April 6, 2006

Sao Paulo’s “open sewer” becomes a stage

By Fernanda Ezabella

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - If all the world's a stage, a
Brazilian theater company sees Sao Paulo's filthy, stinking
River Tiete as the perfect venue for a play about the bleak
life of a poor working family.

The Vertigem company is putting on its a latest performance
using a flotilla of boats and the riverbank as its stage. The
audience tags along in its own boat.

The Tiete, which cuts through the north of the world's
third-largest city, is considered an open sewer by the people
who live there.

The lanes of a highway run on either bank, choked with
cars, buses and trucks. Warehouses, factories, shopping malls
and shantytowns lie alongside the road.

The water is an oily stretch of garbage, debris and
industrial pollution. It is also on the route into Sao Paulo
from the international airport, giving tourists and residents
alike a glimpse of the grittier side of Brazil.

For Vertigem, it is the perfect backdrop for its play
"BR-3" about the life and hard times of a poor working family.

"The city's relationship to the river is one of aversion.
They want to pass fast and ignore it. But the river shows the
dirt we produce," said actor Sergio Siviero. "We tell a story
about an unknown Brazil in a unknown place."

"BR-3" mixes suspense, nudity and even a hallucinogenic
drugs trip to tell the story of a family who move from the
construction of Brasilia, the modernistic capital, in the 1950s
to the Sao Paulo working-class neighborhood of Brasilandia, to
the jungle city of Brasileia in remote Acre state.

The audience is made up of 60 people. They follow the
performance along the river for six miles in a three-deck boat,
passing under five big bridges that have none of the elegance
of those of London or Paris.

The 13 actors use five small boats. They also perform
scenes on the river bank, barrages, and big drainage pipes.

And the hotter the night is, the worse the smell of the
water is. Over 2 1/2 hours, spectators see plastic bottles
floating in the brown waters along with plastic foam and car
tires. Huge Carnival sculptures are part of the official

The theater group, which has previously staged plays in an
abandoned hospital and a prison, took measures to keep the crew
healthy, including as vaccinations for hepatitis, malaria and

One crew member fell into the river at the end of the play
last weekend. He went to hospital and doctors put him under

"It was so disgusting," said audience member Mariana
Galante, 25. "The guy stayed there, under the water, for a few
seconds, and then appeared so stunned.

"But apart from that, it was an amazing experience."