SAO PAULO – Live theater has returned to the Brazilian metropolis of Sao Paulo, although a series of measures have been put in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection.
The most recent production of Brazilian company Bendita Trupe is an original adaption of 17th-century English playwright Ben Jonson’s “Volpone,” a satirical comedy that has been re-imagined for the coronavirus era.
It is being performed at a parking lot in Brazil’s largest city for an audience of no more than 20 people, each of whom observes the actors from inside enclosed, transparent plastic cabins that encircle the stage.
Such is life under the current “new normal” in Sao Paulo, where there have been 315,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 13,500 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to the latest tally.
The play is the first to be staged in that southeastern metropolis after a more than seven-month, pandemic-triggered hiatus.
Initially to have premiered to an audience of 350 people, the sudden emergence of the coronavirus crisis triggered changes in the play’s production, presentation and even the text of the adaptation itself, whose title was changed from “Volpone” to “Protocolo Volpone, Um Classico em Tempos Pandemicos” (Volpone Protocol: A Classic in the Pandemic Era), director Johana Albuquerque told EFE.
With its unprecedented format, Bendita Trupe is reinventing how theater is viewed and inviting spectators to witness Jonson’s satirical take on the sins of 17th-century London society from inside their own particular bubble.
“We want to show there are theater prototypes, models, that are viable prior to the arrival of a (COVID-19) vaccine,” Albuquerque said.
Besides the rigorous health protocols in place to guarantee spectators’ safety, the actors take the stage wearing masks, microphones and even small bottles of alcohol gel hand sanitizer.
The pandemic “has changed everything,” and today “we have a series of procedures adapted for the performances,” the director said.
Watching theater under Brazil’s “new normal” can be a strange experience for spectators, according to Albuquerque, although she said that once they get past their first impression, they immerse themselves in the play.
England was suffering from a bubonic plague epidemic when Jonson’s play was performed for the first time in 1606, yet the focus of the work was not the illness but the lust and greed of London society.
Those three elements now take on new meaning in “Protocolo Volpone,” which sets out to tell the same classic story “from a more contemporary perspective” and addresses “what’s happening in Brazil and the various viruses that are affecting us,” Albuquerque said.
Brazil, home to 212 million inhabitants, ranks second worldwide after the United States in the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 (158,456) and third in the amount of confirmed cases (5.46 million) behind only the US and India.