This article is part of an in depth special report on the Lebanese in Brazil. Read more stories as they’re published here, or pick up July’s issue at newsstands in Lebanon.
Jorge Takla is perhaps Brazil’s most prominent theater director. In recent years he has brought numerous Western musicals to the country, with the performances drawing praise for their unique staging and minimalist lighting.
Takla is far from the average Lebanese–Brazilian. Unlike most, he was born in Lebanon and lived in Beirut until his late teens when he travelled to France to study. He comes from Lebanese aristocratic stock — his father Philippe was seven times Lebanon’s foreign minister, the first head of the central bank, and Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Despite this commitment to Lebanon, Philippe wanted his children to get out, especially as they had Brazilian citizenship through their Lebanese–Brazilian mother. “He always said when we were kids ‘don’t think of your future in Lebanon, because when you have grown up it is better you are not here. Thank god you have Brazil.’”
He admits that his father would perhaps have preferred him to move into business or politics, but he was set on theater. “When I told my father I wanted to be an actor he almost collapsed and I saw these tears. I said: ‘I am sorry father, you are very disappointed.’ He said ‘no, I think you should do what you like but I am sad because you chose the one thing I cannot help you with.’”
Takla’s latest work, a critically acclaimed minimalist version of Jesus Christ Superstar, recently completed a successful two-month run. Yet in a highly religious country a show depicting Jesus dying on a cross still brought protesters to the streets, leaving him unconcerned. “These people who came in front of the play and were protesting are people from the extreme right-wing, fascists,” he says. “I am a Christian and I am very religious. What I did in this play is very much in favor of Jesus. The Church can use it to bring people to the Church. I have lots of friends from the Church and nuns who loved it.”
Being Lebanese in the theater world offers little advantage, Takla says. “The Jewish community here they are very tight. When you are producing a play you go to a Jewish company and get a sponsor. But if I go to a Lebanese company, they have absolutely no connection with Lebanon and they are not interested in culture. I really had to fight alone.”