, since you are one in a million, especially in ads. I think that is the best advice I have ever gotten after the ice cream one.

Interviewer: And finally, how did you begin as a musical theater actress?

Bibi: It is funny. I got into it by accident, since I graduated first as an actress, I already sang and played, but nothing professional. I have always loved theater, but I didn’t like musical theater, because I considered all of it very fake and I also didn’t like the talking and singing stuff, I thought all of it was corny.

Then, I began music college. I got into musical theater because of music, not because of the theater or even as an actress. I wanted to work with Fernanda Maia, a musical director from São Paulo from Núcleo Experimental, so badly. I have always wanted to work with her. I passed the test to work with her on a juvenile play, but at the time I got another job and wouldn’t have time to rehearse. So I asked her if I could be her assistant, for free, and she accepted. So I started working as an assistant to the musical director.

And what happened in all the jobs I’ve worked as an assistant or musical director? I’ve always ended up playing a role. In Carrossel, I was the stand for Teacher Helena since the beginning, so if the actress was sick or something like that I got in, because I have the profile, I am an actress, I am good with kids, I was always there — basically I was the perfect person to be the stand. After that, there was another show that I was called to act on in its first season, but I had another job. But in the second season, the actress that got into my place wasn’t able to do it, so they called me and, since at the time I was available, I did it. 

And I began to like musicals, I began watching some that were different from the ones I was used to and I got into it like that, as a stand-in. I don’t think I have ever done a musical in which I was just acting.

And it is crazy because everyone told me that I should do musicals since I sing, play and act and I told them that it didn’t fit with me. Only after many years did I get into it, but by somewhere else.  

The article above was edited by Fernanda Miki Tsukase.

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Isa Mucilo

Casper Libero '26

Studying journalism at Cásper Líbero College, I am amused by the culture world- such as movies, books, tv shows and theatre. I aim to inspire girls to develop the same passion I feel for those things by my articles and words.