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by Cleiton Echeveste*

For a few years now, since 2017, I have been regularly present at the Paideia International Festival of Theatre for Children and Youth: A Window to Utopia, or simply, Paideia Festival, in São Paulo. But I dare say that rarely has the name given to the Festival made so much sense as in its 16th edition, which took place between September 21 and 26. On the verge of a historic presidential election in Brazil and after the Covid-19 pandemic that still haunts us and that not only isolated us but also made it impossible to fully hold the Paideia Festival and so many other on-the-ground arts festivals, this edition was marked by the power of being together in person, for a highly qualified exchange of ideas, impressions, feelings and emotions that overflowed in these six days. I write this account as a witness of this celebration, which thematic axis – “girls and women in the theater” – directly addresses issues that concern and involve me as an artist and researcher dedicated to investigating gender and sexuality in theater for children and youth.

I write from a privileged place, as someone who could – as an artist, researcher, representative of CBTIJ/ASSITEJ Brazil and as a declared fan – fully experience the event. Paideia, the Núcleo Jovem de Vivência Teatral Paideia (an open arts education theatre program for young people led by Paideia) and a large group of friends, family and collaborators – impossible to name them individually – offered us a memorable experience that restores the very meaning of the celebration that is a core element in the word “festival”.

It would be impossible to detail each of the shows, each of the meetings or workshops, each meal, each toast, because that would require a reflection of much greater length than I could produce now. Making a brief report of the activities is one tough task, but faced with the challenge I let myself be guided by emotion and by the reverberations of what I experienced.

Before pointing out what for me stood out as key moments of this edition, it is worth naming the presences that confirm the relevance of the Paideia Festival in the national and international contexts: from ASSITEJ International, Bebê de Soares (Vice-President), Prof. Dr. Paulo Merisio (Executive Committee Advisor / PPGAC/UNIRIO) and Marisa Gimenez Cacho (former General Secretary); from the Network of Brazilian International Festivals of Arts for Children and Youth (FIBRA), Michele Menezes (Mostra Espetacular); Prof. Dr. Flavio Desgranges (UDESC and USP); representatives of the Regional Centers of CBTIJ/ASSITEJ Brazil: Luciana Comin and Marconi Arap (TECA Teatro – Salvador/Bahia), Elis Ferreira (Teatro da Pedra – São João Del-Rei/Minas Gerais) and Paulo Merisio and Ricardo Augusto (Trupe de Truões – Uberlândia/Minas Gerais); representatives of supporting and partner institutions: State Secretariat of Culture and Creative Economy, Municipal Secretariat of Culture, Goethe Institut São Paulo, Consulates of the Netherlands and Switzerland, Mahle Institute and Sesc São Paulo.

In a program with 15 shows, 4 workshops, performances, process openings, lectures, open round tables, reflection tables and debates, with the presence of artists, researchers and managers from Holland, Switzerland, Portugal, Mexico and Argentina, besides 7 states in Brazil (São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul), the Festival was spread over 5 cultural spaces in the South side of São Paulo.

My first major highlight goes to the program on Friday, Oct. 23rd. The day began with the final meeting of a three-day workshop led by director Liesbeth Coltof and playwright Dennis Meyer, from Holland. Bringing together Festival participants and members of Paideia Theatre Companhia and the Núcleo Jovem, the workshop approached the representation of the girl and the woman in youth theatre, promoting a deep and rich reflection on ancestry, memory and intergenerationality, and also on the struggles, achievements and challenges of the feminine in society. Next, the Swiss Margrit Gysin, a long-time Paideia partner, brought the delicate “The Enchanted Goat”, a solo that overflows with affection and good humor, dealing with vulnerability and care for our planet. Soon after, with an inspired performance by Sandra Vargas, from Sobrevento Group, the Festival presented “Terra” (“Earth”), a scenic poem for early childhood, which evokes the memory, the affective ties and the love that constitute us. Conducted by theater critic Dib Carneiro Neto, a reflection table was also held on this day, with the participation of Amauri Falseti (Paideia), Luciana Comin (TECA Teatro/Bahia), Omar Alvarez (Argentina), Paulo Merisio, and Poliana Bicalho (Petiz Festival/Bahia). The theme – Regional Perspectives of Theater for Children and Youth – unfolded in reports and discussions about public policies for the sector and the desire that meetings like this one generate and strengthen permanent forums about the arts for children and youth. In the evening, the solo performance “Almarrotada“, with Melina Marchetti, conquered the audience by literally pouring onto the stage of Paideia stories and desires of women placed in the role of caregivers and opened windows on their conquest of protagonism. The day ended with a panel sensitively mediated by writer Gabriela Romeu, with the participation of Liesbeth Coltof, Marisa Gimenez Cacho, Melina Marchetti and Sandra Vargas, which brought other looks about the place(s) of the girl and the woman in theatre.

It is impossible not to highlight the program presented by Paideia itself – with the premiere of the show “The Girl from Uruçuca” (“A Menina de Uruçuca“) and the process opening of “Living Freedom” (“Para Viver a Liberdade“) – and by the Núcleo Jovem de Vivência Teatral Paideia – with the new staging of “If This Street Were…” (“Se Essa Rua Fosse…“). – vibrant examples of the creative and pedagogical power of this Santo Amaro based Theater School and Company. Finally, Saturday evening, Oct. 24th, featured the premiere of the new production of “A Boxer’s Heart” (“O Coração de um Boxeador“), kicking off the company’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Directed by Amauri Falseti and written by German playwright Lutz Hübner, the play thrilled the audience of the Paulo Eiró Theatre by reintroducing Hübner’s award-winning dramaturgy and paying homage to 83-year-old actor Flávio Porto, who played the boxer Leo for many years.

My last highlight goes to the show chosen to close this year’s artistic program, “Departures”, (“Partidas“), by Teatro da Pedra, from São João Del-Rei, Minas Gerais. Based on four real stories of divided lives, stitched together by songs from the Brazilian folk and country music songbook, the collective from Minas Gerais made a moving celebration of life. At the end, director Juliano Pereira’s speech reverberated in the packed audience: “Art will help us overcome barbarism.” A golden closing to the Paideia Festival!

Curated and directed by Aglaia Pusch and artistically directed by Amauri Falseti, artists, educators and managers for whom I have immense admiration and respect, the Paideia Festival brilliantly met the challenge proposed in its own name: it opened not one, but many windows to utopia. When our dreams are systematically sabotaged and neglected by those in power and by a reality that may seem insurmountable, Paideia reinstalls hope and the perspective of a better future. Even though the word “resistance” has become commonplace among theatre makers, with the Paideia Festival it is re-signified from so many perspectives that it is impossible not to be enchanted and want to engage in one way or another. To those who have not yet experienced this, one of the most important international art festivals for children and young people in Brazil, we invite you to the next edition.

As Aglaia Pusch states, “Our main motive is to have a great celebration of theatre where hope and the strength to continue are served as food for our continuity. This great fellowship inspires us to always seek better ways to create theatre for children and youth.”

I can testify that these goals have been achieved with remarkable success in 2022. May the current partners and supporters of the Festival be joined by many others, so that this successful trajectory may continue in full. Let the 17th edition come. The party continues and I have already confirmed my presence. Long live the Paideia Festival!

* Cleiton Echeveste is an actor, playwright, director and researcher with the Pandorga Theatre Company, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Performing Arts (PPGAC/UNIRIO); he is the president of the Board of CBTIJ/ASSITEJ Brasil.

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