Black Orpheus Brings the Beats to the Bay Area

An Interview with Director Stephen Buescher

By Ariella Wolfe

Stephen Buescher, head of movement and physical theater for the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program, has been waiting for the opportunity to create a theatrical adaptation of Black Orpheus. While studying theater in Brazil, Buescher developed a strong connection to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice after seeing Marcel Camus’s 1959 film, Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus), an adaptation of the myth which takes place during the Brazilian festival of Carnaval

The cast of Black Orpheus in rehearsal. Photo by Beatriz Miranda-Torres. 

This week, Buescher gets the chance to bring Brazil to the Bay Area. Black Orpheus: Una Historia de Amor marks the first time that A.C.T. Stage Coach and the M.F.A. Program have collaborated on a production created specifically for a community tour. The relationships fostered between A.C.T. and the larger Bay Area community through the Stage Coach initiative have allowed for new partnerships and opportunities to share in theatrical experiences. Buescher shares some thoughts on the play and his own artistic process and perspective.

What was your inspiration for this production?

When I found out that the movie Orfeu Negro was based on a Brazilian play, I was determined to find an English translation. I read that the playwright, Vinícius de Moraes, saw the movie and didn’t like it, and now I see one reason why. His language in the play is so poetic, so specific, and in the movie it’s really colloquial. I’m drawn to the linguistics of the play, but the rhythms of the movie.

The musical core of the A.C.T. production is artists of African heritage and Afro-Lat
ina women: Cesária Évora, Virginia Rodrigues, and Iyeoka Okoawo. I want to follow the pulse of the source material and where that comes from.

What is it about Black Orpheus that makes it a good fit for a community tour?

I love that there are different cultural themes in the piece. I’m also glad there are students from Downtown High School who will be assisting me in rehearsals and that we can reach out to the community to invite them to create the scenery. We are also able to work with the [Brazilian dance] group Sambaxé to get the dance and song and rhythms going. The other thing is that I like street theater; this play is like street theater. Even if we’re indoors, hopefully it will feel like you can shout back and you don’t have to behave a certain way.

Are there specific cultural influences you hope to include in this production?

There will be a Brazilian cultural aspect. Some of the songs will be sung in Portuguese, and some will be in Spanish. Partially because we riffed off of a Spanish translation, there’s going to be more Spanish in the text than Portuguese. There will also be Greek influence from the original Orpheus and Eurydice myth, and African culture will inspire some of the movement and songs.

Why is multicultural theater particularly important?

For me it’s a necessary expression. There’s something about being in a place of a different culture, a different language that I have always loved. I love getting immersed in that. 

Black Orpheus: Una Historia de Amor is free and open to the public, no reservations necessary. See below for performance times: 

Sunday, May 8 at 1:30 pm: Persia Triangle (4650 Mission Street), Excelsior
With special appearances by Sambaxé Dance Company and Bateria Força Feminina.
Special performance by Cypress String Quartet at 4 pm.

Monday, May 9 at 7 pm: La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley

Thursday, May 12 at 7 pm: Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts

Friday, May 13 at 6 pm: Mendell Plaza (1429 Mendell Street), Bayview
In collaboration with 3rd on Third, Bayview Opera House, and Carnaval SF.
With special appearances by Sambaxé Dance Company and Bateria Força Feminina.

Saturday, May 14 at 4 pm: Yerba Buena Gardens
In collaboration with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, A.C.T. celebrates the new SFMOMA.
With special appearances by Sambaxé Dance Company and Bateria Força Feminina.

Click here to join the Facebook event.

For a comprehensive study guide on Black Orpheus, click here!

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