Director and actor Nelson Baskerville in his apartment in Aclimação, in São Paulo. Photo: Diego Rousseaux

*By Gustavo Fioratti

When he was 11 years old, Nelson Baskerville took a beating from his father for breaking a chair, and the apparent gratuitousness of the violence contained in the situation hovered, as an unknown, in the memory of the actor and director, even during his adult life. Over time, he re-signified this biographical data until he reached the edge of a conclusion.

To understand the reason for the beating, it is necessary to know that Baskerville's mother died during childbirth and that the father would have repressed the hatred until that moment. “Gradually, I understood that he didn't buy the fact that his wife had been replaced by that crooked and awkward thing that was me,” says the director, a large man with gray, messy hair. It was 17 pm, and he was having lunch at a café in the São Paulo neighborhood of Bom Retiro, next to Casa do Povo, the cultural center where he rehearses. Life, show in which he will talk about this painful episode.

This is not a solitary exercise in autobiography. On stage, six other actors expose new or old traumas that determined the directions in their trajectories. Felipe Schermann talks about an illness that affected his father; Camila Rafantti, on the birth of her daughter; Nuno Carvalho performs on the loss of 40 kilos after a separation; Hercules Morais describes the situation in which he was banned from using the swimming pool of a condominium in São Paulo, where his father worked as a janitor; and Tamirys Ohanna puts us in front of a black woman who moves from the São Paulo city of Cubatão to São Paulo, with all the political situations that change implies.

Nor is it a type of experience isolated from a broader artistic context. The action of performing the exhibition of one's own wounds was consolidated in the most recent theatrical scenario practically as a genre. Since 2010, groups such as Cia Brasileira, Kunyn and Luna Lunera from Minas have opened space for shows created with testimonies. In São Paulo, actress Janaina Leite also bet on creations modeled on the exhibition of memory. Accompanied with interest by critics and within the theatrical setting itself, autobiographical shows, says Baskerville, dramaturgically untie a knot of a temporal nature. For him, this type of creation demonstrates the ability of the present to re-signify what has already passed. “At every moment, our past becomes different”, he summarizes. The idea is that when we think of something, the recalled memory automatically becomes different.

It won't be the first time that Baskerville brings to the scene the memory of the chair episode, which had already been represented in Luis Antonio - Gabriela (2011), his longest-running show and, as he acknowledges, his most successful – the play was awarded a Shell for its direction. Returning to the question, says the director, reinforces the performative sense of the theater, of continually reworking what is kept and which, only apparently, has calmed down.

There will be, in the play, another important and impacting biographical data: the memory of the brother figure (as well as his impermanence in the face of the passage of time). With a structure that seeks the relationship of epic theater, distanced from conventional drama, Luis Antonio - Gabriela brought audiences in contact with the complex personality of Luis Antonio, the eldest of six siblings, who abused Nelson when he was a child. Then, on the way to adulthood, Luis Antonio becomes a transvestite and, abandoned by his own family, leaves for Spain, where he permanently distances himself from everyone. There was, in 2002, the false news that Gabriela (now with the name chosen for the artistic life) had died, which led one of her sisters to seek information. She was alive. There was no rapprochement between Baskerville and Gabriela, however, and she died in 2006. “The last time I saw him was when we needed him to sign a form of sharing from my father, shortly after he died, in 1984. when I realized he didn't know my father had died,” says Baskerville, using the masculine gender (another time-related impression). “Then I never saw him again. When he left home, we were left with this thing that he was hurting us, because he abused me or because in Santos we were known as the faggot family. At first, it was a relief when he was gone, and therein lies the whole sad thing about this story.”

Members of the Mungunzá company in a scene by Luis Antonio – Gabriela. Photo: Disclosure

There is a structural difference between Luis Antonio - Gabriela e Life. The new show is all made up of modules. The scenes work with a certain autonomy, but are combined in different ways, according to the results of a draw held at each session. “I started with Schopenhauer's idea of ​​an apparent randomness in life; we're not talking exactly about destiny here, because it's not as if things were already mapped out, but as if everything was mapped out at every moment as things happened”, says the director. “I wanted to create a show that could be random and at the same time rehearsed, based on my biographical experiences and those of the actors (of your company Antikatártika). The thing about biography is that I can always see life and understand it through these experiences,” he says.

Restructuring his memories on stage led Baskerville to look for an analyst as well. With the decision, the director deprives art of an entirely therapeutic role. “I thought that art would save me from my existential problems and my depression. I realized, however, that I was pushing a lot of things with my belly”, concludes the director.

Psychoanalysis on stage

There is a question of relevance for the public that sees an actor or an author on stage having to deal with their own traumas. If there are traces of psychoanalysis in works of this genre, how can the outcomes or even this perception that the present re-signifies the past be shared with spectators who often watch only one of the sessions and not its unfolding, its effects and cures? ? Wouldn't a show in transformation depend on a more continuous accompaniment by the audience?

Baskerville thinks the viewer captures "something without knowing exactly what it is." “I was never text-centric, I never transferred the total responsibility of the spectacle to the words. The attempt is to achieve something beyond the rational”, he justifies. “We have no control over the audience's absorption. What I think we can establish is 'cellular' communication, if only through a shiver, through images, sensations and situations that come to light after the audience goes home. I think the audience's primary feeling is that we're exposing ourselves and exposing our lives. That it is not fiction or something merely based on real facts. I believe that fiction, in most artistic events, has moved away from the human.”

From the meeting of all the stories of the new show, political contexts also emerged as a backdrop, from which the debate on the culture of oppression of women stands out. According to Baskerville, in the rehearsals in which the actors exposed their memories, the recurrence of stories of moral or sexual abuse suffered by the actresses who participated in the composition of the play was detected. Among these stories is also that of Taís Medeiros. “She describes how her friends' mothers forbade their daughters to play with her because her mother was separated from her husband. Today, she is 36 years old. We are talking about the 1980s”, she says.

Besides Life, Baskerville prepares an adaptation of the novel whiskey and shame, by Juliana Frank, six hands – with actresses Alessandra Negrini and Erika Puga. Once again, he is faced with issues of femininity and women's political struggles, this time through the lens of a teenager who leaves home to live on the street.

Noemi Marinho and Pascoal da Conceição in the play 1 Gaivota – É Imposível Viver sem Teatro. Photo: Lígia Jardim/Disclosure

Bad taste on stage

After the interview at the café, the director left for the Casa do Povo, where the play's cast and crew were waiting for him. In the middle of the rehearsal, he laughed at every song from the 1980s that played on the piece's score, precisely because he had been asked, minutes before, about the evident influence that his works carry from the decade marked by the use of shoulder pads and leg warmers. “I was forged in the 1980s,” he replied. “I have a background in progressive rock, lysergic drugs, Pink Floyd, The Who. I came from a time when young people gathered around a record. We would lie down and listen to Pink Floyd.”

The 1980s, for him, were also recorded as the years that transformed his life into “something else”. “I gave EAD (School of Dramatic Art in São Paulo) and, miraculously, I passed at 18. My father practically disowned me. I was an upper-middle-class boy who was suddenly working in the cafeteria at the polytechnic cram school,” he says. At EAD, it was joked that Baskerville fulfilled a quota, because he had the good looks and beauty of a soap opera heartthrob.

After graduating, the actor had a period of intense transit between theater and television. he worked on sad movie (1983), directed by Vladimir Capella, beggars' republic (1982), directed by Celso Frateschi, and Silent News (1991), by Hamilton Vaz Pereira. On TV, he participated in soap operas Stone on Stone, We were Six, The King of CattleCatfish canoe e chiquititas, among others. During the interview, however, he highlighted his professional relationship with the director and playwright Fauzi Arapi (1938-2013), who directed him in On the banks of the IpirangaPassion Risktenth street e A Lesson Too Far. “Fauzi made me freak out, he freaked me out to the point that, in 1988, I ran away to London. I think he was the first person who pointed at me and said, 'Something's wrong there,'” says Baskerville.

During this period, the director also made a living making TV commercials, of which he highlights a luxurious production for Vodka Orloff, which had an airport as a backdrop. “Thank God I can't find these commercials anywhere,” he says, embarrassed. He thinks that his professional decisions have caused ideological conflict with Arap. “I needed to survive, he knew that, but he said that the matter with which the actor works was the body and that we could not treat it as a mere commodity. No one ever demanded as much of me as he did.

Painting by Baskerville, whose visual work is dedicated to urban types and is reminiscent of Byzantine art. Photo: Personal Archive

In London, Baskerville took a break from the profession. He worked as a construction worker, wall painter and nanny, among other activities. He classifies this experience as “wonderful and very hard”, and it made him realize that he should return to Brazil (and to the theater). In 1991, he began teaching at the Teatro Escola Célia Helena, in São Paulo, where he remained for about 20 years. At the time, he wrote a play that he considers a bad experience, called Hash (1998), co-authored by Michel Fernandes and directed by Atílio Ricó. "It was a failure. It is a play that I read today and I question what led me to write it,” he says. It was also an attempt to make money that foundered. Baskerville was “blasted” from the commercial circuit in this episode.

It was at Teatro Escola Célia Helena that he learned to direct, after signing shows performed by more than 80 groups of graduates. It was also with former students of the institution that he created his company Antikatártika, with which he produced 17 x Nelson Part 1 – The Hell of Us All, an experience of putting 17 pieces by Nelson Rodrigues in the blender, with dozens of characters passing through the stage, and then Camino Real, by Tennessee Williams. “Both productions sought epic insertions into traditionally dramatic texts,” he explains. Epic theatre, in short, is a form that refuses to repeat the emotional immersion of the realist model and that allows the spectator to distance himself from the plot during its own evolution. It had expression in Russia in the post-revolution period and appears even more strongly in the theater of the German Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). The noise with Rodrigues' work happens because the author creates from an approach to melodrama. Tennessee Williams, likewise, is dedicated to realism. These are not theaters traditionally related to the epic, but to the atmosphere of psychological plots.

The research on epic theater developed by Baskerville in these two and other experiences culminates in Luis Antonio - Gabriela, which, as he recalls, “has only two dialogues in the traditional dramatic form” – one in which one character addresses another. This means that, in much of the show, the dialogue takes place directly with the audience.

This immediate contact is reinforced by conversations with the audience after the show. “(The Cuban actress and transgender, who died last year) Phedra de Córdoba came to me later, for example,” he says. “I knew her as an artist from the group Os Satyros. She saw the show, went crazy, wanted to talk to me anyway. When we touched on Luis Antonio's story, we began to receive numerous testimonies from other transvestites. One thing that caught my attention is that many of them also report that they were sexually abused,” he says.

Baskerville argues that his research methodology allows for an incisive political positioning, although indirect in his speech. “The attempt is to open a fissure without wanting to put in any kind of pre-established idea. I want the spectator to leave the show feeling exposed; I think there is a cure in the issue of exposure. I see a pastor kicking a beggar in the head, kids hitting gays with light bulbs and many other horrible things. My form of protest is via a specific route. In theater, I try to rescue the human, if we were ever human”, he provokes.

Scene from 'A Vida', in which the actors use their own biographical experiences to compose the play. Photo: Lígia Jardim/Disclosure

Aesthetically, Baskerville's plays are dirty, loaded with references, a characteristic that once again leads him to talk about the influence of the 1980s. Tackiness, bad taste and kitsch populate the scenography of his shows, in studies that excel more for excess than simplicity. “I got the bad taste from Nelson Rodrigues. He said he had an aggressive bad taste, and I share that with him”, he confides, about the author who still gave him 17 x Nelson - Part IIIf It's Not EternalIt is not love e the 7 kittens, both from 2012.

Life, “itself”, surrounds itself in bad taste, he defends. “That's why I criticize the theater that wants to be tidy. And this attitude comes from the 1980s, a decade when everything was still messy, we didn't know where we were going”, she analyzes. For the director, the 1980s outline a reconstruction of important issues that had been interrupted by the military regime and that only recently regained expression. In the 1970s, the disintegration of research circuits due to the political situation and censorship brought, in the following decade, old forms to the scene, with linear, popular narratives, although often dense. It is the case of suburban Heart, a play by Naum Alves de Souza, which Baskerville reenacted in 2015, centered on the figure of Lovemar, a woman in search of love, who is frustrated with her own romanticism when she relates to a teacher, a pastor, a singer and a truck driver.

The recognition, by critics, of the meticulousness with which Baskerville creates his shows does not always match, however, when the subject is the text. In a review for The Shooting Stars in My Sky Are Made of Enemy Bombs (2013), whose text links young people's testimonies about armed conflicts, the critic Luis Fernando Ramos, for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, points out that “weaknesses in dramaturgy are not supplied by the inventiveness of the generated scenes and the performance of the actors”, for example.

motorcycle diaries

In his personal life, Baskerville is a pop enthusiast, which is reflected even in his paintings (yes, he maintains a great production parallel to the theater). His paintings are populated by figures who live on the fringes of bourgeois and aristocratic society, species of demons lost in urban environments, all of them forged by traits that the comics inherited from expressionism, full of imperfections, stains and indiscreet distortions.

Psychedelia and rock seem, all the time, to run behind the director's creations, like an irrigation of the unconscious. It's not just Pink Floyd, The Who and The Cure that he carries in the baggage of his references and training. Recently, the movie Easy Rider started to make even more sense. Baskerville bought a motorbike and started to make long trips around Latin America, in the company of an old friend from the stage, the actor Jairo Mattos, whom he met during the season of Silent News, in Rio in the 1990s.

Baskerville is a diplomatic subject, says Mattos, “he excels at dialogue more than conflict”, and his apparent lack of interest in elegance hides an organized and methodical universe. Until 2015, he wore glasses patched with electrical tape. Actress Aldine Müller, who starred in suburban heart, protested the sloppiness and presented him with two models. One of them is the same one Baskerville still uses today. It has short diameter lenses, which gives it the appearance of an intemperate Sigmund Freud. The other pair of glasses he lost.

Mattos says that Bakerville insisted on buying a Harley Davidson so they could hit the road, but that he was gradually convinced that a BMW was the best option. Once the exchange had been made, the journeys began. One of them went to Patagonia, with stretches of up to ten hours without a stop. “He is brave, agreed to make the trip without having any experience and passed the test well; this is a very hard trip and with big differences in temperature”, says the friend, who has the project of transforming the trips into a TV show.

Among the countless stories he tells that would yield a reality show about two biker uncles crazy for partying and landscapes, Mattos remembers the episode of a 80 km/hour wind. The road they took in Argentina had, at various points, altars with images of Gauchito Gil, a mixture of mythological and religious figures popular in the country. Mattos says that he stopped at one of these altars to ask for the wind to decrease and guarantees that his request was granted half an hour later. Perhaps it is the biggest clash of vision between the two friends: for Mattos, Baskerville is too skeptical and, therefore, he has never confirmed his roadmate's version to anyone. “On the contrary, he denies that it ever happened.”

According to Fernando Fecchio, who Baskerville directed in The fridge, a grotesque play written by the Argentine Copi (1939-1987) and whose protagonist is a man confronted with a lonely life, the director “has a lot of love for his work, he gets very involved with people and opens a very frank dialogue with the actors and the entire team, which in general is always the same”, he says. “This enriches the work a lot. Rigor ends up appearing as a consequence, because everyone gets infected”, he praises.

For Aldine Müller, patience is an undeniable quality of the director. “Nelson is an actor. That’s why, unlike other directors, who just pass on to the actor what they imagine of the work but don’t exactly lead them to the result they expect, Nelson will guide you, propose exercises and patiently specify what he wants”, it says.

In Fecchio's testimony there is a quality that perhaps runs through all of Baskerville's works. In his career, not only as an artist, but as a teacher, he brought together people, genres, aesthetics, situations. From chaos and restlessness, it pulls a thread.


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