Marjai is rising junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in the Program in the Environment. She has worked with PCAP since January 2015 and co-facilitated a theatre workshop with boys in detention in Ann Arbor.
Oi gente! My name is Marjai, last semester I took the Theater and Incarceration class with Professor Lucas. I wanted to come to Brazil for numerous reasons from an early infatuation with Brazil to loving the work that we did during the semester- luckily for me it eventually worked out and I am here.
We are starting week two in Brazil and we are adjusted more or less to our Brazilian routines! One really cool experience for me was watching a play the first week by the Center of the Theater of the Oppressed or CTO, which is a theater center that specializes in theater as means of promoting social and political change. With the audience becoming part of the show, they explore, show, analyze and transform the reality in which they are living.
The play was essentially about being black in Brazil and the struggle that people here face because of racism. For those who didn’t know, Brazil has the second highest black population in the world, after Nigeria, so it is a serious matter. There were two plays in one essentially. One was about how Brazil holds up the mulatto as the symbol of Brazil but how it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The other was about a girl whose boss was hating on her cabelo natural (natural hair). After that, the girl’s friend, who also had natural hair, looked at magazines and wanted long blond hair. After changing her hair, the friend was able to gain acceptance and take her natural-haired friend’s job.
I learned so much from the play. From life facts like black girls are magical in all parts of the world (I felt so much solidarity here!) to seeing some of the similarities that exist between the U.S. and Brazil and how both countries treat their black people.
Spect-actors redid plays in really amazing ways. My favorite redo was when a lady decided to essentially help to raise her friend’s self esteem by showing her that black is beautiful! That never even crossed my mind!
It was amazing to see the differences and the similarities between blackness in Brazil and in the U.S.
Another amazing experience that I have had in Brazil was doing what we came here to do, visiting theater workshops!!! I, and three other girls went to a men’s workshop with 3 facilitators and 30 men. I have never done a workshop in a men’s prison, but my partners had. We discussed the differences between the U.S. and here–from being allowed to take in props in Brazil to not being strictly checked when facilitating a workshop to the differences in the facilities in both countries.
We were blessed that one facilitator spoke English and translated for us. First we all stood in a circle and passed energy by choosing someone and dramatically killing that person. If you were choosen you had to stage an over-the-top death and then return the favor by killing someone else. It was SO fun, and it loosened everyone up!
Then the men split into four groups, and after five minutes of planning, the groups acted out their skits, and we watched them. While it was hard to understand due to the language barrier, it was so amazing to see them being engaged in their art. I felt so blessed and honored to be allowed to enter that space.
There are numerous other things that we have done, from watching and participating in more plays, to seeing a final performance to end the conference in the city square, to catching a play about discrimination that exists for people who are from favelas (and they are going to take our feedback to pass legislation!), to bonding with the crew, to participating in a safe sex workshop from a professor at UCLA! I won’t bore you with all the details (already probably over the word limit). Just know that I am learning so much on this trip and am happy to be here.