Time Out S„o Paulo: Gerald Thomas' Interview

The Rio-born enfant terrible of Brazilian theatre was in town in July 2011 with his off-the-wall production, Gargolios

Brazilian avant-garde theatre director Gerald Thomas was back on home territory in July, staging his off-the-wall performance Gargůlios at SESC†Vila Mariana. With visual references to the 9/11 attacks, a cast dressed mostly as super heroes, a naked woman suspended from the ceiling and dripping blood on the stage, all set to a soundtrack played by Thomas himself on stage on a bass guitar, it was what can only be described as a roller-coaster ride of a performance, that left audiences in S„o Paulo somewhere between shocked, delighted and utterly confused. Kathleen McCaul caught up with the director backstage after the performance.

I found that play quite difficult to understand.

ĎI donít understand sir, I donít understand. Because if I did understand, I would say, I understand sir.í Youíve got a whole chorus there, devised by [Led Zeppelin bassist] John Paul Jones about the fact that you donít understand.

So it doesnít matter if people donít understand?

Of course not. This is not linear theatre with a beginning, middle and end. Whoever gets whatever, gets whatever. Iím not really keen on discussing the virginity of my daughter or the price of milk. If [audiences] can fish out whatever they fish, whether itís a goldfish, a trout or a fried fish and chips, then itís all right.

The reaction from the audience here in S„o Paulo was great Ė a standing ovation.

Iíve been getting standing ovations in S„o Paulo for the last thirty years. I was booed in Rio in 2003, and I had to show my bum. I got arrested for that.

Do you find the audiences different in S„o Paulo and Rio?

Rio is very snobbish, much like New York and London, with cynical audiences. S„o Paulo really wants to devour culture. Rio still thinks itís the capital of Brazil Ė it hasnít been the capital for fifty, sixty years.

You left S„o Paulo, and the theatre, a few years ago. Why did you leave?

Iíd had enough of theatre. Iíd done 85 pieces around the world, in 15 different countries. Iíd worked with the best and the worst and I just really wanted to quit.

What sparked your return to theatre?

Addiction. Pure addiction. I had had no intention of continuing, but somehow theatre, and performing arts in general, are addictive and I just couldnít keep away from it. So I formed the London Dry Opera Company.

How do people react to you in Brazil?

When you become a myth Ė like I am in Brazil Ė people donít leave you alone. They come up to you in restaurants and feel entitled to ask you whatever questions they want Ė the most inappropriate questions, the most personal questions they could possibly ask you.

Whatís the most personal question youíve been asked?

ĎWhatís the size of your dick?í All you want to do is have a private dinner with somebody, but you understand that this is part of the agreement. If you are there, then you might as well be photographed and appear in the social columns the next day. Thank God itís not the same in New York or London, where Philip Glass can walk the streets and no one gives a flying fuck. We ride the subways and no one cares. I love that, I really love that.

Many of your experiences from 9/11 helped you to write this play. Do you think audiences here get all these references?

This play wasnít made for Brazil. Itís not a customised play. But this is our reality in New York and London Ė we live in a world of terror. I was there, at ground zero, for 21 days. I donít actually remember what I saw live or what Iíve seen 100 billion times repeated on television, from all the different cameras and angles. I donít remember, but I do know I was on anxiety pills and mood regulators for ten years because of the post- traumatic stress syndrome I suffered.

Thereís a lot of violence and rage in the play. Was it a cathartic experience to write it? Did it help you get over what youíve experienced?

Iím enraged with the youth of today, with their iPods and iPads, completely numbed by everything else. Of course I have an iPod, I have an iPad, I have an i-everything, but Iím not numbed by them. I look. Iím addicted to news. Iíve got CNN on 24 hours a day. I am incensed about the fact that no one really gives a shit about what is going on. In Brazil no†one knows whatís going on in the streets of Damascus. I understand that Brazil devours itself, it devours its own telenovelas. Brazilians care about Brazil. Brazilians care about Brazilian pop culture.

So why do you think youíre so popular here?

Because I stand out, thatís all. They also respect the fact that there is a Brazilian out there representing Brazil in the modern world. I am very proud of that as well.

Anything else youíd like to say to Time Out S„o Paulo?

I didnít know there was a Time Out S„o Paulo. Iíll go to the newsstand and get one.