In 79 years of life, 56 of them as a man of the theater and 45 as a businessman responsible for the Teatro Maria Vitória, Hélder Freire Costa says that a similar crisis only exists in the times of the Troika and the Passos Coelho. “We survived two fires, very serious problems, several crises. That was the worst, ”he recalls in an interview with NiT. But this is already here and today the theater is facing a new threat: the pandemic.
It is reminiscent of the times when the electricity was turned off at noon, “in the days of Dr. Mário Soares ”, and states that“ the public has a short memory ”. In this bitter way, he refutes all of the improvised solutions recommended as remedies for the closed door.
Maria Vitória is the stage that still stands in the late Parque Mayer. The last bastion of the Portuguese magazine. But even that strength did not allow him to withstand the shock of the pandemic. Like so many other theaters, it closed in March and reopened in September, only to resume operations on October 25th.
Days later, a public appeal was made to the Minister of Culture: the theater, which never lived on support, now needed them to survive. A month passed and the answers they asked for never arrived. Still the supports.
“The only response I got was from the Prime Minister’s office, who said he had referred the matter to the Minister of Culture. So she already has two cards there. The only novelty is that the theater will be closed, ”admits the person in charge of Maria Vitória.
Although the cost is lower, Hélder Freire Costa says he continues to “accumulate debt”. Of the 40 people who worked there, including actors, dancers and technicians, only four are still active. He has not yet had to fire anyone and stresses that “those who left” left “with very good reasons”.
There is little they can do for life at home. The situations are worrying. “Some get social security support, but only a few. Others do shows in other places that can, but most of them don’t even have that opportunity, ”explains the man who saw talent grow in the magazine, such as Maria João Abreu, Marina Mota, Carlos Cunha or João Baião.
Hélder Freire Costa has been a theater producer for over 40 years.
From before the pandemic, he recalls the good houses and the show’s success, which helped him recover from the battle of the Troika crisis and the measures imposed by the Passos Coelho government. He remembers, for example, that he took on the burden of increasing the VAT levied at the time in order to avoid alienating viewers who were also affected by the crisis and were not very motivated to consume culture.
The debts it had amassed over those years disappeared and were almost dissolved when the new crisis hit. An average of 300 to 400 viewers – a figure that includes “sold out sessions, others composed and some empty” – went to one in 10 to 15 people in the room. “We only had more people in the audience because we offered some tickets,” he notes.
Given the apparent problems with the Treasury Department, proposals for dealing with the crisis emerged, some on paper from official sources. Hélder Costa Freire looks at her skeptically.
“There’s a lot of talk in the air. It is very easy to write things on paper, but in practice they have to work, ”he explains. Passing the sessions on to the mornings was one of the ideas he found unreasonable. He explains that a large part of the public who occupied Maria Vitória’s places came from outside “from Minho to the Algarve” on excursions that are no longer possible today. Not because there are no vans, but because “people are scared”.
“Morning sessions only work for subsidized theater groups that have already received the subsidy for the production and production of the show. You have the money in hand. We all know – and we are not naive – that they don’t live off the public. They live from this support from the Ministry of Culture. We get what we get from the public. If it doesn’t come, there is a loss. “
Despite being the magazine’s last stronghold in the country, he believes that this type of theater is “very popular” and that in a normal situation it would have full houses. It just doesn’t happen because of the “instability” created by the pandemic. “It doesn’t give people peace or the opportunity to concentrate their thoughts and come to the theater, be it for this or another show.”
With this in mind, he has no doubts: “The risk of a deal is absolutely real. I have lost thousands of euros again, almost immediately after the effects of the previous crisis. “
Hope now rests on promises made by the community and some official government agencies. He admits feeling guilty about the way he handled the crisis, namely the fact that he failed to take advantage of the exception that allowed him not to pay rents – a value that I hope will return is returned so that he can pay some wages.
Although he proudly declares that he never needed support to make the theater survive, the future today is based on illusions that can become reality. Or not. “I’ve lived on promises, but I believe in some of them. These things take time, I hope when they are fulfilled we will reopen Maria Vitória because I don’t want to be the businessman who ends them. “
On the way he leaves a note: “This is what I said, not a criticism of the government, but of the Minister of Culture. The whole country knows that it doesn’t exist. Have you heard of her It’s just that she doesn’t see anyone. “