The Humble Beginnings of Tiatr

Tiatr, the No.1 commercial theatre of Goa, had its humble beginnings in the year 1892. There is no real evidence of the exact date when the first tiatr was staged. However, an article by Joao Agostinho Fernandes in the 25th November 1943 issue of Ave Maria and inferences, keeping in mind the traditions of those times, fixes the date of staging the first tiatr as April 17, 1892 and the venue was The New Alfred Theatre Bombay.

The solemnity of Easter is the greatest celebration of Christians and hence it is assumed that the first tiatr staged in the month of April must have been on on April 17, the day Easter was celebrated that year. Hence this day is assumed to be the date for the staging of the first tiatr titled Italian Bhurgo.

Theatre before Tiatr

Goans are well renowned for their song and dance culture. It is believed that the art of singing ‘Ovi’ (a quartet of four lives) existed in the 10th Century. With the advent of the Portuguese, this culture underwent a process of refinement; the decade of the 1830’s saw the advent of ballroom dancing amidst the upper class. The decade of 1840’s saw the emergence of the popular mando.

However folk theatre also existed in Goa. Carnival folk plays called ‘khells’ or ‘fells’ were prominent in Salcete. This folk presentation in music and drama was enacted at the village mandd or in the courtyards of the village landlords, who primarily patronized them. The first show was always held in the courtyard of the village ‘Regidor’ who would either censor or approve the folk play for presentation. The folk play would then be presented at different venues in different villages all over Goa.

Another form of folk play was the zagor practiced by the kunbi community to pay obeisance to their village demons. This form of folk art was held throughout the night, wherein alcohol was by the artistes was rampant. There was a lot of spontaneity in the presentation and the artistes improvised their dialogues, very often using foul words.

The boom in the textile industry in Mumbai and the preferences given to Goans for jobs onboard ships, along with higher educational options available there saw a large number of the Goan middle class migrating to Bombay which was under the British Empire then. The village “kudd” provided shelter and many families started living in Dhobitalao and its surroundings. These Goans took along with them the culture prevalent and accordingly zagors were presented there too.

The “fells” of Salcete were based on the easy life of the seamen and the affairs of their wives, thereby criticizing their chief patrons – the seamen. While zagors used crude and filthy language. As a result Goans settled there fount it embarrassing to attend and patronize such form of performing arts and that paved the way for its decadence and death.
The staging of the first tiatr: ITALIAN BHURGO

Joao Agostinho Fernandes in his article in Ave Maria, refers to Lucasinho Ribeiro as the founder of tiatr, as it was he who wrote the first tiatr ITALIAN BHURGO that was staged on April 17, 1892 at the New Alfred Theatre.

Lucasinho Ribeiro who hailed from Assagao in Bardez taluka, came to Bombay in search of a job and got himself a job as a stage hand in an Italian Opera Company that was touring Bombay at that time. He toured Poona, Madras, Shimla and Calcutta along with the troupe and when the troupe reached Burma, he left the job purchasing the discarded stage costumes of the company.

Having seen opera production from close quarters, on his return to Bombay, he started penning down scenes and putting up a storyline for the play. Actors to enact the roles were difficult to find as Goans looked at the then existing Konkani theatre with disdain. However, Lucasinho was not disheartened and kept approaching people to be actors. Caetanhinho Fernandes from Taleigao was the first to join him. Through Caitaninho, Joao Agostinho Fernandes from Margao joined the troupe and later Agostinho Mascarenhas from Mungul. . There was a fifth person who joined the team but unfortunately the identity of this person is lost with the passage of time.

Italian Bhurgo had nine characters and the team of five decided to enact double roles and since this involved changing of costumes, they decided to put in songs in between the scenes, with a brass band to accompany the singers as in the operas and thus emerged the format of tiatr of having cantos, duets, trios and quarts.
Father of Tiatr (Pai Tiatrist)

Tiatrists or tiatr artistes always referred to Joao Agostinho Fernandes as ‘Pai Tiatrist’ owing to the fatherly affection and respect he carried. His contribution the tiatr form of art also made him worthy of the title. The government of Goa has been kind enough to name the main auditorium at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao as “Pai Tiatrist Joao Agostinho Fernandes hall.”

However, Joao Agostinho Fernandes in the said article in Ave Maria gives the first place in tiatr to Lucasinho Ribeiro, whose Italian Bhurgo pioneered the art form called tiatr. He further terms Lucasinho as his ‘mestri’ and bows his head in respect and reverence to him. Joao Agostinho Fernandes in the said article says: “The late Lucasinho Ribeiro, without any doubt deserves the premier honourable position. I bow my head at the grave of Mr. Ribeiro, who was my maestro in the field of theatre and I still tread the path he has shown by presenting plays of moral and educative values to my brethren.”

We need to discuss this issue and set right misconceptions regarding the beginnings of tiatr and give the father of Konkani tiatr Lucasinho Ribeiro, the place of pride and respect he deserves.

– By Michael Gracias

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