(in MAANEN, H. van /  WILMER, S.E. (Eds.), Theatre Worlds in Motion; Structures, Politics and Developments in the Countries of Western Europe.
Amsterdam & Atlanta GA: Rodopi, 1998, pp. 499-540)

Maria Helena Serôdio[1]



1.1. Entering the 1970s

1.2. Living through the 1980s


2.1. What remains of decentralization

2.2. Five types of theatre

2.3. Financing theater

2.3.1. Subsidies

2.3.2. Instutions and Associations


3.1. Joining the profession and staying in it

3.2. Independent theatre companies: their artistic profile

3.3. Other theatre structures

3.4. National Theatre

3.5. Commercial Theatre


4.1. The Voice of the Congress

4.2. Contemporary Portuguese drama and its relation to the theatre

4.3. Theatre information, documentation and research




1.1. Entering the 70s

When questioning art policy in Portugal over the past twenty years, it is obvious that it is directly linked to political life, as I think it is everywhere. Indeed, on the one hand, it is the ruling power which has defined that policy, and on the other, the artistic reality itself has been an indicator of social movements and a stirring up of ideas which pave the way for political transformations. Thus, the development of Portuguese theatre was crucially affected by the Revolution of April 25, 1974 , the «Carnation Revolution» led by the military forces - Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) - and supported and amplified by a broad social movement against the fascist regime of Oliveira Salazar and Marcello Caetano which had dominated Portugal since 1926.

In order to prove it, it is enough to mention three major consequences in the artistic field: (1) the abolition of censorship (for books, newspapers, movies and theatre productions); (2) the setting up of democratic freedom which made the formation of political parties as well as meetings and demonstrations possible; (3) the establishment of regular subsidies to the theatre (and to films) as a way of  recognizing its cultural importance.

In the latter case, the role played by the Consulting Comittee for Theatre Activities was very important. It was formed in September 1974, and all the professional associations and unions related to theatre life were represented in it: Alexandre Babo (Portuguese Association of Writers/APE), Carlos Porto (Portuguese Association of Theatre Critics/APCT), Fernando Gusmão (Performance Workers Union/ Sindicato dos Trabalhadores do Espectáculo/STE), Luiz Francisco Rebello (Portuguese Society of Authors/SPA) and Viriato Camilo (Portuguese Association of Amateur Theatre/APTA). Although much of its projected work was jeopardized by the course of political events in 1975, the idea of subsidizing theatre could no longer be disputed.

As it is understandable, the Revolution could not have taken place if ideas and deeds had not already been on the move. Indeed, it burst forth and progressed in a social, political and ideological situation characterized by acute contradictions and precipitated by a colonial war that was being led against the Movement for the Independence of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea, and which mobilised thousands of young men annually. Exile and desertion were some of the ways of challenging the regime, but within the country there was also a clandestine political activity, as well as a cultural militancy, where theatre life played a very important role.

It is in this context that we can mention most of the changes operating on the theatrical landscape during the 60s. It was the case of experimental groups engaged in renewing theatre processes not only to free the stage from naturalism, but also to display new kinds of drama: some socially oriented plays (neo-realistic or critical realist if from the 50s, and brechtian if from the 60s), and others close to existencialism or absurdism.

It was clear that University theatre groups were growing in social and artistic importance. In Coimbra, there were TEUC (Teatro dos Estudantes Universitários de Coimbra) and CITAC (Círculo de Iniciação Teatral da Academia de Coimbra); in Oporto, TUP (Teatro Universitário do Porto), and in Lisbon: Cénico de Direito, Grupo de Teatro da Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa, and Grupo do Instituto Superior Técnico. They were directed by important stage directors, both Portuguese and foreign, as was the case of the Argentinians Victor Garcia and Adolf Gutkin, as well as the Catalan Ricardo Salvat, and they managed to attract and educate young audiences for the theatre.

Amateur Theatre also contributed to the great ideological discussions along the way, and brought to the theatre simple but effective and attractive scenic solutions. Moreover it played an important part in training future professionals, as happened with Grupo de Campolide (which turned into a professional company after 1974), and to many young professionals who took part in amateur festivals and who were later to join professional companies.

As a last trend to be perceived in the 60s: the development of a sharp-witted political satire in the popular revue theatre.

All these new tendencies pointed the way to a turn about, that was both artistic and political and of the greatest import, which was ready to happen in the early 70s.

Looking at the Portuguese theatre in the early 70s, its major structures were organized along three main trends, practically existing only in Lisbon (except for the last item):

(1) The National Theatre was still in charge of Amélia Rey Colaço/Robles Monteiro Company, which had been its concessionary since 1929. Indeed the Company had played a leading role in the Portuguese theatre, but was, in the early 70s, showing signs of exhaustion (v. Carlos Porto: 1988, p. 32), not only in dramaturgical reading, but also in its staging and acting practice. The fire, which in 1964 burned down the building in Rossio - Teatro D. Maria II - five days after the opening of Macbeth, destroyed the interior of the theatre and the company holdings and this was a serious set-back. It forced the company to move to Teatro Avenida (which also burned down), then to Teatro Capitólio, and finally to Teatro da Trindade, where it stayed until 1974, when the conpany broke up;

(2) Commercial Theatre involved both boulevard, mostly under the active management of Vasco Morgado, whose productions were not particularly interesting, but lived mainly on the fame of popular artists, such as Laura Alves, Raul Solnado and Camilo de Oliveira; and revue theatre (teatro de revista) which attracted large audiences to Parque Mayer. This is a place downtown where there are three theatres, most of the time presenting only this kind of performance. This revue theatre, though «imported from France» in the mid-nineteenth century, developed a typical native style. It created typical characters with unforgettable features, it invented songs and melodies which entered the city’s cultural heritage, it encouraged the revelation of great actors and actresses, and above all, revue theatre managed to attract and delight vast audiences of ordinary people. It generally showed a conservative ideology and tended to have a certain routine, but from 1969 on, and more clearly in 1972, it was renewed with the help of new authors who gave it new vitality as well as a good-humoured spirit of social and political satire, such as César de Oliveira and Francisco Nicholson. A new set-designer joined the group, Mário Alberto, and the leading actress was the talented Ivone Silva (v. Luiz Francisco Rebello: 1985 b, vol. 2, pp. 144 ff; Carlos Porto: 1985, pp. 30-32);

(3) In the way of theatre innovation two types of structures appeared: on the one hand, University groups, which participated in the students’ movements, active all over Europe in the late 60s; on the other hand, new companies formed around expressions such as «studio theatre» or «experimental theatre», and which by and by came to define an «independent theatre» movement.This label signified their political and aesthetic attitude vis-à-vis the Establishment, though we could find very different artistic procedures in the groups that came under the name. Generally these groups organized as a cooperative under a director, and soon they turned into the most important and elaborate artistic form of theatre production in Portugal, and remained so in the 70s and 80s.

However, this tendency to innovate had already been characterized by some other experiments which came into being after the second world war: Comediantes de Lisboa (1944‑1950), Teatro do Salitre (1946), Teatro Nacional Popular (1957-1960, which presented Waiting for Godot with great success in 1957) and Teatro Moderno de Lisboa (1961-1965).

Other experiments lasted longer: in 1953 in Oporto, a group of intellectuals formed Círculo de Cultura Teatral - Teatro Experimental do Porto, which was soon to be directed by the influential António Pedro. It is still operating, though from the mid 80s it has faced growing difficulties. Some of its members had already left to found Seiva Trupe (in 1973); later it lost its venue (for urban planning reasons), and subsidies were drastically reduced and even cut. But a persistent group has been trying to hold on with the company against all the set-backs.

April 25, 1974, opened up new perspectives to the existing independent groups and encouraged the formation of many other companies on the same or analogous model (see TABLE 1). They had now a greater freedom to chose their repertoire, after censorship had been abolished, and they would also profit from the occupation or assignement  of spaces for them to work in. Last but not least, they began receiving regular susidies.









Teatro Estúdio

de Lisboa

Luzia Martins

Helena Félix

Teatro Vasco


Contemp. Portuguese and English drama. Epic theatre


Teatro Experimental

de Cascais

Carlos Avilez

José de Castro,

João Vasco,

Santos Manuel

Teatro Gil Vicente

(since 1979, Teatro Mirita Casimiro)

Musical comedies and contemp. English and French drama


Grupo 4

(early 80s: Novo Grupo)

Fernando Gusmão

Rui Mendes,

Irene Cruz,

Morais e Castro,

João Lourenço


(After 1976: Teatro


British and German contemp. drama



Mário Jacques,

Mário Barradas

Fernanda Alves,

José Gomes


Political theatre (Brecht via Planchon)



João Mota

Carlos Paulo,

Manuela de Freitas


(After 1974: Teatro da Comuna)

Collective creations. Influenced by Peter Brook



Luís Miguel Cintra,

Jorge Silva Melo

Luís Miguel Cintra,

Jorge Silva Melo,

Márcia Breia


(After 1976 Teatro do Bairro Alto)

Classical Playwrights. German Modern Theatre


O Bando

João Brites

Horácio Manuel,

Raúl Atalaia


Touring Company. T. for young audiences


Casa da Comédia (now ceased to exist)

Norberto Barroca

Fernando Gomes

Casa da Comédia

Contemp. Portuguese theatre


Grupo de Teatro Hoje (no longer active)

Gastão Cruz

Carlos Fernando

Teatro da Graça (hall at the Voz do Operário)

20th Century drama


A Barraca

Helder Costa

Maria do Céu Guerra,

Fernanda Alves

(After 1976, Rua

Alexandre Herculano

Influenced by Augusto Boal


Cómicos (no longer active)

Ricardo Pais

Fernando Heitor

Hall upstairs at

Teatro do Bairro Alto



Adóque (no longer operative)

Francisco Nicholson

Henrique Viana,

Rui Mendes

Large tent (formerly used by a touring company)

Left-wing revue

Theatre (new authors - J. C. Ary dos Santos)


Teatro do Nosso Tempo

Jacinto Ramos

Jacinto Ramos

Hall in a basement


In many other realms - arts, cultural practices and everyday life - things changed considerably with the Revolution, although falling short from many of the ideals professed in those days.

Ensemble creations in plastic arts, movies (mainly documentaries) and artistic graffiti celebrating the major political events were the most visible consequences, and they  had also their counterpart in the musical field: regular concerts with committed singers and the tribute to Portuguese folk music. The latter led to the recollection of that heritage by the composer Lopes Graça, together with Giacometti, and their work would influence many bands and singers, thus devising the idea that political commitment would sooner or later  lead to the search for the authentic roots of folk art.

Cultural consumerism will rise in 75, audiences will slightly change (though not always looking for the most well intentioned forms of art, rather preferring mass culture, with sex and violence ruling over the movies), television will double its audiences specially after the introduction of Brazilian soap operas, a tendency which has increased ever since. However the first one to be seen - Gabriela (1976) - was not only a very good and artistic production, but is was also based on a committed novel by the Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado, which was then vastly read.

The interest in social and political issues was very active after 1974, and only in the late 70s would fictional literature find its way back to the tops. Festivals of art and rock concerts were attracting more and more people, jazz and dance were also increasing their audiences, late night shows and other attractions were keeping people outdoors well into the break of day.

2.   Living through the 80s

In the late 70s the tendency to form co-operatives or to live up to the ideals of collective work in the artistic and cultural sphere will be increasingly abandoned, and the constitutional governments will try to impose the idea of «national values» by advocating the country over the populations’ needs and by pleading for a non-committed attitude in general.

The market of art (especially painting and sculpture) recovered in the 80s (in 1979 the First Biennial of Cerveira took place), newspapers were ever more searching for sensationalism to increase profits and audiences, television would include more movies, soap operas and light entertainment (theatre and opera practically disappear from the small screen), and, everywhere in culture, money and financing were the dominant concern and a new found slang.

The arrival in power of a right wing coalition in December 1979 (which will mainly hold until 1995)  brings the neoliberal ethos to its heights, and though the budget allotted to culture will gradually increase (1976 - 0.17% ; 1979 - 0.22% ; 1980 - 0.6%), it will mainly be channelled to preserve heritage (mainly monuments and historical centres) and to enforce a (politically muscled) policy for the arts devoted both to spectacular events with a popular impact and to prestige operations.

A new generation of artists moves away from the interests and passions of the aftermath of the Revolution, distrusts ideology, espouses the ideas of the individual and the market, favours the visual languages of space and the body, and seems keen on mingling different artistic languages in performative events.

Joining the European Community in 1986 favoured the economicist model in culture, as well as the idea that for an elite art is a luxury (though necessary) commodity, and cultural managers make their entrance everywhere: city councils, Foundations, cultural centres, State departments, theatre companies.

This opening up of frontiers brought some important performances and artists to Portugal, but it also helped to consecrate some important Portuguese artists in the European scene. José Afonso as composer and singer, Manoel de Oliveira as film director (these two celebrated already in the 70s), Siza Vieira as architect, Paula Rego as painter, José Saramago as novelist, Maria João Pires as musician and Ana Salazar as fashion designer.

The 90s will confirm the tendency to invest in spectacular cultural events both in and out of the frontiers: 1991 presence in Brussels for the  Europalia, 1992 presence at the Expo  in Sevilla,  1994 Lisbon as European City of Culture, and 1998 the Expo in Lisbon devoted to “Oceans as heritage for the future”.

In 1993 two huge buildings with large halls for performances will be erected - Centro Cultural de Belém and Caixa Geral de Depósitos - linked to the will to stress ostentation. Each of them costed over 40 million contos (1 conto = PTE 1 thousand): together they correspond to eight times the budget allotted to the State Secretary for Culture in 93.


2.1. What is left of decentralization

Decentralization began soon after the Revolution, and aimed at two main goals: one of them was to oppose the traditional macrocephalous centrality of Lisbon (there were only two professional companies outside Lisbon: Seiva Trupe and Teatro Experimental do Porto, both in Oporto), the other was to create cultural focuses in the regions to allow everybody the right of access to culture. This was, after all, an extension of a more general movement to stir up cultural development which aimed at erradicating analphabetism, which in 1970 extended to 25% of the population.

The first regional  Cultural Centre - Centro Cultural de Évora - was formed in 1975 (in Alentejo) under Mário Barradas, and was supposed to be the first of many others. Several companies came into existence in the regions, though none to be another cultural centre. The movement expanded greatly as we can see on the following table.


*Note: some of them were semi-professional but their production wss fairly regular.

It was in 1982 that the spread reached its peak and covered practically the whole territory. Most of these companies gathered together to found an Association - Associação Técnica e Artística para a Descentralização Teatral/ APTA) - which organized three meetings. Between 1975 and 1981, it was estimated they had put on 190 productions, 7.501 performances and had had 1.335.992 theatregoers. As repertoire policy, 48% of their productions were based on Portuguese plays, 30% on foreign classics and 22% on foreign contemporary authors.

In 1985 the movement weakened for various reasons. One of them was a shortage of subsidies, which corresponded to a new policy of the State Secretary for Culture aimed at concentrating subsidies on fewer companies, which meant immediately an attack against the «weakest» points: regional theatre.

Another kind of problem regional theatre had to face was the lack of space and technical equipment, and if in the beginning some improvised conditions could be accepted, continuing without much improvement seemed extremely discouraging. Moreover, they had some difficulties in promoting their work and making it known.

However in the late 80s, a new financing policy began to allot some economic means to the city councils, making it possible for them to devise and support cultural events in the regions.

It was this new tendency, together with some investment in the recovery of theatre venues and technical equipment, that has gradually favoured a new settling of theatre groups in different provincial towns, now on a more stable condition.

In January 1997 we can find 17 regular theatre companies out of Lisbon (TABLE 3), but in many of these towns some alternative groups have also kept operating: three in  Oporto (Visões Úteis, As Boas Raparigas and Teatro Só), one in Aveiro (Acto), one in Coimbra (Morcego), two in Setúbal (O Olho and Teatro ao Largo). This is considerably new and shows an interesting vitality in the regions. We could also add other theatre companies out of Lisbon  which work exclusively for young audiences as is the case of two in Oporto  (Pé de Vento and Art’Imagem) and one in Coimbra (Teatrão).

In Évora, the Cendrev carries out many activities besides regular productions. Indeed it includes not only the company, but also a Professional School for Actors, a section with marionettes (Bonecos de Santo Aleixo; v. below:3.3), the publishing of a cultural magazine - Adágio -, and it also organizes a festival for marionettes (BIME) every two years.

Another interesting case is Loures, where Amascultura was a department set up by four municipalities of the surroundings of Lisbon (led by Communist administrations with their allies in the Unitary Democratic Coalition/ CDU) in 1987, thus establishing the first case of Municipal theatre, and the only one up to now. It includes a professional company - Centro Dramático Intermunicipal Almeida Garrett/ CDIAG - which is directed by José Peixoto, and it operates in Teatro da Malaposta (thence being generally named after the venue). It is growing in importance and quality in the Portuguese theatre landscape.

2.2. Five sets in the production system

In terms of theatre production we can find five different groups.

One of them is the State Theatre; the second is Municipal theatre; a third one is subsidized theatre (through the State Secretary for Culture); the fourth is commercial theatre; and the fifth, what we could name «other theatres».

In the State Theatre I include the National Theatre which operates in the restored building of Rossio: Teatro D Maria II. It has a resident company and two halls: a large one with proscenium arch stage (Sala Almeida Garrett, with around 700 seats) and a studio upstairs (with 130 seats). Other three theatres (venues) are considered «National»: Teatro S. Carlos (only for opera), and two buildings in  Oporto: Auditório Nacional Carlos Alberto and Teatro S. João. These two latter  theatres have no resident company, though Teatro S. João, under the direction of Ricardo Pais has been staging its own productions since 1994.

The Municipal company in Loures (known after the venue as Teatro da Malaposta) is administrated by the four municipalities in the sorroundings of Lisbon: Loures, Amadora, Vila Franca de Xira and Sobral de Monte Agraço. The departement which was set up to administrate the company - Amascultura - speaks for many other activities besides theatre: cinema, exhibitions, dance, etc.

Commercial Theatre includes boulevard and revue theatre. The first one is very irregular, and revue theatre is going through a general crisis, due to lack of authors, artists and audiences. To have resorted to applying for subsidies shows how fragile is its confidence in the market, and some bold initiatives that have been tried end up in a certain disappointment either in artistic quality, or in audiences and profits.

Subsidized Theatre comprises the «independent companies» and other more recently formed in or out of  Lisbon, which have regularly received subsidies. Once having been allotted a subvention, the company expects to go on receiving it the next year, unless some requirement of the contract has not been met. Still, all companies must apply every year, as well as hand out an annual report of their activities. It is also true that as both criteria for subsidies and the budget allotted to culture have steadily changed, it is not always predictable the real amount to be granted each year. In order to program activities on a more solid basis, theater companies have insisted upon a more far stretched kind of guarantee, and towards the mid 90s some of the most important companies were already signing a contract for two years.

Under the label of «other theatres» I include new experimental groups. Some of them have a stucture akin to the independent companies and aim at achieving the same stability, but have not been receiving regular subsidies, mainly because they do not own their own premises. Others, however, have a more irregular activity, and some of them are assumedly fringe, wih peculiar and funny names.

I consider the following seven companies to be in the first group, though the last two are of recent formation:






C. Teatral do Chiado

Mário Viegas

Estúdio S. Luíz

De Filippo, Beckett


Silvina Pereira


Portuguese authors

Teatro do Século

Inês Câmara Pestana

Teatro do Século

Koltès, Berkoff


Miguel Seabra


Com. dell’arte, Sinisterra

Teatro da Garagem

Carlos Pessoa


Carlos Pessoa’s own texts

Escola de Mulheres

Fernanda Lapa


Contemporary authors

Artistas Unidos

Jorge Silva Melo


Jorge S. Melo’s texts

There are around 25 more irregular groups. With one or two exceptions, they all lack premises, and as regards repertoire they are varied in their preferences.


Canonical Plays

(classical and contemp.)

Collage/ their own texts

Improvisation/ free texts

Street theater/ mulridisciplinary theatre

Ópera Segundo

S. Mateus


de Lisboa

Meia Preta

Teatro Anatómico

Casa Conveniente

Palco Oriental

Olho (Setúbal)


O Grupo (Setúbal)

Alta Performance

Orquestra Dram. O Bife

Toucinho do Céu

Visões Úteis (Porto)

Teatro do Tejo

Teatro do Caixote


Ensemble (Porto)

Extremo (Setúbal)

Pogo Teatro


Tratamento Completo

Cesta d’Artes

Teatroesfera (Sintra)

Canibalismo Cómico

These groups can sometimes receive occasional subsidies from the State Secretary for Culture, from the Gulbenkian Foundation or from City Councils. Private sponsors seldom respond to theatre demands.

Most of these fringe groups appear only when there are festivals. One is organized in Lisbon, by the City Council, in June. It is «Festas da Cidade» and it coincides with the festivities around the «folk saints» (S. António, S. Pedro and S: João). Some of these fringe groups are called to perform in outdoor entertainments («urban actions»).

The other festival where these fringe groups participated was organized by themselves and it was made to coincide with the International Theatre Festival (FIT) which was organized annually, from 1991 to 1994, by the State Secretary for Culture. This FIT OFF intended to be a kind of protest or simply a way of saying they were alive. In 1993, it had thirty two groups enrolled, and it presented seventy five performances; it involved the participation of a hundred actors and around one thousand, two hundred and fifty spectators. Since the FIT was canceled, this other FIT OFF was canceled too.

2.3. Financing theatre

2.3.1. Subsidies

The budget allotted to the State Secretary for Culture in the general State Budget represents between 0,2% and 0,6% of its total. This should cover not only Theatre, but also Heritage, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Cinema, Music, Fine Arts, Dance and Opera.

The budget for the theatre (National and subsidized groups) within the total amount allotted to the State Secretary for Culture represents something between 8% and 12%.

Theatre policy defined by the State Secretary for Culture includes different interventions, of which some of them have been discontinued:

a) the maintenance of the National Theatre, as well as of all the buildings that fall under this label. The budget for the National Theatre (venues, excluding the opera, and the resident company) is much above the total amount of subsidies given to all the other companies put together (regular ones and occasional or individual projects), of which only 20% is to produce plays and the rest is for fixed expenses;

b) the grant of subsidies. Though criteria have changed over the years, some items have been favoured with a certain regularity:


contracts valid for one year

contracts valid for two years long

new values


touring policy


to stage contemp. Portuguese playwrights

theatre for young audiences

specifically experimental theatre

repair work/technical equipment

c) loan of venues to experimental groups, as the small studio of the National Theater in Lisbon;

d)  to declare annually a city as a Theatre Capital which means that a special fund is given to a city in the regions in order to help companies, to encourage cultural initiatives and to restore venues. In 1991 it was Évora, and in 1992 and 1993 it was Coimbra, in 1994 it was interrupted, in 1995 and 1996 it was Castelo Branco;

e) an International Theatre Festival (FIT), since 1991, directed by António Lagarto, but discontinued after 1994;

f) Annual Awards - Prémios Garrett - for production and playwriting: they were cancelled in 1992.

As for some of the criteria mentioned above: «New values», most certainly signify young artists who are trying to make a breaktrough into theatre. However, it is sometimes granted not because the artists are first-timers, but because it can be a device for artists and companies who are unable (for different reasons, lack of venue, for instance) to receive through the regular procedure. In fact, several of the items mentioned above as criteria have been used for the very same purpose. Moreover, in many cases some extra money may be granted on top of the subsidy allotted through the regular procedures, as is the case for repair work, technical equipment, or festivals.

On TABLE 6  we can see the amount of subsidies allotted to theater companies (old and recent) as well as to individual and/or occasional projects. It is important to note that the amount specified does not include the National Theater, which (even without the opera) has annually received more than all these companies and projects put together (it has almost reached 150% of that amount, even before the Teatro Nacional S. João began operating in  Oporto). The companies whose name is referred to in both Lisbon and out of  Lisbon are what canm be considered Permanent Companies.

In Discontinued Companies I refer to those that existed in those years but have broken up afterwards: it is visible that it was in  Lisbon that more companies ceased to exist (and some of them were receiving significant subsidies), while Individual Projects have tended to fill in that gap. Anyway the span of time after 93 up to now does not allow me to infer the existence of other discontinued companies.

Other Theatres in this Table, for practical reasons, comprise all those theater companies which are either recently formed or which have an irregular activity, as well as those other kinds of theater as puppets or groups working exclusively for younger audiences. The only exception is in Lisbon where two companies of the latter kind of theater are specified as Permanent Companies (Teatro Infantil de Lisboa and Papa-Léguas).

We can also see on TABLE 7 that, with one single exception in 1992 ocurring in Oporto, all the Individual Projects as well as Commercial Theater exist in Lisbon, even if some of these productions may afterwards tour the country. It is also visible that individual projects were less favoured in 1995.

Another aspect of the policy for subsidies we can infer from the Table is that there was a slight but steady increase in the amount granted to the theater outside Lisbon up to the point that in 1995 it is indeed somewhat higher.

1 conto = PTE 1 Thousand









Teatro Exp. de Cascais







Novo Grupo




























A Barraca







Teatro Infantil de Lisboa







Papa Léguas



































S U B T O T A  L









Cendrev (Évora)







Seiva Trupe (Porto)







T. de Animação de Setúbal







Comp. de Teatro de Almada







Escola da Noite (Coimbra)







Comp. de Teatro de Braga







Comp. de Teatro de Portalegre







T. do Noroeste (Viana do C.)







Teatro Experimental do Porto







Trigo Limpo-Acert (Viseu)











































*Source: State Secretary for Culture (Theatre Department). The sequence, the grouping of individual projects together, and the singling out of commercial theatre are my responsibility.



A last observation when watching this latter Table:  for those who are out of the capital and want to engage in theater production, the most regular procedure has been to form a company instead of resorting to individual projects: that is how the boom of Other Theatres in 1995 may be best explained.

Though subsidies have been regularly given every year to theatre groups, it is a most controversial issue. One of the reasons is that the amount is considered insufficient, and the increase hardly accompanies the inflation. Thus, not only are many applicants not accepted, but also those who have already received complain that the increase in subsidy is not enough. Moreover there have been changes every year as regards criteria, the application forms and even deadlines.

There have been other reasons for dispute lately. Actually, even when criteria are mentioned in the document, it has often happened that the final list of subsidies allotted to companies seems not only inconsistent with the criteria mentioned, but also arbitrary. This is why there have been charges of favouritism, including political nepotism. It is also strange that the document sometimes shows lack of knowledge concerning companies, mentioning (unfounded) reasons to penalize them.

With the arrival of a Socialist Government in 1995, a new subventions policy began to be devised in order to be implemented from 1997 on:  some “historical” companies (the “independent” ones, with 20 years of age and with a good and sound artistic record) are to be considered “consented”, granted a subsidy for three years and so spared the need to apply every year. Others are to receive a two years subsidy, whereas the majority will still be receiving on an annual basis. In this latter group we find many fringe and alternative groups (those I name “other theatres”) who are to be granted a subvention for the first time. However, individual and occasional projects can still apply for and receive subsidies (every six months).

2.3.2. Institutions and Associations

The most important private institution that supports arts (and sciences) is the Gulbenkian Foundation, founded in 1956. It has played a most important role in the artistic and scientific development in Portugal. It supports Scientifc Research, the arts, and publications. It maintains two museums, a library, a ballet company and an orchestra. In 1990, 41% of its budget went to arts, but only 0,7% of it was for the theatre (about PTE 60 million). It has granted scholarships for artists to study abroad, it has financed its own productions or co-productions, workshops and festivals (Encontros ACARTE). Moreover, it has sponsored companies through buying tickets, lending equipment or subsidizing repair work, and more recently it has opened a special offer for Portuguese playwrights to work with a company writing a new play and helping its staging.

Since 1983 the Gulbenkian Foundation has set up another service: ACARTE in the Centre for Modern Art. Founded by Madalena Azeredo Perdigão, later directed by José Sasportes, and at present by Yvette Centeno, it has already sponsored some theatre productions (by inviting stage directors), and it has lent its auditorium to some regional companies or “Other theatres” to show their productions. Since 1987, ACARTE has organized an international theatre festival (Encontros ACARTE), in early September, which is responsible for showing the work of some of the most interesting theatre-dance companies, and favouring co-productions with foreign companies and directors (thus enlarging the experience of some of our younger artists). Lately it has tended to sponsor projects more linked to modern dance and music than to theatre. However, it has created an annual award (Madalena Perdigão) for young groups working in experimental theatre and dealing with multidisciplinary artistic projects.

The Portuguese Society of Authors (Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores/ SPA) has a cooperative model and represents all the domains of intellectual creation. It was founded in 1925 as a Society of Theatre Writers and Composers, and received its present name in 1970. It now has about 14.000 members. It is represented in two international groups: CISAL (Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Auteurs et Compositeurs) and GESAL (Groupe Européen des Sociétés d’Auteurs et Compositeurs).

Its main concern is to administer copyrights, promote culture, and assist its members in social welfare. Its activity concerning theatre covers the publication of a collection of Portuguese plays (Repertório da SPA) since 1970, and it also organizes colloquies and other cultural activities in its auditorium. It subsidizes some initiatives, and takes part in juries giving awards. In this context a new award to new plays was launched in 1995 in association with a theater company - Novo Grupo - aiming not only at granting money, but also at staging the winning play.  SPA has also been responsible for promoting Portuguese theatre abroad, and is now launching a data bank of unpublished plays that with a short introduction may be available to companies who are interested in staging them.

Since 1995, a further association was formed to do the management of royalties of performers (particularly in the theater, music and dance): Gestão dos Direitos dos Artistas /GDA.

Other institutions connected with theatre are also represented in international associations. It is the case of the Portuguese Association of Theatre Critics (Associação Portuguesa de Críticos de Teatro/APCT) which is a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. Its main activity is to give annual awards to theatre productions, and although no financial contribution is allotted to winners, the awards are recognized and cherished by the winning companies and artists. It staged an international Congress in 1990 (the eleventh Congress of the IATC) in the Gulbenkian Foundation, and it published its proceedings in 1992. APCT has also participated in two other Congresses held in Portugal: the First Portuguese and Spanish Theatre Congress that was held in Coimbra in 1987, and the first Congress of the Portuguese Theatre that took place in Lisbon in 1993.

The National Theatre Museum belongs to the international organization SIBMAS. It has a library, and a variable collection of costumes, props, miniature set models, videos and records. Its main activity is organizing exhibitions, generally linked with the publishing of useful catalogues.

The Association of Puppet Theatre (União de Marionetistas Portugueses/ UNIMA-P) is in the international UNIMA, has about sixty members, and reports on the activities and publications of the International Association.

The Theatre Workers Union (Sindicato dos Trabalhadores do Espectáculo/STE) is an affiliate of the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses/ CGTP Intersindical). It is also represented in the International Actors Federation (FIA), and it has around seven hundred members. The percentages of the different activities included in the Union (in relation with all its members) are: theatre (56%), variety shows (12%), opera (6%), circus (4%), ballet (7%), plastic artists - set designers and prop makers - (2%), technicians (10%), and clerks (4%). The percentage of women is 38%.

One of its most important activity is to award professional cards according to two criteria: either one has to be a graduate of an officially recognized school, or has worked in a company for more than two years.

INATEL is dependent on the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. It finances some amateur activity, and lately has sponsored the Autumn Festival in Lisbon, which was previously sponsored by the City Council. In 1993 it also promoted a cycle of Portuguese plays (V. below: 4.2.).

APOIARTE is an association of social solidarity which aims at building the Artists’ House. It intends to include a Home for eldery artists, a restaurant, a medical centre, a meeting room, an auditorium and an academy for workshops, so that actors can go on improving their métier. APOIARTE is formed by theatre, cinema, radio and television professionals, and their project is already in process.


3.1. Entering the profession and staying in it

A feature that seemed new in the late 80s was the emergence of the free-lance actor, who apparently preferred not to join any company, and would only engage in occasional projects.

Various reasons can be put forward to explain this situation. One of them could be that one refused to identify with any of the existing aesthetic projects. Another reason could be that one was able to live by working for cinema or television. In the latter case it is important to know that two private television channels were launched in 1992. Now with four channels (two are State owned) it is easier to get work, either in serials or soap operas, or even as entertainers.

Two other possible reasons may also explain this situation. There are special subsidies for occasional or individual projects (v. above: 2.2.) to which the actor and director can apply. And last but not least, it is difficult for the existing companies to offer permanent jobs to newcomers.

Indeed there is a contradiction between the difficult access to the profession and the annual graduation of actors. They can study for the profession in different schools: the Superior School for Theatre and Cinema (Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema/ESTC) or the School of the Cendrev, in Évora. There is also the IFICT (Instituto de Formação, Investigação e Criação Teatral) in Lisbon, though after 1994 it has worked on a less regular basis, no longer with European funding; and two other schools in Oporto: Academia Contemporânea do Espectáculo and Ballet Teatro. Some companies promote workshops (as has been the case of Comuna), and since 1992, a new Professional School (between secondary level and University level) started in Cascais. However, we should also add to all these chances, the possibility of entering the profession without going to any school: by coming from amateur or students’ groups, or just by joining a company.

There is a special rule that the National Theatre should accept only those coming from Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema. However this has not been the case, not only for financial reasons, but also because its administration has been going through a certain disarticulation (v. below: 3.4.).

Historical reasons show that the most usual procedure is the emergence of a group or company around a director (who can be and is generally also an actor) and with an aesthetic project that can be more or less explicit, and more or less elaborated. Then they look for premises, that could be provisional, and apply for subsidies.

Though there has been a certain fluctuation of criteria, the State Secretary for Culture has been shaping the life of companies through some persistent demands. One of them is to have a venue, and in this case city councils may help, as happened in Lisbon with three independent groups: Comuna, Barraca and Companhia Teatral do Chiado.

Up to 1995, companies should also have three productions per year, and present a hundred and fifty performances. The average of spectators should go from 25% (in venues with over five hundred seats) to 50% in venues with to one hundred seats.

They are also encouraged to have touring programmes and to celebrate agreements (including co-productions) with other companies. They should also include Portuguese plays in their repertoire.

Another need is to allow a committee to attend a rehearsal so that age classification may be passed on the performance.

It is obvious that quantitative criteria have been dominant, and they have had some negative consequences. Indeed, while some companies plan their repertoire in cycles (thematic or authors) in order to seek artistic coherence and stabilize their audiences, others jump very easily into populist recipes at any price just to increase their public rapidly.

To show how fragile theatre production is in Portugal, it is almost enough to mention that private managers have been demanding State subsidies (and received some these past few years, as can be seen on TABLE 6 ), and repeated the claim during the First Congress of the Portuguese Theatre in 1993 (v. below: 4.1.).

We can find some reasons to explain this situation. Here, as everywhere, we have the «unfair» competition of television or rock concerts. But there has also been a demographic change which drives people, specially young people, away from the centre to the outskirts of Lisbon. Public transports have been reduced at night, and performances generally start very late: at 9.30 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday (and at 4.00 p.m.or 5.00 p.m.on Sundays).

For these and other reasons some companies resorted to diversifying show times: some perform on workdays afternoons, having in mind school audiences; others have tried to perform at 7.00 p.m.; and others, more radically, perform late at night - around midnight - on Saturdays, in a kind of cabaret or café theatre.

Companies also face the problem of publicizing or promoting their productions. And the television does not help at all, because it seldom reports on premières, and has no programme with critical assessments on theatre.

But perhaps the most crucial difficulty, we should honestly admit, is that a great part of the population simply lack cultural and theatre interests, partly because they were not taught to know or apreciate art. There are attempts to improve the situation by bringing in the subject of theatre to some secondary schools. Where there is no possibility to include this option, schools encourage the formation of theatre clubs. Though the policy is positive, the subject only exists in 3% of the schools. However this has helped to increase an adolescent audience.

Another reason we may point out is the price of tickets. Actually they are not very expensive, for they oscillate between one PTE 1000 and PTE 3000, and students and young people may have a discount of up to 50%. However the cost of living is rising and it is difficult to cope. The fact is that when the Gulbenkian Foundation buys tickets to let young people enter free, that theatre is full.

Companies also have problems on producing plays, because a lot of time and effort is spent on financial management, where they should be more concerned with their artistic project. Private sponsors do not invest or apply money in theatre companies: they are more prone to pay for dance companies or musical concerts.

Two producer companies formed lately. One of them PROTEA went bankrupt soon after, while the other is still holding up: CASSEFAZ. It published a theatre magazine - Actor - between 1991 and 1992, and it has also staged its own productions. The problem these producer companies face is that they do not have premises or equipment and have to rent them and pay for services.

For all these reasons, the life of an actor is neither easy nor stable, nor even well payed, even if he/she works regularly for a company (except the National Theatre and partly Malaposta).

The Union has denounced the illegal situation of most of the actors as regards contracts. They draw wages as if they were independent professionals, and this has negative consequences on their tax reductions and social welfare. They have no insurance, and very often they do not receive Christmas or holidays bonuses. If they lose their job they are lucky to receive minimum social benefits, because they generally declare they earn minimum wages to avoid paying more discounts. Many do not retire early for the same reason, and keep on working until they are very old.

Most of them look for a second job. Some work in cinema (which does not have a rich market in Portugal), others on television or radio, and many give classes in secondary or professional schools.

It is not only actors who face this kind of situation. There are several good stage directors who have no fixed company to work for. Some of them may even work with a certain regularity, but no one ever knows how long this regularity can last. We can name some of them: Rogério de Carvalho, Antonino Solmer, José Wallenstein or José Carretas, among others.

3.2. Independent theatre companies: their artistic profile

When speaking of artistic quality, regular activity and a planned repertoire, it is obvious that independent theatre groups are the most important element, indeed the true backbone of theatrical life in Portugal. As I mentioned before (1.), this kind of aesthetic project also had a political dimension of progressive intent (against the rightwing regime) and an artistic concern with the avant-garde and experiment.

Some of the young directors and actors had also the chance of coming near theatre life in Europe, both attending courses and workshops, or even working with distinguished directors. It was the case of João Mota who studied with Peter Brook, and of Luís Miguel Cintra who attended the Old Vic in Bristol, while Mário Barradas and José Peixoto have been basing their activity in what they learned with Planchon, Strehler, or as students in Strasbourg.

April 25 gave more stability and expansion to this kind of organizing and artistic structure: either by creating conditions for a free practice (after censorship was abolished) or by assigning to them buildings or premises no longer in use (belonging to the State, City Councils or Cultural Societies and Associations). But above all, the Revolution institutionalized the idea of a regular subsidy.

However, even in this favourable context, some groups and companies that came into being before April 25, and continued working afterwards, began facing great difficulties. This could have been due to economic constraints, or a crisis in audience attendance, or even owing to a certain artistic exhaustion. But it could also have been because they joined other projects.

On the other hand, many of the companies formed after April 25, during a time of great cultural upheaval and theatre militancy, broke up. This was the case of Adóque (Francisco Nicholson), Cómicos (Ricardo Pais), Contraregra (António Solmer and Eduarda Dionísio), or Produções Teatrais (Osório Mateus) among many others.

Those who still operate show not only the artistic vitality of their projects and members, but also a resilience as regards their economic, social and cultural situation and an art policy that has not favoured theatre life all that much.

Teatro Experimental de Cascais, directed by Carlos Avilez, is the only company of the 60s still operating. Its repertoire includes Portuguese contemporary playwrights such as Bernardo Santareno, Jaime Gralheiro and Miguel Rovisco, as well as universal classics as Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht and Jean Genet. Its artistic direction tends to stress an emotional tone in the acting, and to treat the space dynamically, sometimes with a festive choreography.

The two most important theatre companies came into being in the early 70s and which are still the most influential referents of our theatre panorama are Comuna and Cornucópia.

Comuna, directed by João Mota, used to stage collective creations in the beginning, but has lately resorted to formal plays both by Portuguese and foreign authors. It did so with Peter Weiss, Brecht, Richard Demarcy, Sophocles, and more recently English classics such as John Ford (‘Tis pity she’s a Whore) and Christopher Marlowe (Edward II).

Under set designs and direction by João Mota, Comuna’s creations distinguished by stressing corporality in their acting style and by creating a kind of spatial and affective complicity with the audience. They also tend to a kind of ritualistic ceremony where the focus is laid on excessive and transgressive features, expressed by the atmosphere, coreography, music and litany.

Another important trait of Comuna was a sense of political protest, not divorced from a poetical element, which we could perceive not only in its repertoire and artistic procedures, but which has favoured a kind of café-theatre with a satirical bent. Indeed in a vein not far from the Portuguese revue theatre - as regards political satire - though within a frame‑work of less spectacularity and a more intimate relation with the audience, Comuna did manage to create memorable hits on Saturday night in their old building (while staging at the same time more formal kinds of production). This was the case of Pó de Palco/Stage dust and Festival da Otite/Otite Festival. The latter attracted 7.140 spectators in 49 performances - an average of 146 per session, which is remarkable if we remember the size of the hall.

Cornucópia developed from a student theatre group which made its first appearance in the late 60s with O Anfitrião/Amphitrion, by the eigteenth-century playwright António José da Silva, and came to adopt one of the characters’ name for the company (Cornucópia). It was founded in 1973 by two young actors/directors, Luís Miguel Cintra and Jorge de Silva Melo. The latter left the company in the early 80s to engage in film direction, but has recently reentered theater with his new company - Artistas Unidos.

The Cornucópia’s artistic focus is based on three major beliefs. One of them is the primacy of text, which means a passionate belief in the word, so as construct and deconstruct meaning. A second is that theatre should be an analysis of life «tortured by the idea of truth and meaning» in the world. A third supposition is that theatre should accept and show its own theatricality (it is the theatre of «comical illusion»).

Cintra, an intelligent, sensitive director, and one of the best Portuguese actors, plans its repertoire very carefully, often going against the grain of popular fashions or easy laughter, and works with uncompromising accuracy and inventiveness.

His space - the Teatro do Bairro Alto - is a large studio which the resident designer, Cristina Reis (who worked for some time for the Schaubühne), arranges differently for each performance. She always brings one or two elements (sometimes just props) from one production to the next in an attempt to confirm a living identity and continuity.

Many of Cornucópia’s productions have been milestones in Portugal’s theatre life: Ah Q, by Lu Sun/ Jean Jourdheuil, Casimiro and Carolina, by Odon von Horvath, Woyzeck, by Büchner or And couldn’t we exterminate them?, by Karl Valentin.

One of the most repeated complaints about Cornucópia’s repertoire has to do with the ommision of Portuguese playwrights. However, we owe it some of the most brilliant reinventions of the classics as has been the case with Gil Vicente - Auto da Feira/ Pageant of the fair (1988) - and with Almeida Garrett (Um auto de Gil Vicente/ A play by Gil Vicente (1996).

With the end of Grupo 4 in the early 80s, another group formed around two of its former members - João Lourenço and Irene Cruz - in 1982. Novo Grupo occupied the same premises where Grupo 4 was working: the Teatro Aberto (Open Theatre), which was one of the first new theatre buildings to be built after April 25. It was meant to be provisional, and indeed it is to be pulled down shortly, as soon as a new home is constructed for the company.

Directed by João Lourenço, Novo Grupo (New Group) boasts of a varied repertoire which includes Shakespeare, Nicolau Erdman, and Caryl Churchill, but it is specially known for its productions of Brecht. João Lourenço stayed a year at the Berliner Ensemble, together with resident dramaturg Vera San Payo de Lemos, and has staged with the utmost accurancy and cleverness plays such as The Caucasian Chalk Circle (in 1976, when they were still Grupo 4), Happy End and Three Penny  Opera, not to mention a superb Mother Courage, in a co-production with the National Theatre, with its leading actress, Eunice Muñoz, in one of her most fascinating roles.

O Bando, formed in 1974 around João Brites (who was a political exile in Brussels, studied scenography at the École des Beaux Arts and is now one of our major artists), aimed initially at young audiences, but in the mid 80s turned into a «community theatre» that intended to be a meeting point of different generations, and at the same time to imaginatively include in its performance portuguese folk art forms. This anthropological interest accompanies two other trends: (1) an unconventional treatment of space (both in its hall and outdoor performances), which incorporates suggestive theatrical sculptures that are both functional and symbolic; (2) a dramaturgical work on Portuguese texts, mostly narratives.

One of its most impressive performances - Bichos/ Beasts (1990) - based on Miguel Torga’s homonymous collection of short stories, took place in an old convent (Beato), profiting from the splendid resources of its outdoor and indoor spaces and taking after processional or pageant theatre. More recently, with Gente Singular/ Odd People (1993), by Teixeira de Pascoaes, João Brites turned it into a train journey, using a real steam engine, with the actors playing both in the carriages and in an old warehouse, thus recalling events and stories around 1914.

A Barraca, formed in 1975, is run by the talented actress Maria do Céu Guerra, and some of its early productions were directed by the Brazilian Augusto Boal, after his fashion of «coringa theatre». More recently it staged Fassbinder and Ionesco, and had great success witth the playscript O baile (Penchnenat) adapted to a Portuguese context.

In 1990 another company came into being around the well-known comical actor Mário Viegas - Companhia Teatral do Chiado. It achieved great success both with the Italian play The Art of Comedy (1992), by Eduardo de Filippo, and with a superb Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett (1993), an author to whom Mário Viegas (who died in 1996) had very often turned as director and actor (Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, Ohio Impromptu, among other plays).

Outside Lisbon, Évora has proved to be a most important theatrical centre after 1974, and, under the direction of Mário Barradas, the Cendrev has created some fascinating performances, as was recently the case of Auto da Lusitânia/ Play of Lusitania, by Gil Vicente (1993).

It is curious to note that most of the companies working outside Lisbon organize theatre festivals, perhaps in an attempt to create wider audiences and to profess another kind of relationship with the city. This was the case with Setúbal in the late eighties, and it has been the case of Almada (with growing success), Évora (International Puppet Theatre Festival), Portalegre, Tondela (Viseu) and Oporto. In the latter, members of Seiva Trupe anually stage the FITEI - Festival Internacional de Teatro de Expressão Ibérica (International Theatre Festival of Iberian-speaking countries), thus creating a link with Spanish, Latin American and African companies (Angola, Mozambique and other former Portuguese colonies).

Both in the independent theatre groups and in the companies working outside Lisbon, it is generally the director who sets the prevailing artistic mode. Thus, Joaquim Benite in Almada is best known for his work in historical plays (1383-1385, by Virgílio Martinho), and for having staged José Saramago’s A Noite/ The Night ( evoking the night of the Revolution - April 25, 1974) - in the editorial room of a newspaper) and Que farei com este livro?/ What shall I do with this book?

One of the most interesting experiences in the early 80s was carried out by Seiva Trupe (directed by Norberto Barroca) in Oporto with a musical, situated somewhere between the revue and the cefé-theatre: Um Cálice de Porto /A Glass of Port, a model that was soon to be followed by other theatre companies.

José Peixoto and Rui Mendes working in the Teatro da Malaposta have attached the utmost care on the repertoire, thus putting on very good performances, as was the case of A Midsummernight’s Dream, Robert Patrick’s Kennedy’s Children (1993), and more recently an excellent Moliére’s École des femmes (1994) with brilliant playacting by Rui Mendes, as well as a most stimulating Brian Friel’s Translations (1996).

Thus the «independent theatre» has been playing a capital, unique role in the Portuguese theatre. However, specially on account of subsidies being mainly channeled to the major independent groups, some people have started questioning their domination, which has given rise to a identity crisis or a certain artistic erosion, due both to their aging and to the possible social and artistic cost imposed by the subvention policy designed by the State Secretary for Culture.

Yet, they remain a major reference for younger generations who, for the most part, gladly accept participating in their performances (and learning from them), borrow their venues occasionally or tend to adopt some of their aesthetic features when producing their own plays.

3.3. Other theatre structures

Four other theatre structures operate in Portugal, but their activity is not particulary encouraged: theatre for young audiences, puppet theatre companies, students’ groups and amateurs.

There are about 200 amateur groups (excluding the various theatre clubs existing in secondary schools), mostly in the regions, and some of them receive aid from the local councils. Once a year a festival is staged in Lisbon by the city council (together with INATEL and Lisbon Trade Unions Council), but it only covers the groups that work in the greater Lisbon. In 1993, 51 groups enrolled, 42 performed, envolving 750 actors and 700 spectators. Five groups were chosen for the final, and these were all secondary-school groups.

Many amateur groups are now having a regular work, with two productions a year, thus attaining semi-professional status.

There are University groups in various cities, as is the case, among others, of Lisbon, Aveiro (GRETUA), Coimbra (TEUC and CITAC) and Oporto (TUP), but their activity is irregular, although some manage to present interesting performances, as was recently the case of Teatro da Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa (dir. Ávila Costa) and Cénico de Direito (dir. Pedro Wilson). The latter presented an original adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V, that transformed it into sex warfare between English girls and French boys.

There are five main Puppet theatre companies: the charming Bonecos de Santo Aleixo (a most interesting folk tradition dating from the eighteenth century, which has been judiciously kept by the Cendrev, Évora), Marionetas de Lisboa (dir. José Ramalho), Lanterna Mágica, Teatro de Marionetas do Porto and Marionetas de S. Lourenço.

Indeed our tradition of marionette theatre had a very important role in the eighteenth century with the playwright António José da Silva, called The Jew, who wrote his «óperas bufas» (comic operas) for the Teatro do Bairro Alto. He died young at the hands of the Inquisition. The Marionetas de S. Lourenço (dir. Helena Vaz and José Gil) have more persistently worked on Silva’s operatic puppet works, and constituted a Museum of Marionettes in Lisbon, where they keep their own puppets, as well as others from different folk traditions (Museu da Marioneta).

As for the Bonecos de Santo Aleixo (Alentejo), they were recovered in the twentieth century by «Mestre» Jaleca (a craftsman) and then «Mestre» Talhinhas. The latter, on growing old, gladly accepted to handing over all his puppets and repertoire to the Cendrev (Dramatic Centre of Évora) which, under Alexandre Passos’s supervision, did some research locally and has continued the tradition. The repertoire includes dramatic religious pieces from the Middle Ages, together with fresh vaudeville sketches where «Mestre Salas», a kind of «compère», adresses members of the audience by their own names. The group is considered one of the most authentic forms of folk theatre still practised in Europe.

As for theatre for young audiences, it saw great improvement after April 25. Several companies exclusively dedicated to this kind of theatre appeared: O Bando (dir. João Brites), which was the most important of them all, Joana, Realejo, Rodaviva, Teatro Infantil de Lisboa and most of the regular, independent groups made some experiments in this field, as was the case of Comuna, Cornucópia, Campolide, Adóque, Casa da Comédia, among others. Many of these shows owed something to Catherine Dasté who had directed in Portugal. A Brazilian director - José Caldas - staged some of the most imaginative and memorable performances, like A Vida Íntima de Laura/ Laura’s Intimate Life (on a text by Clarice Lispector), 1981.

But in the mid 80s it was clear that theatre for young audiences ceased to be a priority in the subvention policy. Many of those companies disappeared, others redressed their projects (as was the case of O Bando), and only a small number have continued to work with children: Teatro Infantil de Lisboa (dir. Kim Cachopo), Papa Léguas (dir. Mário Jorge) in Lisbon, Pé de Vento (dir. João Luiz)  and Art’Imagem (dir. José Leitão) in Oporto, Teatrão (dir. Manuel Guerra) in Coimbra.

3.4. National Theatre

It is not easy to define in a few words what a National Theatre can or should be, although anyone may honestly expect it to fulfill at least three main goals: (1) have a regular activity; (2) stage national drama; (3) engage some of our best artists, comprising actors, directors and set-designers.

Unfortunately this has not always been the case in Portugal. Indeed, when the National Theatre opened its doors again in 1978 (rebuilt after a fire), a resident company was formed under the direction of Francisco Ribeiro. But repertoire and artistic direction did not go without criticism at the time, for much of its outcome was well below expectations. The Experimental Studio (upstairs) had problems with acoustics, so only much later could it be used, and its repertoire policy was not always clear.

In those first years, however, one or two performances reached a certain quality: O Judeu/ The Jew (1980), by Bernardo Santareno, directed by Rogério Paulo and A Casa de Bernarda Alba/ The House of Bernarda Alba (1983), by Lorca directed by the young director Mário Feliciano, fresh come from Rome, where he had worked with Luca Ronconi.

In 1985 another director was appointed - António Brás Teixeira (together with Afonso Botelho) - and a regular policy of inviting stage directors brought some success: Jean Marie Villégier staged Molière’s Don Juan (1986), João Lourenço directed with fine sensibility Brecht’s Mother Courage with Eunice Muñoz in the leading role. Ricardo Pais recreated very imaginatively Fausto-Fernando-Fragmento (1989), by Fernando Pessoa, working with the set-designer António Lagarto: the staging expressed a symbolic labyrinthine world by placing the action in a radio studio and by interfusing it with many cultural referents.

In 1990, and much to everybody’s expectations, Ricardo Pais was appointed director of the National Theatre, but a lot of set-backs favoured his early resignation in 1991. One of them was related to the production Passa por mim no Rossio/ Pass by me in Rossio, a collection of sketches from the most celebrated revues (a combination of music-hall and political satire, traditionally staged in Parque Mayer), designed and directed by Filipe La Féria, coming from one of the independent groups, Casa da Comédia. It turned out to be an overwhelming success, but also proved disastrous in many senses: the managers of Parque Mayer complained it was unfair competition, for the amount of subsidies received by La Féria could never be matched in the commercial theatre (in the end they applied for, and received, State subsidies); financially it forced the cancellation of practically all the productions planned by Ricardo Pais; and in response to the public’s interest it was kept running for over two years, engaging the whole company, and making it impossible to open any other production in the meantime.

This can be cited as an example that great success may in the long run prove less positive than it seems. And this is without referring the perversion of a State Theatre that had disregarded some of the rules imposed on all the other companies: to produce three plays a year.

In this artistic emptiness that engulfed the National Theatre (1991-1993), the appointed director, the novelist Agustina Bessa Luís, did litle to improve the situation, mainly due to the fact that she was not really a theatre person at all. Pratically, the only activity held in the Theatre (besides the revue) was the hosting of the International Theatre Festival (dir. António Lagarto), which has been organized by the State Secretary for Culture since 1991.

In November of 1993 the NT finally opened with a new production of Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Carlos Avilez, who in the meantime was invited to direct the Theatre. Coming also from an independent group (Teatro Experimental de Cascais), he has promised some changes, including a challenge to Portuguese playwrights (both classical and contemporary), as well as a possibility to host some individual projects or other theatres lacking venues where to stage their productions. And this has helped to clear up some tensions between the National and subsidized theater.

3.5. Commercial Theatre

Of our four private owned theatres in Lisbon - Villaret, Maria Vitória, ABC and Variedades (these three in Parque Mayer) - only two are putting on productions at the moment. One of them - Villaret - has been used (over the past two years) by the National Theater (as an extension ot its activities), the other - Maria Vitória - has a revue on, although some of the company’s famous actors are not performing in it as they are working for television (such as Marina Mota or Carlos Cunha).

For a population of 1.500 million living in Lisbon, this number is clearly insufficient, but shows the difficulties our theatre system has in standing on its own feet.


4.1. The voice of the Congress

On November 22, 23 and 24, 1993, the First Congress of the Portuguese Theatre was held in Lisbon, in the Gulbenkian Foundation. In the organizing committee were actors, directors, playwrights, critics, theatre students and delegates from practically all the theatrical associations.

It was a major event which gathered together over 300 people, and the discussions were very lively, sometimes even hot, as is befitting to theatre people. Actually this should be no surprise, due to the fact that so many different activities were represented there (commercial and independent theatre; artists and critics; directors and playwrights); furthermore, it was really the first great encounter of all theatre people.

A long document was issued with the conclusions which were unanimously accepted, partly because they were detailed enough to cover pratically all the papers presented to the assembly.

Some of the concerns expressed by most of the members were about a recently formed departement in the State Secretary for Culture (Performance Arts Institute), which would be the overruling power on theatre life. One of the chief reasons for this concern had to do with the fact that his inception had not been previously discussed with theatre people and neither were its aims and future criteria clear to anyone.

They also expressed serious concerns about theatre buildings, since there has been a steady disappearance, demolition, deterioration or shut-down of theatre buildings both in and outside Lisbon, and this situation had not encountered any firm policy for the preservation, restoration or use of existing spaces for theatre life.

There was a general feeling against precarious and most unfair situation of actors concerning their contracts, tax deductions and social welfare payments (v. above: 3.1.).

Many people also complained about the lack of firm support for theatre for young audiences, decentralized theatre or a touring policy, as well as an insufficient support given to experimental and younger companies.

The playwrights deplored the great difficulties they have had to face not only to see their plays published, but also to see them performed on stage, for companies go on preferring foreigners or the classics (v. below: 4.2.).

Everybody criticized the lack of interest registered by the media, and specially television, in covering theatrical life, not only restricting the space dedicated to or dispensing with theatre criticism, but also not even reporting on theatre events.

It was generally felt that most issues had to be more accurately studied and discussed: a proposal for legislation on theatre activity (to hand over to the respective authorities), an enquiry into audiences and their relation to theatre life, as well as a setting up of the conditions for actors to develop a self-critical and self-reflexive attitude torwards their activity, their habits, potentialities, as well as their precise role in the theatre.

It was also stressed the urgent need to stimulate theoretical and critical discussions on theatre and on theatre research, as well as to publish new plays by Portuguese writers and make good translations.

However, in spite of the need for further data to reach a conclusion, some demands were so clear-cut they could immediately be listed, such as the need to recognize theatre as an important cultural agent and force, so that the State could be also made responsible for it. Thus it could support the theatre in order to create the conditions for stability and professionalism, without disregarding experimentation, amateur theatre, regional theatre, touring activity, as well as a more efficient relation between the theatre and the school.

It was a major concern and demand that the mass media, and specially television, take an interst in theatre: not only by including it in newsreports and making special programmes dedicated to theatrical activity (including theatre criticism), but also by filming, in good technical conditions, the plays which are staged (in the event they prove suitable) and producing their own plays and scripts.

Something new is happening with the emergence of some theatre activity among immigrant and marginalized communities. It was thus considered of great import to support that activity and to promote it as an important and social duty.

Production and management are also a great concern for theatre people owing to the specific nature they tend to acquire. Therefore, though recognizing the importance of this specific activity of financial management and marketing (and wishing there was a possibility of experts to help them in these matters), it was argued that these activities should under no circumstances stand in the way of their artistic project.

Managers of commercial theatre pleaded for the need to stimulate revue theatre by effectively supporting it (through subsidies).

Last but not least, everybody expressed the urgent need to reconcile theatre with audiences and audiences with theatre.



*Source: State Secretary for Culture (December 1993)

However there are some other hard facts which should not go unobserved. Indeed private sponsors do seldom support theatre and the budget for culture in Portugal is still well below the European average of 1%.

From the small amount allotted to culture, priority has lately gone to preserve heritage and museums, and when it comes to support theatre, the preference has gone to spectacular productions and initiatives, thus satisfying the nostalgia for ostension and luxury.


This means that culture has been looked upon as an economic activity and a commodity aiming at political and financial profits. Some of the consequences have been: unassumed political favouritism; the appearance of the cultural manager (who is not always sensitive to theatre needs); the disappearance of risky projects; the rise of tickets price to meet the inflation; the resort to proved recipes (revival of previous successes of the company or facile solutions); and a great stress laid upon regular companies both to reach a certain score (productions, performances, audience, box-office income, etc.), and to respond to a host of bureaucratic demands.

There is in this situation the risk of exhausting regular projects and companies and of imposing a single model on all of them, thus sacrifying variety. It is true that this policy has helped, through occasional subsidies, towards the emergence of some free-lance artists, some of them talented and with productions well received both by theatregoers and critics, but they seldom subsist longer than a single venture, with no profit, and barely dispensing with the help of regular companies (for loan of premises) and with a second job (preferably in televison).

4.2. Contemporary Portuguese Drama and its relation to Theatre

Every year, when the Portuguese Association of (Literary) Critics (Associação Portuguesa de Críticos) presents its report on books printed, it is obvious that drama is the very poor kinsman of other publications, and has an average of three to five plays published each year.

It is also revealing that, the State Secretary for Culture had annual award for plays (Prémio Garrett: Dramaturgy) that was canceled in 1992. Interestingly the Portuguese Writers Association (APE) had only awards for novel, poetry and essay until 1993, when finally an award for drama was also set up. Lately a new award was devised by the Portuguese Authors Society in association with a theater company, Novo Grupo (see 2.3.2.).

It is also true that with the only exception of the Portuguese Authors Society (Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores/SPA), there is no publisher with a special collection for drama. This collection (Repertory of the Portuguese Authors Society) has been published since 1970, and we find many good plays, written in it, among others, by Romeu Correia, Luiz Francisco Rebello, Augusto Sobral, Jaime Salazar Sampaio, Prista Monteiro, Norberto Ávila, José Jorge Letria, Miguel Barbosa and Pedro Barbosa.

Now and then there is a publisher who tries to meet the demand, but sometimes the experiment proves to be short-lived. It was the case of Cotovia Books that celebrated an agreement with the National Theatre to publish some plays, not necessarily staged by the NT. Between 1991 and 1995 several volumes were issued: plays by Abel Neves, Luísa Costa Gomes, Yvette K. Centeno, Eduarda Dionísio, and Jorge Silva Melo. However, probably due to difficulties with the National Theatre, publishing has become rather irregular.

In 1992 the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema (Superior School of Theatre and Cinema), through its Documentation Centre, decided to publish some plays by contemporary Portuguese playwrights in a very simple and limited edition, and, fortunately, the INATEL (v. above: 2.3.) sponsored the production of four of these plays at the Teatro da Trindade, under the label of «plays for four actors». One of them, by Fernando Augusto, is really very interesting and deals with colonial war traumas - O Solário/ Solarium -, a subject which has not been widely dealt with. However we have already seen two very fine productions with plays on war experience : Um jeep em segunda mão/ A Second Hand Jeep, by Fernando Dacosta (produced by Maizum under Adolfo Gutkin’s direction, 1987), and Estilhaços/ Splinters, by Mário de Carvalho (produced by O Bando under the direction of João Brites, 1989).

We also owe this ESCT collection the publication of a play by Costa Ferreira, written before 1974, which had never been published or produced for obvious political reasons - Onde está a música?/ Where is the music?. It was also staged (at Teatro da Malaposta) in the same year, in a quite moving way.

Generally publishing is easier when the writer is known either for writing drama, or, more often, for writing novels. Still, publishers complain plays are not easily sold. One of the reasons may be that theatre companies  are not particulary keen on staging Portuguese contemporary drama, but also perhaps modern theatre is not yet generally considered dignified enough for school syllabuses or academic research.

There are also historical reasons for the fact. As Luiz Francisco Rebello points out (1988, p. 138 ff.), between 1945 and 1974 playwriting and publishing seemed to (relatively) flourish, but most plays could not be staged mainly due to censorship. In 1971, for instance, only one Portuguese contemporary play was staged, and the next year none at all.

It is true that, when the great romantic novelist and playwright Almeida Garrett (1799-1854) founded the National Theatre, his main purpose was to promote playwriting. For several reasons, however, (v. above: 3.4.) the National Theatre has not been able to cope with this demand, not only due to artistic inability, but also because the policy was not sufficiently warranted. A short cycle of Portuguese authors was however staged in its Studio (former Sala Gil Vicente, but since 1993 Sala Amélia Rey Colaço/Robles Monteiro) in 1982, but again the artistic quality was not high enough to convince audiences and theatre people that Portuguese drama could be rewarding.

Most companies complain that audiences drop off when the play is by contemporary Portuguese writers. Indeed if we compare numbers, the conclusion may be precisely that, although one of the reasons may be the impossibility of holding on to a long run: in 1986 Comuna had 5.461 spectators for Caligula, by Camus, and immediately afterwards, 1.866 for Touro/ Bull, by Abel Neves, a young playwright who has been working for the company both as a dramaturg and as an actor. However it is rather unfair to compare what should never be compared, because when it comes to the classics, like Gil Vicente, for instance, the numbers are totally different. And, anyway, whenever a new play is produced, it is supposed to be risky: it is also part of the package. What is obvious is that no foreign plays staged in Portugal is new - it has already been put on somewhere, and even if the director has not seen it himself, he always looks for information and tries to learn what the production was like.

The truth is that, even when complaining, most of the independent groups stage Portuguese plays, partly because the rules for subsidies include this obligation... It is the case of Comuna, Barraca, Campolide (now Teatro de Almada), Novo Grupo and Portalegre, among others.

It is also curious to note that most of the independent companies began their activity by producing - brilliantly - Portuguese classics. Indeed Cornucópia staged Anfitrião/ Amphitrion, by António José da Silva, in 1969, when the company had not yet been formed as Cornucópia and was still the Grupo de Teatro da Faculdade de Letras (the University group from where it came).

The same goes for Comuna (1973) and Barraca (1976), both by producing Gil Vicente, or to Campolide (now Companhia de Teatro de Almada) with a play by António José da Silva (1972).

We can also single out some excellent recent productions on Portuguese classics. João Mota directed A Castro, a tragedy written in the sixteenth century by António Ferreira on the unhappy fate of Inês de Castro, as a ritual of beauty, passion and suffering, using space in a most original way (1982).

We owe to Maria do Céu Guerra a moving play acting in a collage of plays by Gil Vicente (É menino ou menina?/ Boy or girl?, 1980, dir. Helder Costa for A Baraca), whereas the symbolist playwright of the first decade of our century, António Patrício, had his play O Fim/ The End directed by Jorge Listopad for the ACARTE/ Gulbenkian Foundation, in 1986, stressing its decadentist atmosphere.

However it has not necessarily been only the classics to inspire good productions. Since 1974 we had the opportunity to see very interesting performances on Portuguese contemporary playwrights. It was the case of Jaime Gralheiro (Onde Vás, Luís?/ Where are you going, Luís?, on the sixteenth century poet Luís de Camões by Teatro Experimental de Cascais, dir. Carlos Avilez), or of Natália Correia’s A Pécora/ The Drab (put on by João Mota for Comuna in 1989), a play dating back from 1966 (and banned by the fascist censorship) on religious obscurantism and some of the putative faults of the Portuguese temperament (as expressed by religious superstition, by fado singing and its praise of suffering and destiny, as well as by political conservantism).

Mário Viegas stressed the black humour of Birra do Morto/ The Dead Man’s Tiff, by Vicente Sanches (Companhia Teatral do Chiado, 1990), while Filipe La Féria invented tantalizing and decadentist set designs for his two performances at Casa da Comédia: A Bela Portuguesa/Portuguese Beauty (a kind of rose), by Agustina Bessa Luís, in 1986, and Noites de Anto, on António Nobre and his poetry, in 1988.

The relation of O Bando with literature is singular (v. above: 3.2.) and it is to narratives that it resorts, thus creating some of the most imaginative atmospheres, both in its theatre-hall and in its outdoors performances. This was the case of Montedemo (1987), based on a novel by Hélia Correia /written in a kind of magic realism), and Bichos/ Beasts (1990) on the collection of short stories on animals (to talk of men) by Miguel Torga.

More recently, the company formed around Jorge Silva Melo - Artistas Unidos - has staged his own plays with a great success, as was the case of António, um rapaz de Lisboa/Antonio, a Boy from Lisbon (1995), a vey interesting play about the hard everyday life of young people in the great metropolis.

What we can conclude is that, though writers can complain that they are unfairly treated by theatre people (and where the National Theatre bears some responsibility), Portuguese writing has been the seed of some of the most important and original events.

4.3. Theatre information, documentation and research

There are several newspapers and magazines which have no theatre criticism, and when they have, the space allotted is drastically reduced. Exceptions are the more-widely newspapers: Público (theatre critic: Manuel João Gomes), Expresso (Eugénia Vasques and João Carneiro), Diário de Notícias (Fernando Midões), and the cultural one - Jornal de Letras/ JL - with Carlos Porto and Jorge Listopad.

The case of television is worse, because there is no regular programme dedicated to theatre activity, no criticism at all, and for unpredictable reasons only a scarce information on a première included in the news. Moreover, there is no steady policy of producing plays for TV.

However, some plays have been produced, either directly for television, or as adaptations of theatre successes, as was the case of Vida Íntima de Laura/ Laura’s Intimate Life, some years ago, of Mother Courage (co-production of National Theatre and Novo Grupo), or Passa por mim no Rossio/ Pass by me in Rossio.

But, although some of these productions are very interesting (directed by Artur Ramos, Cecília Neto, Maria João Rocha or Fernando Midões, among others), they tend to be shown so late at night that most people simply do not see them.

During the Congress (v. above: 4.1.) theatre people complained about this state of affairs, and promised to create a «lobby» to convince the four existing TV channels to give more attention to theatre.

In the meantime two channels have been producing soap operas, although Brazilian series still continue to flood our screens. Our actors complain that, for financial reasons, part of the cast is not professional, which has both artistic and social consequences. Some actors said during the Congress that they were working in television, on publicity and even going to political life: the only thing they were not doing was theatre.

As for regular specialized magazines dedicated entirely to theatre there is in fact none at the moment. Indeed, all the existing «theatre magazines» are in a certain way expanded programmes published by some theatre companies and related to the productions they are staging. At present this is also the case of four regional companies: Companhia de Teatro de Almada (Cadernos/ Note Books, since 1990), Teatro do Noroeste (Textos do Noroeste, published since 1991), and the most important of all Cendrev, from Évora: Adágio, a very good publication on arts and culture (not specifically theatre), published since 1990, and into its 17th issue.

Another Cultural Review that includes some articles and essays on theatre is Vértice, published in Lisbon, and it has the aim of editing «files» on the existing theatre companies: Cornucópia and Bando have already been published, and others are being prepared.

As for documentation, there are some collections which can be consulted, as in the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema (Superior School of Theatre and Cinema), the National Theatre, the Theatre Museum, and Sala Jorge Faria (in Coimbra University). However, the need of a centralized Documentation Centre is obvious in order to encourage research.

The lack of a specialized magazine and the difficulties with information and documentation make any research extremely exhausting and unrewarding.

The establishment in 1991 of a postgraduation course on Theatre Studies at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Lisbon, may be the start of a serious and regular academic approach to the theatre. Engaging people like Osório Mateus (recently deceased), Maria João Brilhante and myself, among others, the course also aims at setting up a data bank about the Portuguese Theatre.


1994:      «As práticas culturais», Portugal 20 anos de democracia (ed. António Reis). Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores (pp. 443-489).

PALHINHA, Margarida (ed.)
1988:      A Companhia Amélia Rey Colaço/Robles Monteiro: 1921-1974 (Catálogo de Exposição). Lisboa: Museu Nacional do Teatro.

PICCHIO, Luciana Steggano
1969:      História do teatro português. Lisboa: Portugália Editora.

PORTO, Carlos et al.
1985:      Dez anos de teatro e cinema em Portugal: 1974-1984  Lisboa: Editorial Caminho.
1988:      «Portugal», Escenários de dos mundos: Inventário Teatral de Iberoamerica (ed. Moisés Perez Coterillo), vol. 4. Madrid: Centro de Documentación Teatral (pp. 13-93).

REBELLO, Luiz Francisco
1985 a.   100 anos de teatro português. Porto: Brasília Editora.
1985 b.  História do teatro de revista, 2 vols. Lisboa: Publicações Dom Quixote.
1988:      História do teatro português, 4ª ed., Lisboa: Publicações Europa América.

SERÔDIO, Maria Helena (ed.)
1992 a.   «Em cena: Teatro da Cornucópia», Vértice, II série, nº 48, May-June (pp.93-129).
1992 b.  «Em cena: O Bando», Vértice, II série, nº 51, Nov.-Dec. (pp. 89-131).

VASQUES, Eugénia (ed.)
1991:      D’autres imaginaires: Théâtre et danse au Portugal (Alternatives Théâtrales, nº 39). Bruxelles: Europalia & ACARTE/ Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.



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[1] Special thanks to Teresa Faria, who assisted me in this study.
Acknowledgements also to the students of Theatre Studies (University of Lisbon) for having collected some useful information: Teresa André, Helena Peixinho, Duarte Vítor, José Ramalho, Miquelina Lopes, Lurdes Patrício and Ana Vinagre.