A Short History of the Best Theaters We Encountered
CAMPINAS – Municipal Theater with all the requisites for any production. The stage was quite ample, suitable for large theater companies. All sorts of arrangements for scenery and backdrops, magnificent dressing rooms, lighting to meet any need. It had perfect acoustics, with its zinc curtain to cut off the area overhead for concerts. There was a loading area in the back of the stage, for transport of pianos and other heavy equipment.
This theater doesn’t exist today. It was demolished for reasons of public safety. In its last years, cracks had appeared, compromising its structure.
ARARAQUARA – Municipal Theater, perfect with all the characteristics of a great performance hall, and with one innovation we found only in this theater. There was a mechanism under the stage floor which allowed it to be moved, either tilted toward the front or level.
From information received from Doctor Agenor Pereira, who lived for many years in Araraquara, this theater was demolished for no good reason, and against the will of the people, because it was the pride of the city.
The reason alleged was that the theater had rotten beams or worms in the woodwork. There were large protests in the city, because a few wormy pieces of wood didn’t justify destroying a theater of that stature.
The site remained vacant for many years, and later the municipal court was built there. Another municipal theater was constructed a few years later, in a different location.
GUARATINGUETÁ – Home of the ex-President of the Republic, Rodrigues Alves, (1848-1919), successor to Campos Sales. He was also President of the State of São Paulo (the title used in those days for the Governor). Elected in the second round as President of the Republic, he died in 1919 before taking office.
The Municipal Theater was constructed during his term as Governor of the State of São Paulo. It also had the requisites of a good theater, though without the same luxury and a little old and run down.
RIBERÃO PRETO – Dom Pedro II Theater. It wasn’t municipal, but rather privately owned. It was constructed at the end of the golden age of coffee. It was the main tourist attraction of the city. Many operettas, lyric operas and revues were presented there. It was very appropriate for musical concerts. This theater, of incomparable beauty and luxury, had an extraordinary lighting system. A curtain that is a veritable work of art. But this theater has been unused for several years, according to the masters thesis of Professor Doctor Maria Elísia Borges (professor of art history at UNAERP and of art education at EESG Doctor Tomas Alberto Whatelly in Riberão Preto). Thesis presented at the post-graduate school of social sciences of Fundação Escola de Socioloia e Política de São Paulo, an institution connected with the University of São Paulo, to obtain the degree of master of science, defended on August 17, 1983.
In this work, she writes:
“At the time of the coffee crisis, there began in 1928 the construction of the last artistic edifice originating in the coffee business. This was the Dom Pedro II Theater, constructed under the auspices of the Paulista Beer Company. The plans were prepared in the engineering office of Doctor Pujol of São Paulo.
“The painter Dakir Parreiras (1894-1967) was commissioned to create the stage curtain entitled “Glorification of Dom Pedro II.” Since this curtain is no longer in existence, we present its description, published in the newspaper A Cidade on August 13, 1969, according to which Dom Pedro II is found in the foreground, seated on a throne, with the crown lying on a base at his side.
“The symbolic figures of Poetry, Music and Painting form a semi-circle around him. In the background, connected with Dom Pedro II, are figures of History and Country. Above are Princess Isabel and the counselors, and behind them a view of Corcovado, of Rio de Janeiro.
“The opening of the Dom Pedro II Theater took place on October 8, 1930, with the performance of the Clara Weiss Company, according to A Cidade of that day.
“The Council for the Defense of Historical, Artistic and Tourist Patrimony of the State (CONDEPHAT) studied the possible demolition of this eclectic building, which represented the final stages of a historic period, important for the city.
“The study was archived in 1973, according to architect Carlos Lemos. In 1980, the Dom Pedro II Theater was partially burned, and, although many public initiatives have been mobilized by the community for its preservation and restoration, nothing concrete is being realized.” [footnote: Borges, María Elísia, Painting in the “Coffee Capital,” its history and evolution during the period of the First Republic, Sao Paulo, 1983]
Apparently the theater has been closed since 1973, and unused since 1983, when a fire destroyed its interior including the curtain as well as the roof. Little survived of the interior of the building. The exterior, however, was almost untouched, and remains intact, but the theater is abandoned. [footnote: Recently, I was informed by Srta Gláucia Pantaleão, teacher, resident of Ribeirão Preto, that at the end of 1986, work was initiated on the restoration of the Dom Pedro II Theater of that city. This work is being undertaken under the auspices of the municipal government and of the Paulista Antárctica Beer Company. To the delight and happiness of artists and of the people, very soon this theater will return to being the glory and pride of the city.]
Our first concert took place in this theater, with great success.
Ribeirão Preto was the only city in which the excursion performed for a second time, when it returned from Alta Mogiana. This second time, the performance took place in a hall called Legião Brasileira de Assistência.
We encountered, besides the theaters mentioned, many others that were small and simple.
The majority of the concerts took place in cinemas. Most of these cinemas had small stages unable to hold a grand piano. It was necessary to build a platform in front of the screen. Since this situation arose often, an easy and rapid system was designed.
It consisted of twelve empty gasoline barrels. Today these barrels are no longer used. The barrels were set up on the floor in four rows of three. Their plugs were removed. On top of the barrels were placed wooden beams, and over these, a floor of tongue and groove wooden planks. All of this was done without nails, because the wood was borrowed from sawmills, and had to be returned to them to be sold. The piano was placed on top of this raw wood. This system of platform on metal barrels gave great acoustic results. The fact that the piano was directly on the raw wood, transmitted its vibrations to the floor turning it into a large soundboard, which in its turn was transmitted to the barrels, amplifying the sound with great acoustic effect and enhancing the concert.
We found many cinemas with antique projectors, the kind that operate from behind the screen.
They had a tiny platform on which the projector was installed, well attached to a bench. The light from this equipment was produced by two pieces of carbon, which, regulated so that they came close to one another, produced an intense light. The smoke produced by the combustion of the carbon was vented to the outside through a chimney. The film was rotated by hand, using a hand crank. It was the duty of the operator to regulate the speed of the machine in accordance with what the film required. For example, for the subtitles he had to reduce the speed to allow the audience to read. The film was divided into several reels. At the end of each reel there would be a short intermission to allow for changing reels, and the lights of the theater would be lit for a few minutes. First a bell would be rung, to warn the spectators about the lights.
The screen was a piece of cloth stretched tightly on a rectangle constructed of water pipes, with a series of tiny holes in the one on top, so that water from the pipe would run down the screen to the bottom, keeping it constantly wet throughout the show, to make it translucent and to let the image pass through to the audience. This screen was firmly fixed in place, and couldn’t be removed quickly. For this reason, the artists couldn’t remain in their dressing rooms retouching their makeup. They had to be seated in the front row of theater seats waiting for their turn to go on
It is difficult and time-consuming to improve the acoustical conditions of cinemas transformed into theaters. These are constructed always in rectangular form, with their walls at ninety degrees to one another. Many times they had a row of doors and windows and many black curtains. The construction did not take into account the acoustics. Of course, for cinema there is no need for acoustics. Silent films, with an orchestra accompanying, didn’t require it.
Furthermore, since the sound waves coming out of the instruments project themselves into space in circles, they were lost in part in the ceiling, which many times wasn’t covered. They were broken coming into contact with the corners of the walls, absorbed by the curtains, and arrived at the back of the hall, already weakened and dry. That is, without the round and velvety sound which a musical concert requires.
Maestro Villa-Lobos was very demanding concerning the acoustics of theaters. He went to a lot of difficult work to try to improve it. He demanded that all curtains, carpets and decorations be removed, so that at least those wouldn’t reduce the little vibration the hall was capable of.
This work always displeased the commission, which, anxious to embellish the appearance of the cinema, had decorated it. Many times the commission would resist the removal of decorations, saying that the theater would be ugly and the excursion didn’t deserve this. In the end, he managed to convince them that for a musical concert, sound was more important than appearance.
One of the first things Villa-Lobos would do on arriving in the city was to visit the theater to see what the acoustical conditions were.
In one city of the first stage of the excursion, I don’t remember the name, Villa-Lobos examined the theater in company with the organizing commission. Seeing the theater well decorated, he said, “What a shame! Such a beautiful and well-decorated theater, but without any acoustics whatsoever!” A woman on the commission, wanting, no doubt, to make a good impression on the maestro, said, “Don’t worry, maestro. We have already ordered one from São Paulo. It will arrive today!”
The stages, when we could use them, also submerged the sound due to the area overhead, totally open. Whenever possible we would create a backdrop, with a cover on top, so that the sound would be projected toward the audience. In only four theaters during the entire tour did we encounter ideal acoustic conditions, with the lights outside of the stage proper, a zinc curtain separating the stage from the upper area, and only a small door to allow the artists to enter. Creating a small stage in the center of the theater, the artists could perform close to the audience.
Villa-Lobos only performed on his cello on an acoustic platform, placed on the stage. On this platform was only a chair for him to sit on, and enough space for the cello. It measured exactly one meter thirty centimeters by one meter eighty centimeter and was thirty centimeters high. All constructed with pine lumber fifteen millimeters thick. It also had five slots on the sides, four centimeters in diameter, to allow the sound to get out.
The importance of this platform was not only so that the cello would be more prominent and easier to see, but principally for the large acoustic effect. On Villa-Lobos’ orders it was painted black.
This excursion was very important for the interior of the state. Many people didn’t know what a musical concert was, and much less what the acoustics should be for a concert hall.
The illumination of the theater also was part of the good presentation of the concert. Villa-Lobos took pains with this factor. He always gave it a final look.
Villa-Lobos was seated at the very beginning of the concert. All the lights were out both in the theater and on stage. The theater remained black for several seconds. Then a small spotlight was lit, shining only on the strings and bow of the cello. Villa-Lobos was seen from the audience only as a shadow. But the strings and bow were well lit. It seemed as if the cello were playing itself. The piano accompanist was seen by a light from above, which lit the music stand, the keyboard, and the page turner. At the end of the piece, all the lights were lit, for the applause.
For the vocalist, all the lights were on, but there was never side lighting and footlights weren’t used.
For the piano soloist, there was half light in the theater and on stage, with a spotlight from above on the pianist, taking care not to make a shadow on the keys. For Villa-Lobos’ lecture, all the stage was lit, and the theater was half lit.
I knew these procedures well, because I was in charge of all of this, both in setting up the lights before, and in the execution during the concert. I was only relieved of this duty in four municipal theaters, because they had their own electricians and lighting booths.
The prominence of the Villa-Lobos excursion required, for the concerts, dress appropriate for grand concerts. For the men, Villa-Lobos and Souza Lima, tails. For me, as page turner for the piano accompanist, a suit coat. Dona Lucilia Villa-Lobos, Antonieta Rudge, Senhorita Helena Rudge and the singer, long dresses. At the receptions following the concerts, the same dress because of going directly from the theater to the reception location.
In the dining rooms of the hotels and at dinners we were invited to: suit with collar and tie; for the ladies, dress clothes. For walks and visits, the same dress used in dining, but with a hat added for the men, as was usual at the time: “A man never goes out on the street without his hat.”
For travel, dress for the women was simpler and at will, for the men suits, collars, ties, and hat.
As I accumulated more and more duties during the excursion, and always carried them out, maestro Villa-Lobos considered me his second secretary. For anything he needed, outside of music, he called on KEKIM (António Chechim FIlho). My charge as technician was the care of the piano, keeping it always in good order and well tuned. For the concert halls, to improve the acoustics. With the passage of time, more and more duties accumulated. I took care of everybody’s luggage getting on and off the train. One of the first things I did on arrival of the hotel was to tell the chef how Villa-Lobos liked his coffee. Otherwise, he would reject it, and if the second time it wasn’t right, things would become dicey. In the theater, I worked even as an electrician, taking care of the lighting, making sure the dressing rooms had adequate light, and mineral water for the artists, setting up the stage, whenever possible, to be a saleta.
I was also in charge of various payments, for freight, mail, telegrams, telephone, tips, etc. Running the lights, and signaling the beginning of each part of the concert. Raising and lowering the lid of the piano as necessary.
Whenever it was possible, I took photographs of the various journeys we took. The promotion of Piano Brasil which Villa-Lobos had promised the factory was also my duty, including announcements and poster, and pamphlets which were placed with the programs on the seats of the theater.
After Srta. Helena Rudge left the excursion, I gained one more duty, to help the piano accompanist by turning pages. I was easily able to do this as I knew music well.
In São Paulo, on return from each stage, I had to make a final accounting of the expenses of the stage, for my reimbursement. In that, I became a typist of two copies. One went to the maestro, and the other to me, where all the expenses paid were laid out, city by city.