Fernando Ekman’s Forestages

by Enock Sacramento

The forestage in a theater is the part in front of the stage. In theaters in Italy, that is the place in which the actors perform. It is such a relevant part of a theater that it became the name of theater companies, groups and theater festivals.
Typically, a forestage is closed off by a curtain, that is made to with a variety of fabrics and openings. The product can be plain or draped and are frequently painted by famous artists. Manabu Mabe, for instance, painted the curtain at the Provincial Theater of Kumamoto, in Japan. The openings depend on the theater tradition; some open to the sides, while others open to the top and others in a crossing pattern, The Italian, French, American, Austrian, Roman, Venetian are well-known, each one with their own individualities. There are also the Wagner and Brecht curtains.

The forestage is a sacred area in the theater. It is present on a daily basis and in the imagination of actors, directors, scenographers, choreographers and technicians.
Fernando Ekman, the artist who is also a scenographer and art director and currently works from a great television network in Brazil, has been captivated by the forestages. In most recent years, he has painted a series of pictures of inspired by forestages. Some of his artwork started from specific references, including the forestage at Teatro São José (1909-1924), designed by his paternal great-grandfather, Carlos Ekman, which was located at the Vale do Anhangabaú, in São Paulo, where Shopping Light is currently set.
Another was inspired by the forestage from Teatro Santa Helena, which was part of the magnificent Palacete Santa Helena (1925-1971), at Praça da Sé. The theater occupied three stories of the main building, with the audience set on the main floor, boxes on the mezzanine with a capacity for 1,500 people. The theater disappeared with the building’s demolition for the construction of the Estação Sé do Metrô de São Paulo, a subway station. The Santa Helena painters worked in the two adjacent rooms of this building, including: Bonadei, Graciano, Manoel Martins, Pennacchi, Rebolo, Rizzotti, Volpi and Zanini.

Other forestages were created from the artist’s vibrant imagination. “I draw my obscure memories with charcoal from all the demolished, burnt and abandoned houses”, says the artist. He adds that he uses “bitumen to preserve the poetry accumulated in the openings of the backstage” and concludes, “I plaster the artists’ souls that perspired there in gold”. Fernando Ekman laments, artistically, the destiny that so many of the sumptuous theaters have had, similar to the ones he freely creates on canvas and paper, which had dramaturgy, lyric songs and classical dance, in an ambiance of nostalgia and drama.

He does not paint the forestages on performance days, with all the movements of actors, scenery, dancers or singers. He has imagined and painted empty, silent and majestic forestages. In Fernando Ekman’s artwork, the forestage is not the front of a place in which plays, musicals and dances happen. In them, the forestages are the spectacles themselves.