Cristina Bethencourt is an experienced master in theater direction, with an extensive background of adult, children’s and youth shows under her belt. Her contributions range from directing renowned plays to preparing casts, bringing her talent to the world of television and cinema. Recently, she took on the challenge of directing “The Artimanhas de Molière”, a play that mixes classic dialogues by the renowned French author with an authorial plot, taking the audience on a unique journey into the theatrical world.
What was your journey like to become a master in theater directing and a renowned casting coach for theater, television and cinema?
I was born in the theater. My father, João Bethencourt, was an author and theater director and my mother, Margot Mello, was an actress. I frequented many wings and attended several rehearsals, in addition to having worked as an actress as a child, both in theater and on television, for example, the soap opera Escalada on TV Globo. But I’ve always been interested in directing, in how to set a scene and build a show. First I graduated as an actress at CAL (Casa das Artes de Laranjeiras) and then I went to Uni-Rio and chose theater direction. From then on I started directing professionally, mainly plays for children and young people. At that time I was already teaching at Casa de Cultura Laura Alvim in Ipanema, where I stayed for 10 years. I became a Master in Theater with a dissertation about my father: “The Popular Academic”. As a casting preparer, I started in cinema, where I made several films, like Xuxa in Abracadabra, Didi wants to be a child with Renato Aragão; Veronica by Maurício Farias; Childhood of Domingos Oliveira; among others, always preparing children and teenagers. Then I joined TV Globo, where I have worked for fifteen years, preparing the cast of soap operas and series. My most recent work at Globo was the soap opera Mar do Sertão. At Netflix, I prepared the children’s cast for the new series, Pedaço de Mim, directed by Maurício Farias.
Can you share more about your experience at TV Globo and Netflix, preparing children’s casts? What approach do you use for this type of preparation?
Preparing children for audiovisual is always a pleasant challenge. Children have to have the rigor of a film set, following precise markings for light among others, without losing the spontaneity and naturalness so precious in childhood and fundamental in acting for the camera. Furthermore, we have to work on concentration in a set full of technicians who normally have to race against time. But the child’s response in the recording to a period of preparation is usually quite positive. They gain an understanding of the text and character, come into contact with the language of the series or soap opera and, above all, gain confidence when interpreting.
The casting preparer has to establish a relationship of trust and complicity with the general management of the series or soap opera, as the preparers form the bridge between casting and direction. With children this has to be even more aligned! The language established by management will be present from the first exercise on the first day of preparation.
The show “The Artimanhas de Molière” is his creation and involves dialogues from Molière’s works. Can you tell us more about how the idea and the process of designing this piece came about?
The show The Artimanhas of Moliere continues the work that was done last year with the class when we worked on Shakespeare and put together the show Milkshakespeare, an adaptation based on three texts by one of the greatest playwrights of all time, made by me. This time, we took on “the father of comedy”, Moliére, to continue our pedagogical process. It is a combination of two plays by Moliére: The Imaginary Patient and The Precious Ridiculousness. This time, there is an original story of mine as the guiding thread for these two plays: a group of children who invade their grandfather’s library and find Moliére himself who shows them his characters and his plots. The children are impressed and have fun until Moliére disappears at the end of the show, leaving his stories in the memory of the group of children.
You founded and coordinates Espaço Entre, an acting school for children and young people. How does this school contribute to the cultural and artistic formation of children?
Espaço Entre was founded with the intention of making a difference in learning interpretation for children and teenagers. We work in both languages, theater and audiovisual, always believing that theater exercises are the basis of the actor. We also exercise the body and voice. Our team has a vocal coach and actor and a classical dancer and actress to emphasize these aspects. We believe in the power of theater to develop the individual as a tool that stimulates expression, self-esteem, creativity, among other skills that only group theater exercises can provide.
Diversity is a hallmark of Espaço Entre, bringing together students from different social classes and origins. How does this diversity enrich the environment and learning provided by the school?
Diversity is a current and necessary agenda. We, as an educational institution, value this characteristic that was born spontaneously within the school. It is extremely rich for everyone to live with different universes towards the same goal: making art. The content that arises from this mix becomes more interesting and dense, in addition to being a powerful learning experience for each of the students.
The cast of “The Art of Molière” is made up of children aged eight to eleven. What was it like working with this age group and what were the challenges and rewards of directing a play with children?
We are used to working with this age group. And Moliére is extremely fun and playful. We found a way to enter the children’s language and “translate” Moliére so that they could understand and have fun with the funny and universal situations created by the French author. We were successful: the cast is extremely in tune with Moliére’s antics!
How does your experience as a teacher at Tablado contribute to your pedagogical approach at Espaço Entre? Are there notable differences in teaching theater to children at these different institutions?
Tablado prioritizes entertainment in the theater experience. Improvisation is the keynote of learning. There are several exercises in common with Espaço Entre, but teaching at Tablado is looser, focused mainly on developing students’ creativity so that they discover themselves as artists, not necessarily actors and actresses. It is extremely interesting work where we are constantly surprised by the students’ ideas. This basis of improvisation is extremely important and is also applied in Espaço Entre.
What are the most striking elements that viewers can expect when watching “The Art of Molière”? How does the play captivate both children and the general public?
Striking elements are Moliére’s classic characters built through the eyes of children. Viewers will also have the chance to learn about Moliére’s incredible plots, which unfold with lightness and simplicity. We also have the scenic setting by Olinto Sá, which mixes the environment of a library with the settings of the plays O Doente Imaginário and Preciosas Ridículos, which are covered in our show.
“Space Between” chose to study Shakespeare in 2022 and now Molière. How important is it to introduce classic authors into children’s theater training?
Students learn the basis of theater and what good characters are from classic authors. With Shakespeare we emphasize tragedy, playfulness and mystery and now classical comedy with Moliére. From their knowledge of the classics, students will be able to know any text.
You mentioned that you discovered talents among your students. Can you share an inspiring story of a student who excelled after teaching you?
Yes, I have some notable cases: Maria Carolina Basílio; Theo Almeida; Thales Miranda; Júlia Freitas; Alana Cabral; Valentina Melleu; Miguel Moro; Miguel Galhardo; Caique Ivo; There are many cases of students that I recommended for testing after some time practicing at Espaço Entre. And they continue studying even after their work and end up taking other jobs. It is practice, discipline and persistence that count more than pure talent.
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