Once shy and withdrawn, Brazilian woman becomes international director, promotes diversity

To direct a diverse cast, I must know their cultures. We speak different languages, and come from different customs, but we share one voice and one love for theater. To those who are shy or self-conscious in front of the world, do not worry. You are just beginning to discover yourself. Go beyond your limits and learn to destroy them.

  • 2 years ago
  • June 26, 2022
6 min read
Michelle Raja Gebara performing for the online show Ilhas Islands Michelle Raja Gebara performing for the online show Ilhas Islands | Photo courtesy of Michelle Raja Gebara
Brazilian actress and director Michelle Raja Gebara
Interview Subject
Michelle Raja Gebara is a Brazilian director and actres of Arab descent (Syrian-Ilbanese). Michelle graduated from the Casa de las Artes de Laranjeiras (Brazil) and was part of the Nós do Morro Theater Group. She founded Cia Mulheres del Mundo, where she produces international projects with women artists from various countries.

In 2021 she took first place in the public call FUNARTE ARTE EN TODAPARTE, with her online project Teatro para Crianças. In 2019, she was hired by Sesc Niterói to teach a theater workshop, which culminated in the play A Crise dos 30, which she authored and directed. She founded her company Raja Gebara Pictures in 2015 and has been awarded in nine public calls.
She has produced or acted in international plays, adaptions of books, telenovelas, and series. When she participated in the comedy sitcom Tô de Graça with the Brazilian humorist Rodrigo Sant’anna, her video gained nearly a million views.
Background Information
In the social journal Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience of the University of Nebraska, researchers from Stony Brooks University in New York published that shy people perceive the world in a different way and show more intense brain activity when faced with certain stimuli.

They selected 16 people and asked them to compare two similar portraits to observe the details. The shy ones spent more time looking at the images and “showed heightened activity in brain areas that deal with associating visual and sensory perceptions.” In short, “his brain was not only concerned with visual perception but was activated for a deeper elaboration of information,” the researchers explained.

Many of the globe’s top artists report being shy or highly sensitive.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil ꟷ Growing up shy, I never imaged art would permeate my life with light. Little did I know I would become a successful, recognized, international actress, director, and producer.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I found it difficult to talk to people. I liked to do things alone at school. The directors and teachers worried about me because I had no friends. They called my mother in to analyze if I had a disorder or some other problem. No one understood it was just part of my process.

People always wanted me to speak. When theater suddenly appeared in my life, it distracted me and allowed me to work on my shyness. At the age of 15, I attended a theater workshop. I never saw myself as an artist but suddenly it happened: I fell in love with acting

Brazilian actress takes the professional stage for the first time

Back in school, I studied nutrition but never pursued it as a career. I would go to class, sign-in on the attendance sheet, and then leave for my artistic activities. The sensation of transformation I felt in theater totally fulfilled me and I began truly enjoying life.

I find it difficult to express what happens to me when I become a character. Only those who act understand this feeling. It is like a sensation you feel on your skin and in your body.  When I first graced the stage, I believed I would never be nervous, but when the signal prompted me to begin, the emotion rose in my stomach.

I knew in that moment I must give the performance my best for the public. Your performance could be someone’s first time at the theater and it’s not like cinema. In the theater we cannot fool anyone. There are no effects. I feel a great responsibility because my performance is crucial for that person to come back. It affects how they view our art.

In 2008, I obtained my first job acting in a professional theater show called Álbum de Familia by Nelson Rodriguez. Nervousness filled me. The stage was covered with red earth. Rodriguez’s work is visceral and strong, and I found a great opportunity to learn. Despite all the nerves, the night proved to be beautiful. The public showed their appreciation with compliments prior to our celebration party. I even helped with costumes, and I knew, this is the world in which I belong.

Michelle Raja Gebara stars in O Eleva a Dor | Photo courtesy of Michelle Raja Gebara

Woman transitions from acting to producing with an international cast

Production came into my life more recently. Though I had no training, I considered myself an enterprising actress embarking on a fascinating new world. I sought to find sensitivity in my teachings and work.

When I opened my company Raja Gebara Pictures in 2015, excitement filled me even though it cost me significantly. Here in Brazil, it is more difficult when you are a singular person and not a legal entity, and I approached the launch on my own. Motivated by the radical transformation theater made in my life, in less than two years I grew my company. I can now tell my own stories and venture into unique projects.

When I received the opportunity to stage Mulheres Nascidas de um Nome [Women Born of a Name], I felt fear. I had no one to support me and took on great economic risk. I told myself, if we do not move forward with art, nothing happens, and I wanted something to happen.

We adapted and staged 32 of the 50 short stories from the book. The play included actress Maíra Kestenberg and myself from Brazil; Panamanian singer Rosa García from the Guna indigenous community; and a Uruguayan artist Andrea Lacassy. The artists participating in the project belonged to the Cia Mulheres del Mundo, a theater group I founded. A total of 12 countries participated and the project launched successfully in 2021.

Michelle Raja Gebara | Photo courtesy of Michelle Raja Gebara

Diverse theater group shares one voice and one love for theater

Working with actresses from different countries and languages, and working in theater with sign language, required me to decipher dialects of many countries. The richness of inclusion gives me the opportunity to create more projects.

This has allowed me to work with a Brazilian actress with down syndrome, and to continue to engage with and look for transgender actresses. As an international director, I seek diversity. Many did not believe I could achieve it. By directing a diverse cast, I learned why people work on global platforms.

It makes me grow. To direct them properly, I must know their cultures internally. While preparation, meetings, and rehearsals sometimes take place from a distance, we face the challenge. We speak different languages, and come from different cultures and customs, but we share one voice and one love for theater.

To those who are shy or self-conscious in front of the world, do not worry. You are just beginning to discover yourself. Go beyond your limits and learn to destroy them. Your talents and passions are right there, so do not worry. Do not be afraid to discover yourself and give the world the gifts granted to you.

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