Theater vs Pandemic: Get to Know the Opera Group Who Came Up With a New Play Model

"New aesthetic experiences for a new audience, by new artists!" this is the motto of the Núcleo Universitário de Ópera, better known as NUO, which was created by the conductor, director, playwright and theatrical producer Paulo Maron (59), in 2004, with young students of theater and lyrical singing with a university degree, coming from different schools and universities. Knowing that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for these young people, NUO aims to stimulate the development of their potential.

Unsplash/ Peter Lewicki

The idea of ​​the name is an allusion to Grotowski's theater-laboratory because what is done scenically is far from traditional opera and is an experiment. Paulo Maron affirms the importance of using another term, a term linked to the theater "because what we do, essentially, is theater. A theater that involves music and spoken text, which are closely linked".

With more than 20 successful productions in 16 years of existence, NUO has performed in theaters of great importance such as: Teatro São Pedro, Maria Della Costa, Memorial da América Latina, Teatro Anhembi Morumbi and SESC Bom Retiro, and has won two prizes followed by Guia da Folha - Public Award for Best Opera in São Paulo in 2014 (with A Ópera do Mendigo) and in 2015 (with Polly - A Ópera do Mendigo - Part II).

In 2020, for the first time, the group presented a new way of doing theater: online. The play “Trial by Jury” premiered on October 17th and is available from 7 pm on, every Wednesday and Saturday. The virtual entrance is acquired by WhatsApp and, after receiving the link, the viewer has 24 hours to watch the show, which has become a 70-minute hybrid between cinema and theater. The price of the ticket depends on the opinion of the public, who pays the amount they think is fair.

The changes impact not only the ones who watch, but also the actors, directors and preparers. According to Paulo Maron, the group has a long history of acting in physical theater and had to adapt themselves for the online show. "Our group spent 7 years performing at Teatro São Pedro, an opera house, and then, when we started doing a different work from the traditional one, we occupied the circuit theaters, until we had our own space, Espaço Núcleo, there we can do everything our way".

  1. 1. From theaters to Youtube

    At the end of last year, Paulo started doing a new dramaturgy of a small comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, which would become the Trial by Jury. However, when trials began, the pandemic began too. "We came to the conclusion that we would have to stop everything and I started thinking about how we were going to continue. We did some experiments with filming, a laboratory that involved theater and music, based on sketches that I wrote. We posted on YouTube and, from there, the idea of ​​a filmed spectacle came. I adapted the play for the screen and the challenges started, how to gather several characters that could not meet because of the social distancing". 

    Paulo's solution was to set up a film set at Espaço Núcleo and call each of the actors on a different day, and then assemble and edit the film.

    For Guilherme Ennes (27), an actor at NUO and majoring in music with an emphasis on lyrical singing at USP, Paulo was essential in the process. "Paulo didn't let us get discouraged because of social distancing and proposed that we continue with the production, that we were going to debut on stage in June, in a recorded way. For me, it was something totally new, because I had never acted for a camera or went through some similar process. Our rehearsals were all online, each one in your home and getting along with the squares on the video call screen".

    Guilherme also sad that despite of the difficult time, everyone learned several things and also came up with a way to understand the new virtual place, "we created an artistic process that can be seen all over the world, this is a very cool point of this type of production". Even so, the actor highlights the importance of the face-to-face meeting.

    "I do not think it is ok that physical presence does not happen during this process, because I think it is very potent when our bodies are related in the same space, but the health care of everyone certainly speaks louder in this time that we are living. At the same time, I dealt with audiovisual tools that I think I wouldn’t be involved with anytime soon if it weren't for the pandemic".

    Regarding the physical composition of the actors, Marília Velardi (54), who has a degree in Physical Education and acts as a body trainer at NUO, says that "it is mainly through the body that we compose the characters and the work, not through an intellectual creation. Over the months, the body work leads people to feel the essence of the piece until the scenic marking is achieved".

    Because of this, Marília, who is also a professor at USP, explains that the work was hampered by social distancing, but not interrupted. "Practices were always done in our space, with proximity and interaction, which is sorely needed. For the setting up of the Trial by Jury, I worked with the actors to become aware that the body is still alive and to remember the importance of the feet and legs, even when seated ".

    In addition, she explained the importance of the actors perceiving the environment in which they are, "not only the space of the camera, the small squares, but everything it reaches" so they can work, then, with improvisations and displacements. "I worked a lot with the idea of ​​perception and recognition of the whole body. The exploration of small and large space. Being able to project more than one part of the body".

    Another member of the NUO's body of actors, Angélica Menezes (39), who is a musician, singer and voice teacher, says that she has been in the group for 10 years and has totally felt the difference of carrying out the process at a distance.

    "We recorded one at a time. This, for us, is very strange. We were used to being together, the basis of the work is the contact and the energy of the other. It is a collective work that depends on the look, the elements and references that we get while seeing each other".

    Even so, the singer says it was necessary to accept the situation and move on from that. "We adapted more than our daily life at NUO, our life has changed. It was necessary to accept the existence of the different, which is not bad, but opens up new possibilities. The work goes far beyond the body and the voice, it has the scenery, light, camera angle".

    Despite the challenges, Angélica claims to be happy with the final result of the “Trial by Jury” and feels that the group "embraced" the idea of ​​the show, even though, at the beginning, they all were afraid and waiting for the face-to-face return.

  2. 2. A look at the production

    The story of the production addresses, in a comical and timeless way, Edwina's homosexual relationships, in the original Edwin, who marries some women at a time when same-sex relationships were prohibited. Because of this, Edwina is prosecuted. If you want to know how the trial closes, you must send a message to +55 11 99447-2106 and ask for your link to watch the show. 

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The article above was edited by Helena Leite.

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