PCAP Brazil Exchange 2015 and the Theatre of the Oppressed Conference at UniRio

7 Aug

Dear blog readers,

I am far from finished with blogging about my trip to Australia and New Zealand but have been so busy doing that travel and research that I haven’t caught up to myself yet. I’m now in the first week of a three week trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a dozen University of Michigan PCAP students. I hope to find time while I’m here to write more about my travels down under, but in the meantime, my students will be guest bloggers on this site, writing about their experiences with theatre for social change in Brazil. This week we’ve been attending a conference about the Theatre of the Oppressed at UniRio (the federal university here that hosts our exchange program). Today’s blog entry comes from Anna Mester, who is my graduate assistant on this trip.



Joe Ambrose with Branco the Mango Tree Hostel cat

Oi! This is Anna kicking off the Brazil Trip 2015 blogs. I am the Graduate Assistant during our time in Rio, my job is to help out with the logistics, activities and translate for the students. I got involved with PCAP in the past semester, by taking the Theatre and Incarceration class and going to Women’s Huron Valley to help facilitate creative writing workshops every Saturday morning.

This past Tuesday was our first real day. We had the morning off, which I spent running errands with Ashley and took advantage of the free to time to drink fresh coconut juice on the beach, while I wrote postcards for friends and family.  Our hostel is located just one block from the beach!

In the afternoon, we met up at the hostel and

Ipanema beach

Ipanema beach

took the public bus to the Urca neighborhood at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain. We walked in the opposite direction to the UniRio Campus. UniRio, founded in 1979, is one of the many universities in the state of  Rio de Janeiro. We made it just in time for the keynote speech of Julian Boal. Boal is the son of the late Augusto Boal, who is the founder of the Teatro de Oprimido (Theatre of the Oppressed); the central theme of this conference.

Boal spoke beautifully about the legacy of his father’s theories since the 1970s (he also spoke quite quickly I rushed to take notes for the students, so that I could translate it into English for everyone). He began with question based on a contemporary political example. He asked: How is it possible that the Brazilian state is talking about fomenting diversity and racial inclusion, while carrying out a “Black Genocide.” His term refers to the countless young black Brazilian men and women that have been killed by the police, much like police violence in the United States. His hypothesis was that diversity is somehow compatible with capitalist means of production, which leads him to believe that diversity is not against the dominant order. Capitalism needs diversity, because it is based on hyperindividualism, which leads us to fall for the myth that individuals alone can overcome hardships and oppression, which he coined the Nike “Just do it” myth.

He critiqued his father’s theories by saying that addressing ideas is not enough, the means of production also has to be transformed. A lot of work that aims to raise awareness ends up “evangelizing”, which is why he would rather focus on the material realities of oppression and the material relationship of exploitation. He wished to transform theatre from a highly professionalized art to de-specialize it whereby all actors would rotate and play all roles. No one would have ownership over one role. His goal is not to make political theatre, rather to do theatre politically. However, he pointed to a big contradiction that still has yet to be resolved. In order to finance these projects, the directors are funded by large companies and are still dependent upon capitalist modes of production.

He ended on a beautiful note, acknowledging that he painted a bleak picture of the world, however he said critique is not antithetical to hope, it is hopeful to critique.

Following the keynote, I spent the afternoon listening to presentations of students from various universities in Brazil. A student from UniRio gave a presentation on the theatre workshop she facilitated in four penitentiaries around Rio de Janeiro. Another grad student from the University of São Paulo presented on his work holding theatre workshops with transvestite prostitutes, called Trans*Theatre. The group of researchers embarking on this project, purposefully decided to approach their research from the point of view of their own subjectivity, which led them to consider questions of identity, transportation, community, self-harm, and sex work, topics that tie the researchers personally to the issues facing the transvestite community.

Students at the Mango Tree Hostel

Ariel, Dana, Marjai, and Wilder at the Mango Tree Hostel

Other than these enriching academic and cultural experiences, I am equally enjoying seeing the city and having time to talk with everyone on this trip. This morning, Hannah and I jogged on the beach as the sun came up over the tall buildings lining the beach. The view is motivation enough to get up at 6:30 am. Just imagine the favelas on the hill painted in a bright pink with the windows flickering like glitter.

Yesterday, we visited the botanical garden, a huge

Orchid in the botanical garden

Orchid in the botanical garden

and beautiful garden with plants and trees from all around the world. I loved the bamboos and orchids in particular, but I also managed to get some great shots of the group! I hope you enjoy!


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