Guest blogger Meredith on performances from the Theatre of the Oppressed Conference

28 Aug

We arrived in the plaza early (on time) and devoured paper bags full of hot caramel corn doused in sweetened condensed milk from one of the many pipoca carts lining the edge of the city center. As we waited for our program to begin, I tried to take in the parts of the city I might normally overlook – an old woman on a park bench whispering secrets to pigeons, men delivering flowers on bicycles, angry monkeys yelling at one another up high in the trees, beautiful architecture I don’t have the art history knowledge to describe properly, children wearing sweaters despite it being 65 degrees outside (it is currently “winter” in Brazil).

Finally, a number of plastic chairs were set up in a circle and familiar faces from the Theatre of the Oppressed conference began to assemble. Over the next few hours, participants from the conference performed scenes they had workshopped throughout the week. Afterwards, our giant group played theatrical games in the middle of the plaza. As a college theatre student, this public display of artistic expression excited and fascinated me. In all of my experiences with theatre done in public spaces, a true audience is often limited and passerby are usually annoyed, slightly amused, or a vague mixture of the two. In Largo do Machado I stood rapt – half due to the incredible performances and games, and half as a result of the overwhelmingly positive response from onlookers. Old men, women with young children, teenagers, a middle-aged man who looked strangely like my fourth grade teacher – they all stood and watched, applauded with gusto, and even participated in the games. Never in my life have I seen this type of response to theatre. It is clear that in Brazil, art is not seen as something reserved for a certain type of person or group.

The first performance featured three children from the Maré favela. The age and talent of the sole girl in the group of performers caught my eye. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen, but she commanded the attention of the crowd with unabashed enthusiasm and confidence. It’s always refreshing, both as a performer and a human, to see someone exude so much joy while creating art. In a field where it is easy to get caught up and take myself too seriously, I crave these brief moments that remind me what theatre is capable of. It was a deep desire for more of these reminders that led me to PCAP in the first place.

I have always been passionate about theatre and social justice issues, but had difficulty finding mediums where I could merge the two. When I heard about Ashley’s Theatre and Incarceration course, I immediately signed up. I co-facilitated a theatre workshop in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility with a group of lively, opinionated, hysterical women. The class helped me build a bridge between my two ostensibly separate passions, but it also served as a necessary, positive jolt in the way I look at myself and my art. I cannot rave enough about the theatre program at the University of Michigan and the remarkable training I have received, but after three years, I was feeling a little worn down. The competitive nature of the community, the focus on the individual, and the notion of being “good” weighed heavy on my mind, and I found it difficult to enjoy my work. I felt drowned in a world where theatre was regarded as “high art,” meant for a certain type of person, with a certain level of education, and a certain amount of money. Theatre was black and white. It wasn’t until I enrolled in Ashley’s class and began my prison workshop that I rediscovered how powerful art could be, how important it is for theatre to wade through the unexamined grey area. How, if used correctly, theatre has the capability to rearrange power. That, simply put, theatre is for everybody.

The day was filled with laughter, warmth, language barriers, and a true feeling of community. My favorite activity was facilitated by a theatre troupe from UCLA known as the Sex Squad. The squad uses theatre, music, and other types of art to promote sexual health education in high schools around Los Angeles. The participants in the plaza were split into five groups. Each group was assigned a substance that transmits HIV (I was semen) and was told to create a unique movement and way of singing their substance in Portuguese. We created a choir of sorts and soon I was standing in the middle of the city square, in the center of the crowd, conducting the chanting – “VAGINAL FLUID! BLOOD! BREAST MILK!” Arms flailed, people stared, and I went and ate more popcorn afterwards.

Alas, here we are now, at the airport in Rio, preparing to depart. I’ve eaten my weight in churros, red meat, fresh fruit, bacon popcorn, and my fellow peers are ready to roll me onto the plane. I loved spending time in this country where I grapple to understand and communicate and find the bathroom, a foreign land where I grew to love the warmth and the slow pace and the orchids in the trees, a trip I took with nearly perfect strangers who taught me so much. I am extremely grateful to Ashley Lucas, our fearless (and patient) leader, to Anna, our graduate school companion and translator, and to all those at UniRio who kissed us on both cheeks and let us be a part of their beautiful work. Obrigada & boa noite, Brasil!

Guest blogger Elena Khutoretsky on Teatro Renascer

26 Aug
Elena drinking cafezinho

Elena drinking cafezinho

My name is Elena and this trip will be my last experience as a student at the University of Michigan. Although I graduated this past May, I am thankful to still be able to participate in this program. I have facilitated workshops through PCAP with incarcerated men, women, and teenagers since September of last year. I chose to come to Brazil in order to continue this work while immersed in a completely different culture.

Prior to coming to Brazil, my experience was limited to prisons and youth facilities, where there were strict rules and restrictions on the content that we can work with in our workshops. Here in Rio de Janeiro, I have expanded my experience to include theater workshops in hospitals and favelas as well. One such experience was particularly memorable for me.

Michigan and UniRio students and faculty with the folks at Teatro Renascer

Michigan and UniRio students and faculty with the folks at Teatro Renascer

It happened earlier this week, when we paid a visit to Teatro Renascer, which is a group of elders at a nearby hospital who participate in an action-packed workshop every week, led by Carmela, a professor at UniRio. The participants were lively and very welcoming, and I hardly even noticed the language barrier amidst all the hugs and smiles. The workshop started with a Portuguese song and dance, followed by a name game which involved participants inventing creative ways to say their names and teaching it to others. The highlight of my day was when, in the middle of my presentation of my name, everyone in the group started chanting it with me and dancing in a circle, concluding the activity. Most of the activities were very physical in nature, often involving collaboration among small groups of participants. We created depictions of bicycles, peeing dogs, various modes of transportation, many different kinds of animals, and one battleship that required everyone’s participation. I quickly found myself literally bouncing up and down with a level of energy I hadn’t felt in a very long time. The final activity was a very intense rendition of a song about the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire, in relation to our bodies. We stood in a circle, singing fiercely with furled eyebrows and stomping feet, while each one of us took turns performing a dance in the middle of the circle. You haven’t seen an elderly lady bust a move like I have.

Elena is a big fan of the monkeys we've encountered in Rio.

Elena is a big fan of the monkeys we’ve encountered in Rio.

I left the place with delicious snacks in my belly, a broad grin on my face, and a surplus of euphoric invigoration that lasted all day long. It was to this date the most uplifting and energizing workshop I have ever had the pleasure of participating in.

More monkeys!

More monkeys!

When I later reflected on the experience, I came to the realization that we could have done many of these activities in a Brazilian prison (which are relatively lenient when it comes to content), and some even in a US prison, especially if we modified them to avoid touching one another. And yet, I couldn’t imagine having this level of fun if I did the same workshop in a prison. Why? Because the unfortunate reality is that there is no amount of energy or vigor that could ever make me forget the fact that we are always being watched, that some people don’t want me there, or that some people don’t believe that prisoners even deserve to have fun in the first place. I’ve had workshops in prisons where we laughed a lot and had a fantastic time, but that has always been in spite of, not instead of, the constant awareness of the rules we have to follow, and the knowledge that the people I am working with are not given the same respect and autonomy that I enjoy. It wasn’t until my experience with Teatro Renascer that I truly understood how much of a difference it makes just knowing in the back of my mind that the participants and I are treated with the same level of respect by society and that no one in the facility looks down on what we do. It made me reflect on how much extra work it takes in prison to achieve just a fraction of the result I would achieve elsewhere. For this reason, this experience highlighted for me the importance of doing theater in prisons. Because there’s not enough of it, because it takes a lot of work, and because everyone deserves it equally.

Thanks for reading,


Guest blogger Laurel Cerier on doing a workshop at a Brazilian hospital

25 Aug
Laurel on Corvocado Mountain

Laurel at the Botanical Garden

Hello readers! I´m Laurel, a rising senior at the University of Michigan dual majoring in International Studies and Psychology with a minor in Community Action and Social Justice. I joined UM´s Prison Creative Arts Program (PCAP) through Ashley´s first Theatre and Incarceration class two years ago and have since facilitated (with a partner) a theatre workshop at Women´s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Michigan´s sole women´s prison, as well as a visual arts workshop at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility. In addition, I worked on the Prison Art Show Committee for the 19th annual show exhibiting donated art and items for sale by prisoners from the majority of Michigan´s prisons. This fall, I plan to join PCAP´s Literary Review Committee, which compiles selected writing pieces from Michigan prisoners each year into its Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing.

When people asked me why I had decided to go to Brazil to work in prisons, as if this was some insane longing for extra thrill in my life, I always had a hard time answering. It is difficult to articulate my understanding that coming here would undoubtedly teach me more about what it means to be human. After my previous experiences working in Michigan prisons (another “crazy” notion) brought me more in touch with the relationship between policy and people, it is clear to me that a person can read and learn all they want to in a classroom, but until something is before them, being understood in some physical capacity, it remains in the imagination ready for the mind´s interference. As a result, when friends returned from the trip last year with newfound enlightenment and even more questions about how the world works, I could not say no to Ashley´s invitation.

Although I came to Rio most interested in attending the theatre workshops run by UniRio students in local Brazilian prisons, the program led by Miguel, a retiring UniRio professor, at a local hospital ultimately became my favorite. It is not a workshop, per se, as the students did not interact regularly with the same group of people throughout their hours at the hospital on any given day, but this in no way diminishes the work they do there. When I arrived at the facilitators´ office with a few of my UM companions, we were each handed a brightly colored apron and given a brief explanation of what we were about to partake in: fun! Moments later, we lined up behind the bubbly facilitators and were off!

Laurel & Joe feijoada

Joe & Laurel get ready to eat their first feijoada–the Brazilian national dish

The group sang a samba song while playing guitars and a tambourine as we all danced our way through the gray halls of the hospital up to a sunlit lobby, out to the front of the building, and right up to a woman leaving the hospital. The singing continued until one of the UniRio students asked her if she would like a happiness checkup, to which she agreed with a mile-long smile across her face. He put his ear near her chest, listening to her “samba heartbeat,” created by the deep ka-thunk of the his classmate´s tambourine. It seems that her happiness was in full health! He then opened up an emergency aid kit box filled with small slips of paper, pulled one out, and read to her what I believe was some sort of sweet proverb about love and happiness. The woman was absolutely delighted, leaving in joyful laughter.

We continued these checkups periodically with patients, family members, and various hospital staff members alike as we rhythmically wandered our way through the hospital until we reached a pediatric waiting room. After asking a few small children their names, each troubadour pulled simple props our of their apron pockets and commenced their silly skit about a frog, played by the sole male member of the group, who must overcome his fear of jumping high into the sky in order to go to a party he so longingly wants to attend. Although I couldn´t understand a word of the Portuguese, the students moved so fluidly, making such dramatic expressions and absurd sounds, that no one could miss the amazingly executed humor.

Laurel Jardim Botanico

Next, we worked our way to the chemotherapy ward, turning a room that previously had a dull and sterile atmosphere into a small, soft parade! While these adult patients were visibly exhausted and uncomfortable, many lit up at our entrance, and it was here that us foreigners were finally able to articulately join in on the singing with “Stand by Me.” While we sang, one woman´s grown daughter snuck into the room to video our short performance and her mother´s response of pure gratitude and delight. Although this particular patient expressed more enthusiasm than the others, her reaction will forever change the meaning of this song in my life. After that, each patient in that room and the next was offered a happiness checkup and a slip of paper, and then we continued on once more.

All throughout our trips in the hallways, I was overwhelmed by the bodies we had to work through as waiting patients and their family members continued to accumulate in surprising numbers. Ashley explained to me that because Brazil has a socialized healthcare system, with very few privatized facilities, the hospitals are constantly overwhelmed, and patients often suffer for months or years before receiving non-priority treatments, such as elective surgeries like knee-replacements. As I gazed at the mild chaos around me, I couldn`t help notice that in many ways, these jammed narrow spaces resemble a packed United States emergency room, making me wonder how much worse the crowds must be in Brazilian hospitals. Even so, the UniRio students continued their singing and games, forcing out grins and giggles from the people around them. We continued dancing and singing from ward to ward, and by the end of the workshop, I found myself ready to collapse into bed. Amazingly enough, the UniRio students didn´t seem at all exhausted, and when we finally made our way back to their office, they seemed reluctant to lock everything up in the cabinet. It is rare to find so much energy, compassion, and humor in five different people all at once, and in a place so filled with sadness and pain, I felt truly privileged to see and partake in even the momentary goofiness and delight that they brought so many individuals.

Guest blogger on visiting a Brazilian prison

24 Aug

This student guest blogger wishes to remain anonymous.

The first thing I notice about Gabriel is his sharp hair cut, brilliant smile and the soccer ball in his hands, shuffling from one to the other. He’s full of charm and he knows it. Roughly a dozen men, all of them of various ages wear a white T-shirt, blue pants and white Havainas, and they move about on the stage inside this hollowed out church talking with the workshop facilitators. On the wall behind them is a large mural of a bible verse from Psalms. Gabriel asks me where I’m from and I spend 10 minutes trying to explain Detroit through the default references of “Ford,” “Motown,” and “Eminem.” Everyone knows Eminem. After a while he has an idea of where I’m talking about and asks if it’s near Chicago. I tell him it is and he asks, “You know Chicago Bulls?”

“Yeah,” I respond. “Derek Rose.”

“Michael Jordan,” he says now using the ball to mime Michael’s iconic pose.

I keep trying to tell him about Detroit, even though I’m from Pontiac. Gabriel is the first Brazilian I’ve met who knows anything at all about American sports. He’s a fan of Lebron James and knows how the game of football works, which is a big surprise. I tell my team is the Detroit Lions, and we make loud growling sounds. When I ask him where he is from, he drops the soccer ball, points to the ground beneath his feet and says, “I’m from Rio de Janeiro.”

Street scene in Rio

Street scene in Rio

I’ve just recently graduated from the University of Michigan, and for the past two years I’ve been involved with the Prison Creative Arts Project, an organization founded on the basis of building a better community by creating art and theater with incarcerated adults and juveniles. I first found out about this program when I enrolled in Professor Ashley Lucas’ Theatre and Incarceration class the start of my Junior Year, and after my first workshop, a theatre production with Incarcerated young men at Maurice Spear Campus in Adrian, Michigan, I wanted to do more. I took another class in PCAP with Professor Lucas and Shaka Senghor called the Atonement Project, and from that class I learned about the exchange with the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro when professors Marina, Viviane, and Natália came to visit Michigan and see the work we do in the winter of 2014.

This is my second trip to Brazil. Last year’s encounter with this work at the University and with the Center for the Theater of the Oppressed as well as the community work in Maré inspired my return. Since I’ve been in Brazil, the only landmark I have visited more than once is Pedro do Sal, the Birthplace of Samba. In the early 1900’s many gatherings of minority communities were repressed and criminalized in Brazil. People would gather in residential places to express their religion, their dance, their history and culture. Pedro do Sal is one of these places, and I like to think that our work within prisons and marginalized communities is like a revival of this tradition of building community by creating art.

Outside, in the churchyard, Professor Natália explains to us that the prison isn’t segregated by crime but by faction. So every man within the walls of the prison is part of the same gang. It helps us understand the need to control violence and also the ease at which the men in the workshop work together, not to mention the prohibition on wearing colors affiliated with gangs. I don’t want the guards to think I’m affiliated with their gang, and I most certainly don’t want the men in prison to think I’m affiliated with their rivals.

As the men in the workshop perform their production on stage, I think about Gabriel and the American influences that he’s encountered. I think about the hip-hop and rap music they must have been exposed to (One of the sketches in their play is a rap), and I wonder if they know about the Bloods and Crips tennis shoes sponsored by Kendrick Lamar to promote unity, to promote community.  Off the top of my head I can’t remember what Michael Jordan’s shoes promoted. With my time in Rio coming to an end, I still ponder the meaning of liberty, freedom, and history in connection to art and theater. On the bus ride home one of the facilitators still sings one of the songs from the performance and asks me how to say these words in English.  My Portuguese not being very good I tell her, roughly, that “Art is my reason” is all I can come up with.

Guest blogger Joe Ambrose on theatre with incarcerated mothers and babies in Rio

21 Aug
Joe at the Top of the Cristo

Joe at the Top of the Cristo

Ola! I’m Joe, and I am a junior at the University of Michigan majoring in Public Policy with a minor in Intergroup Relations. I have been involved with PCAP since enrolling in Dr. Lucas’s Theatre and Incarceration course last January. Through this course, I co-facilitated a theatre and improv workshop at Cooper Street Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI. I will also have the privilege of taking Dr. Lucas and Shaka Senghor´s course, The Atonement Project, this fall, which will allow me to facilitate another wonderful workshop!

While I have traveled outside of the United States before, this abroad trip to Rio de Janeiro is my first immersive experience in another country. I started the application just hours after a friend told me about her experiences with PCAP and said she would be going to Brazil to do theatre for social change in collaboration with other university students. Surprisingly, my friends and family did not share the same excitement when I told them that I would be participating in creative arts workshops in Brazilian prisons, as well as hospitals and favelas. I have learned a lot about the stigmas and stereotypes placed on prisons and the people in which they attempt to hide from the rest of society, but I had never considered that these stereotypes are amplified when referring to foreign prisons in particular. I don’t know if this is a result of the media, or T.V. shows like “Locked Up Abroad,” but what I do know is that I have never felt more free and able to openly engage in theatre than when in these Brazilian facilities. My experiences inside of U.S. correctional facilities have involved strict policies and guards that will go to extreme lengths to make sure that the guys in my workshop aren’t “having too much fun.” Although I recognize that there is not a single prison in the world that is perfect, I have had the great honor in participating in some great programs here in Rio.

Last Tuesday, I was able to visit a facility called Materno Infantil. Materno Infantil serves as a temporary place for incarcerated mothers to continue their sentences alongside their newborns until their babies are six months at most. Having heard about past students’ experiences visiting this facility and the abundance of baby holding, I was overly excited to visit these heart-warming people. While Materno Infantil still felt like a prison (barbed wire, locked gates, armed guards, etc.), I have never seen a brighter and more beautiful landscape within the walls of a correctional facility. The staff, which was composed of almost all women, was dressed casually; there were colorful gardens, not to mention the dozens of strollers with the cutest babies scattered all over. It wasn’t more than five minutes after we entered, before I had a one-month old named Jennifer, fast asleep in my arms. As an uncle myself, it’s needless to say that I was in my happy place. Despite the language barrier, I could sense the immense amount of joy in this workshop through the wide smiles and rich laughter of the women. After singing and dancing around a circle of seven strollers, a few of my classmates, and I participated in some familiar improv games with the mothers. I had the chance to lead one call-and-response dance activity that I have previously done in other workshops. Although the women had a hard time learning the English version (as I do with games in Portuguese), we still had a ton of fun, and the women busted out some great moves nonetheless. I’ve come to learn how important theatre is because it serves as a single language and allows people to understand and relate to each other on a common ground.

The Man Himself

The Man Himself

After two hours of games and our stomachs hurt from laughing, the workshop started to come to a close. I was able to have a verbal conversation with three of the women, thanks to our translator and friend João, who is a student at UniRio and co-facilitates this workshop. The women asked us some questions about the U.S. correctional system, including curiosity about capital punishment. But then one of the women asked us a question that I will never forget. “They want to know if you are scared of them because they are in jail,”João translated to us. I had completely forgotten that we were interacting with women who would soon most likely be separated from their children and who transferred back to another prison. Our workshop was filled with so much laughter and joy that, for a brief period of time, I had forgotten that we were in prison. I can only hope that these women felt the same way. This woman’s question proves that too many people are socialized to be afraid of people inside of prisons and that we isolate them from the rest of society rather than addressing the larger problem at hand. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I’ve had in Rio, and I look forward to continuing this not only important but necessary work in the United States.

Tchau for now,

Joe Ambrose

Joe's beach acrobatics

Joe’s beach acrobatics

Guest blogger on Legislative Theatre in Maré

18 Aug

This guest blogger, another student of mine, wishes to remain anonymous as the author of this post. She took both the Atonement Project and Theatre & Incarceration courses last year and has co-facilitated creative writing and theatre workshops in a men’s prison in Jackson, Michigan.

Street scene in Rio

Street scene in Rio

On Friday morning, Angela, a lovely professor from UniRio, took us on a tour of the center of Rio and the old theatre district, an area full of historic architecture and buildings that were built both during and also immediately after the colonial era. We learned about the origins of the architecture and colonists’ desires to make the city seem as European as possible, but also walked past recently developed high-rise apartment buildings, looming in between colorful French balconies and baroque windows from Portugal. As a graduate student studying public policy and urban planning, I am continually fascinated by the somewhat haphazard blending of old and new, of modern and colonial that can be found throughout the city. In fact, I have seen the resonance of this uneasy dichotomy in almost everything we have done since arriving in Rio. I see the rush to modernize, to expand, to grow (just in time for the Olympics) at the same time that I see a foundation of unexamined history and marginalized communities getting left behind in all the expansion.

The very first week we were here, we had the incredible privilege of visiting one such community, the Maré favela, to witness some very meaningful theatre work being done there. We were told that Maré’s original residents were northern migrants who came to the region looking for economic opportunity and instead found themselves stranded and isolated in an area in north Rio that is now the massive Maré favela, composed of 16 different communities.

We went into Maré with the Center for Theatre of the Oppressed, an organization that has continued the work of Augusto Boal in Rio and which had been working with youth in Maré to develop a performance piece focused on the discrimination that favela residents face when they leave their community. Using a technique called legislative theatre, this performance started as a traditional forum theatre piece; in addition to be able to intervene though, spect-actors were also given the opportunity to suggest possible policies that could address the situations being acted out in front of them. At the end of the entire piece, we then all had a conversation with representatives from outside organizations about the suggested policies and reached a consensus about which policy made the most sense to pursue. The representatives present then agreed to bring that policy back to their work and begin to advocate for it.

The effortless blending of theatre and policy we witnessed was impressive. The performance was able to illustrate the problem (discrimination) in a vivid and concrete way that a policy brief or set of statistics would never have been able to accomplish. In my classes back home, we often talk about how successful policy-making usually evolves out of some kind of urgent need that citizens can emotionally relate to; it is much easier, for example, to develop environmental regulation after an oil spill has ensured that voters have been staring at slick, oil-covered animals with endearing faces and sad eyes for a few weeks on the front page of their newspapers. Watching the talented youth from Maré paint a bleak picture of the treatment favela residents face outside the favelas, however, I realized that well-done political theatre can accomplish the same thing. Theatre can draw in an audience and emotionally entangle viewers in a scene; it as the power to get people involved and passionate in a way that a news article on the same subject would entirely fail to do. While I do not know enough about current Brazilian anti-discrimination policy to know what types of solutions would be most effective, I still felt lucky to be able to observe the debate and the performance from the Maré children that was driving it.

Sitting in the favela that evening, I could not help but think of the massive amounts of money being poured into fancy new developments and stadiums all over the city and wonder why even a little of that funding could not have been used to alleviate the extreme poverty evident within the community. From the vantage point of my admittedly limited knowledge, the favelas seems to have grown out of the pieces of Brazilian past that are most uncomfortable, and I wonder if their extreme isolation is at least a partly a result of that. Like prisons, like Native American reservations in the U.S., these are communities that exist on the margins, in part because they make us uncomfortable, because in order to change them, we as a society would also need to confront the forces that created them and our own part in doing so.

View of Rio

View of Rio

During the prison workshop I participated in last week, one of the women asked us for a photo that they could keep as proof that someone outside cares enough about them to come visit; she said that too many people see these women as garbage being hidden away from society. It was heartbreaking to listen to her articulate this so matter-of-factly, and it echoed the refrain I heard from the men I worked with in prisons back home. It was also hopeful though, because this theatre workshop, for her, was proof that was not true. Just like the performance we watched in Maré, I was struck by the power of theatre, even the simple theatre that we have witnessed over the last two weeks, power to inform and change minds, to touch emotions and build connections. I find myself increasingly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such meaningful work, both here in Brazil and back home in Michigan.

Guest blogger Wilder Erb on the Theatre of the Oppressed

17 Aug
Our group in front of a historic library in central Rio de Janeiro

Our group in front of a historic library in central Rio de Janeiro

My name is Wilder Erb, and I have been involved with PCAP or (Prison Creative Arts Project) at the University of Michigan for one year. During the past year as a student I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Atonement Project as well as the Theatre and Incarceration course. I applied to the Brazil exchange program for three weeks in Rio de Janeiro because I am passionate about working in prisons in Michigan as a member of PCAP. I spent the previous two semesters facilitating theatre workshops at the Cooper Street men’s correctional facility in Jackson. I firmly believe doing theatre along with other kinds of social activism work is vital to achieving community uplift. For this reason, I feel deeply invested in working for and with PCAP. Having the ability to take part in similar work in Brazil specifically with the Theatre of the Oppressed was an opportunity that I could not pass up.

Rio's most famous landmark--Christ the Redeemer

Rio’s most famous landmark–Christ the Redeemer

As part of our cultural exchange here in Brazil, we work hand-in-hand with students and faculty at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, also referred to as UniRio. This partnership allows us to experience multiple perspectives of the Theatre of the Oppressed, such as sitting in on theatre performances by UniRio students, touring the Maré favela, watching full productions, going into a hospital and playing improv games with the elders, as well as getting a first hand experience of how theatre is performed within both men’s and women’s prisons. Brazilian Augusto Boal founded the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro where the CTO or (Center Theatre Oppressed) operates as the theatre’s headquarters. Boal’s methodology focuses on emphasizing the importance of creative expression and the need for alternative forms of open dialogue to exist in spaces that traditionally repress these values. One of the experiences to date that I feel best epitomizes the Theatre of the Oppressed was traveling to the Maré favela to watch an amazing performance about how acts of discrimination based on race, the color of one’s skin, and where someone lives remains a prevalent issue in Brazilian society.

A view of Rio

A view of Rio

Favelas, which are unique to Brazil, are designated territories that house Brazil’s marginalized poor communities that not coincidentally consist of overwhelmingly black and darker skinned peoples. These confined areas are often times surrounded by physical barriers, i.e. walls, and experience disproportionately high levels of crime, violence, gang activity and general instability. The performance put on within Maré used vibrant costumes and elaborate stage sets to tackle the problematic issues of discrimination and injustices that places like Maré experience on a daily basis. I found it very interesting how the actors and actresses used legislative theatre to express these controversial realities. One of theatre’s most powerful qualities is that it creates a space for people to come together and actively engage in discussions that otherwise would be looked down upon and viewed as inappropriate means of expression. Being a part of this exchange program has been an incredibly rewarding experience so far. Actively engaging in social activism work such as the Theatre of the Oppressed, along with having access and being exposed to places like prisons, hospitals and favelas give students the most meaningful forms of educational learning.

Signing out,



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