Hannah Noel’s Account of Workshop Performances from the Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Rio

9 Aug

Today’s guest blogger is Hannah Noel from the University of Michigan. Hannah is an undergraduate who has taken two Prison Creative Arts Project courses (The Atonement Project and Theatre & Incarceration) and co-facilitated two wonderful theatre workshops in women’s and men’s prisons in Michigan.

So far, for Hannah Noel, it has been an interesting ride here in Rio. First, it took me forever to get to Brazil. From flights being switched around unbeknownst to me, spending nearly 2 hours on the metro because I missed my stop for the airport after spending the night in a sketchy Days Inn hotel, to being thrown into a taxi and overpaying to get to the Mango Tree Hostel. Finally on Wednesday morning around 10 am, I arrived soon to be swept away by the activities that Ashley and the rest of the group had planned. After hours without rest, I subsided to my hostel bed on the very top bunk and fell fast asleep…

Ipanema Beach in the morning

Ipanema Beach in the morning

Today, Thursday, August 7th, was absolutely wonderful. I woke up at 6 am this morning and joined Anna for a morning beach run-walk and talk. It was beautiful watching the sun rise along the coast as the waves crashed upon the sand like sounding like thunder during a summer storm. Shortly after getting back to the hostel, Yasin and I departed to the open air market a short hop and a skip away where we both bought avocados so large they filled up both of my hands.

Hannah wanted you to see how big her avocado was but forgot to take a picture of it before she ate it. Here's the pit.

Hannah wanted you to see how big her avocado was but forgot to take a picture of it before she ate it. Here’s the pit.

At 1 pm, Ashley gathered all of us students downstairs to embark on our daily journey. I have taken the El in Chicago, the trains in Italy, the subway in New York, and the metro in D.C., but the Brazilian subway separated itself from them all in part because we got separated trying to get off! If you’ve ever ridden a subway or metro of any sort, you know that you cannot dilly-dally too long when getting off and on. In Brazil however, if you do not sprint your ass off of the train, you better believe you won’t be getting off at your desired destination. After Anna, Yasin, Elena, Ariel, Laurel, and myself patiently waited for the rest of the group to arrive (if you hadn’t already guess it, they were left behind on the train), we ascended from the unseen hustle and bustle of Ipanema, to a city square where the aromas of food and city life bombarded our nostrils and the Brazilian sun glistened down upon us.

Just after 2pm, a sizeable group had gathered in the square either to watch the groups from the Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed, or to act in the skits. For those of you reading that don’t know about CTO, it is a place in the neighborhood of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro where members of the Theatre of the Oppressed rehearse and put on shows. Theatre of the Oppressed was started by Agusto Boal as a way for members of poorer communities to put on skits/shows detailing the injustices of Brazil’s society, and to then figure out ways in which acting out those same skits/shows in different ways could serve as rehearsals for changing society. This type of theatre was seen as a threat to the federal government, but brought together many different communities and still does to this day.

Today, we witnessed skits from the workshops that had been happening at CTO and in Maré, the largest favela in Brazil. The very first one we saw was one of my favorites—two children dressed up in circus makeup were playing when they should have been performing their acts on the street for money. The man in charge of them was furious when he saw that not only were they not doing their jobs, but also, they hadn’t made any money. They tried to get money from onlookers but had no luck and were terrified of what the circus master might do to them, so they devised a plan to scare him away. The master had a horsewhip that he used to scare the children, and when he fell asleep with it around his neck, they crept over to him and carefully removed the whip. They CRACKED! the whip, and he woke up in a terror, running and screaming away from the children until he was no longer in sight. They had defeated their oppressor!

Other skits were more serious and although they were all in Portuguese, I was still able to understand what was happening based on the movements and actions of the actors. That’s one thing that I love about theatre in general, is that you don’t necessarily need to speak spoken language of the actors to get the gist of what is happening. The last performance was an interactive one where all of the audience members and actors joined hands, and we marched in circles singing nonsensical words in Portuguese. As we marched, our circles spiraled in until we were all tightly wound and marching in place. I loved this ending because after all that we had seen, it solidified the fact that each and every one of us there today were supporting the ideas of the Theatre of the Oppressed. We came together from different backgrounds and some of us from different countries all united under the concept that by working together to illuminate the inequalities of Brazil’s society, we could make a change.

As the day winded down, I thought about how blessed I am to have such an opportunity to interact with such beautiful and interactive people, even including the students on this trip! Every day is a riveting new adventure that makes me even more proud to say that I am a part of such an incredible group of people, not just here in Brazil, but around the world.

This is Hannah Noel,

signing off.

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