Archive | May, 2016

Guest blogger Alyssa Gonzales on a theatre workshop in the Maré favela

30 May


Hello all, bom dia (or boa noite for any night owls that may be reading this). My name is Alyssa Gonzales and I am currently writing this blog post in a tropical hostel only minutes away from the Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If I walk five minutes, I can watch waves returning from distant lands crash against the shore as the sun rises above the horizon. A short bus ride, and I am able to stand on top of the Pão de Açucar mountain and see the sprawling city beneath the clouds. The idea that I am in a land more than 6,000 miles from my home is almost too hard to comprehend. It is humbling to know that I am simply a small piece of a greater puzzle that is the human race. Or rather, a cog in a grand, powerful machine. I am an almost insignificant part, but I help to keep the engine pumping in even the smallest of ways.

I am incredibly grateful to PCAP, UDESC, and UniRio for allowing me to inhabit this country for a few weeks as a part of the Brazil Exchange. Since September of 2015, I have been a devoted member of PCAP, first as an undergraduate research assistant, then as a student of Dr. Ashley Lucas’s Theatre and Incarceration class. Through this class, I facilitated a theatre workshop for reentrants with two of my peers. Through this, I gained a better grasp on the power the creative arts has on an individual and a community. It also taught me the importance of respecting the cultures and experiences of others. All these things together have allowed me to engage in dynamic interactions which have made my time in Rio unforgettable.

As a member of an organization which promotes equality and social justice, it is important for all of us participants to remember our privilege, which we carry in many different ways. We attend one of the most respected academic institutions in the world, which allows us to channel our learnings to the scholarly community. We hold passports and identification cards that can safely allow us to explore the Earth freely and in good health. When we exit the spaces and communities of others who do not possess the same privileges as us, we could choose to leave never return.

view of Rio

On our first Saturday in Rio, PCAP’s students joined UniRio’s Teatro em Comunidade facilitators for theatre workshops in different areas of the Maré favela. Unless a person is from Brazil, s/he may not fully grasp the concept of what a favela is. The closest translation of this concept would be a slum, but that does not fully cover the situation of its inhabitants. Before embarking upon my journey to Brazil, I read up on Rio in popular travel guides and the first few responses to a Google search. When I arrived, I expected to see primitive infrastructure, a lack of an economy, hopelessness. Instead I found a lively produce market set up along a main road, a beautiful and refreshing man made beach, and the faces of people trying desperately to live a fulfilling life in an extremely adverse situation. As we drove the narrow streets into the Ramos neighborhood of Maré, we encountered a couple of police units. They casually carried loaded machine guns with them as residents walked past. To an outsider such as myself, it seemed more as if they were there to attack rather than protect. I could not understand why the Brazilian government would deny them of the basic rights they hold as citizens of Rio de Janeiro.

Our workshop for teens was held in the local health clinic. We began with a name game which involved tossing around an inflated ball while saying each other’s names. Everyone was a bit awkward at first, being in a space with new people and speaking names with sounds not native to their own language, but after a few rounds of theater games, we all warmed up  to each other. We transitioned to writing exercise the facilitators of this workshop use to find topics or ideas they want to explore for their final performance. The prompt for this particular session was the best day of your life. Though we did not share them aloud, we did speak amongst ourselves about our choices. There were discussions of travel and birthdays, but I chose the simplicity of laughter; an ordinary day in which negativity did not peek its head. I hope that the teens we worked with can relate to that. Following this, we were led to a man made beach in which residents swim on warm days. The water was cool. We exchanged laughs and took pictures under the sun before heading back.

We returned to our room in the clinic after that. Instead of returning to theatre games, we sat in a circle for a small discussion. In the beginning, we asked lighter questions such as: “What are your ages?” and “What have been your favorite things about Rio?” After the small talk, we moved into heavier topics. Our group, with translation help from our program assistant, shared opinions and differences on topics such as racism, feminism, and the role of the police. We compared development of social movements in the US with those in Brazil. We even got into a lengthy discussion about social perceptions of the music artist Beyoncé and her most recent album, Lemonade. As we geared up to leave, the participants asked if and when we would be coming back.

As I sat beside everyone, Brazilians and Americans alike, I realized there more similarities than differences between us all. We were all hard working, passionate people. We could think critically and trade opinions on hard topics respectfully. We could have fun and laugh over a simple game of woosh. The people who live in the favelas of Brazil are just as deserving of a fruitful life as a wealthy carioca (the term for a person from Rio) living by Copacabana beach. Through my few short weeks in Brazil, I’ve learned much about the country I’m staying in and myself. In a city of more than six million, I am a nameless face on the sidewalk, a grain of sand sitting on a shore. I’ve lived out of a duffel bag and a backpack, making it by on my weekly allowance of reais and two tiny feet. Even with early mornings and minimal internet access, I’ve never felt more content. But, through the talks of activism and social justice I’ve been audience to throughout the week, I realize that I can make a difference, even if it is simply gushing over One Direction with a local teenager. It’s a balance. One must throw themselves out there and experience it to fully understand it. We must stand beside the Cristo Redentor and feel small. We must stare at another’s smile and feel bigger.

Muito amor,

Alyssa Gonzales

Guest blogger Brian Garcia on prisons, racism, and teatro na comunidade

29 May
Brian in UDESC performance

Brian performing in a skit during a theatre class at UDESC

My name is Brian Garcia. I am a recent graduate from the University of Michigan in Interdisciplinary Performance focusing on the intersection of Latinx/queer identities and mental health. My interest in the Prison Creative Arts Project stems from a desire to integrate art making practices into social activist spaces. Over the past week I have been a part of an exchange program between the University of Michigan and UDESC (the state university of Santa Catarina) in Florianopolis, Brazil during which we participated in a two-day intensive workshop festival centered on a focus of “teatro na communidade” or “community theatre.” My participation in the workshops was only part of the experience as listening to and comparing my liberal arts BFA education with that of the UDESC students shed light on both similarities and the importance of difference in our shared vocabulary of social oppression.

UDESC & UM students in Vicente's class

UDESC and Michigan students in Vicente Concilio’s acting class

Within the relatively liberal community of art students at UDESC, I found myself meeting many students who oddly uttered similar rhetoric surrounding struggles with homophobia, transphobia, gender-identity, racism and oppression. One of these students was a self-identified cisgendered heterosexual man who studies theatre at UDESC. After realizing how similar our theatre curriculums were, we shared our perspectives of art in social movements. He told me how growing up in the state of Rio Grande do Sol – what was described multiple times as the Texas of Brazil- shaped his view of the world. As we spoke more, however, this student began to confide in me a more personal story about his cousin’s murder to gun violence by police. The incident reconfigured his art making and he intends to incorporate it into his senior thesis performance. Unlike his work in UDESC, this piece was not a scripted performance but closer to my familiar realm of “performance art” – to be performed in a small theatre free from the restrictions of the University.

UDESC & UM students performing

UDESC and Michigan students

As we sat in a restaurant late at night, he described to me his ideal performance piece for his senior thesis. He shared that he wanted to illustrate the ways in which those who were sworn to protect and help him killed his cousin. In order to show his unity in blood to him he imagines himself on stage literally drawing his own blood in front of a live audience. To get at how these well-intentioned people actually can cause more harm than good, he envisions a moment in which the performer cuts the tube drawing blood and bleeds out on stage. Ultimately, he suspects that someone in the audience would try to help stop the bleeding – an act that could potentially cause more difficulties in rescuing the performer if not fatal harm. All of this, he describes, stems from a desire to use his privileged status in skin color, gender and sexuality to leverage a conversation from that of a savior mentality to the high mortality of police gun violence.

Unfortunately, this story was not the only personal story of stray bullet deaths that was shared with us during our time in Florianopolis. Despite the United States’ constant media attention on the current political display between candidates for the presidency, gun violence and police brutality also affect my country at alarming rates. Another similarity I found between this proposal and my own lived experience is the manner in which close family deaths have influenced our thesis work. Together we enthusiastically spoke of a desire to illustrate institutionalized pain connected through familial relationships, a desire to leverage privileged identities through theatre, a desire to open up dialogue through performance. Most importantly however, this student’s description of his work pointed to a more fascinating aspect of what I suspect might become more pertinent in our work continuing in Rio: The ability to affirm and listen to someone’s story, recognize similarities, while also understanding that it is not your own.

Brian talking about race at UDESC

Brian (seated in front of black curtain) speaking about race at UDESC in a discussion during the theatre festival

Let me take a moment here to sidetrack to a different moment during the festival involving the same student. During the question and answer portion of our group’s talk to the rest of the participants at the festival, this student posed a question of how race impacts the work we do in prison considering the alarmingly high rate of people of color in prisons both in Brazil and the US. To be asked what racism is like in your country is like being asked to explain how gravity works. You don’t really know how to fully explain it because it exists beyond the extent of our current vocabulary yet we still feel it day by day. The daunting task to explain this seems greater with an actual language barrier and time restraints thrown in. The truth is anybody on a panel can give you an in depth analysis of the intricacies of race relations in their work or scholarship. So often has the institution of the University of Michigan taught me to spend time crafting unique answers that fit neatly into our current political and social understanding of oppression – however, I believe that this does not and will not ever fully reach the level of an answer that such a question merits.

So, to go back to the moment that this same white student explained to me his ideal performance: While the specificity of the student’s situation leading to the creation of this performance is unique to himself as the performer (his autobiographical experience, his self-described held identities, etc.), the story of his cousin’s death and the manner by which it is performed on stage function as artifacts of the communities that allowed this event to happen. The unique power of theatre lies here: to allow me as a foreigner to both connect and understand these experiences as not my own between the boundary of language is to connect in solidarity with the struggles of a country that is not my own. However, to both see how the passing of a loved one has influenced our work and at the same time sit in the reality that this is not my story is what theater helps me imagine. Particularly in a world in which I am constantly navigating the identities of a foreigner in my own country and a representative of colonial power abroad – it is pertinent I dance with these complexities before I step into a prison in a country that is not my own.

Ash speaking at UDESC

Ashley at the UDESC theatre festival leading the conversation about PCAP’s work

I often feel afraid of graduating and entering a world that continuously feels smaller and smaller. A world that no matter where I turn seems to not have a space that was not tainted by colonial super powers. A world that tries to convince me that my indigenous roots were meant to be expelled, that the colonizer’s ancestry I hold should rise supreme – a world that fuels this internal ancestral conflict and essentially holds no true “home” for me. But, it is this ability to hold an impossible duality of recognition and complete inability to truly understand the story of another that is so beautiful about the moment of sharing artistic work with a Brazilian theatre student in Florianopolis. Despite our figurative and literal differences in language, we are able to share a piece of each other’s suffering while imagining worlds of possibilities and it is this that makes me desire less of a home and more of a community through “teatro na communidade.”

Anonymous student guest blogger on the Oficina Intensiva theatre festival at UDESC

28 May

This student chose to post her blog entry anonymously.

Hello, everyone! I’m a grateful participant of the 2016 Brazil exchange, with very little background in theatre, or theatre in the context of social justice and activism. Because of how radically different this trip is from any other experience I’ve ever had, I knew from the beginning that I would love to be a part of it. My premonition was right; this week in Florianopolis has already started to change me for the better.


Our group in Florianopolis

One of the experiences I have been lucky enough to be a part of these past two days is the Theatre Festival at UDESC (which is the state university just over the hill from our hotel here in Florianopolis).  We began the festival with a sort of call and response drum-circle game/song, in which everyone joins hands and gradually creates concentric circles around a group of drummers. It set, in my mind, the theme of the festival: community. I am not great in social settings, even ones I’m excited about. I really, really don’t dance or bob or sway or anything in public. And most of all, I don’t speak any Portuguese. Like most of my fellow students, I had no idea what was being sung, or what the rules of the game (if it can be called that) were. But despite all of these barriers, I was accepted as part of the group without a stray glance, and I found myself joining in without question.

The sense of acceptance continued throughout the day. The participants were divided by age and given coloured wristbands, determining which workshop block they would be a part of. After a quick break for incredible coffee (as indeed every single cup of coffee I’ve had here has been) we went to our first workshop of the day. For my group, it was a cortejo workshop, which is a traditional kind of dance. As my leaders explained to us, it is most of all an expression, often of religious joy, which is done for days at a time. We started the workshop by playing a name game, where we held a piece of one long rope of twine as we said our names and walked across the circle to take the place of someone else. At the end, we had a beautiful pattern, as well as a chance to start to remember names. Then, the leaders played music, and we were instructed to dance and move to the beat and to walk around, in whatever way we felt. The end result was a large, tangled mess. The leaders explained: all of us are one thread. Every person is connected, and it is important to remember that. However, even more important, in theatre and in life, is remembering that we have to be mindful of those who we share our spaces with. It was a stunningly simple premise with a beautiful conclusion, and I found myself nearly moved to tears by it.

The second workshop, which was about Afro Brazilian music and sound, also touched on this. After playing a name game, we were told to team up with another person and have a conversation using only rhythm that we created with our bodies. The room was filled with stomping and clapping as the pairs stared at each other, calling and responding with the beats they made. After, our leader told us, that it is this way in theatre and in life: we have to listen, truly listen, to those we are with, because all of us have to share the space on the earth.

I came away from the festival feeling as if something had shifted. I no longer thought about what I looked like when joining in group celebrations, which mostly included dancing, because it doesn’t matter how I am occupying my own space. The story I am living is not the most important one, and it is up to me to listen to the stories of other people. As well, I no longer had nerves about meeting new people who don’t even speak the same language. The question of acceptance is not something that’s brought up or thought about here, it is just a given. If you are willing to throw yourself into whatever you are doing, then you belong, and there is nothing else you need.

Guest Blogger Mimi Norwood on the Power of Playback Theatre

18 May

MimiBom dia! My name is Mikhaella Norwood and I have just recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Spanish. I have had the honor of serving as a facilitator in the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) for the entirety of my senior year: my first semester I was part of PCAP’s first workshop at Catholic Social Services for the re-entry group, re-entry meaning people who were formerly incarcerated; second semester, I lead a workshop for participants at the Forensic Psychology Center, also a new workshop. When I heard about Brazil, I was mainly excited about studying abroad for the first time as the way to close my collegiate career. Now, I am realizing that I am here to gain much more.

For my first week here in Florianópolis, Brazil, I offer this haiku:

Your story is not

the only one that matters.

Here, we become small.


Today, there was a theatre festival held at the local university (UDESC) here in Florianópolis. During the last workshop that I was involved in, we learned about a particular kind of theatre called Playback Theatre. In Playback Theatre, the facilitator acts as an interviewer to someone from the audience who will tell a short personal story. When they finish, the actors then proceed with improvisational acting to recreate the personal story. In the end, it is important that the person who has given their personal story feels respected and appreciated for their transparency.

One of the Brazilians told a heart-wrenching story: he sadly experienced his brother being killed by a stray bullet. Although the actors were nervous to replay such a personal scene, it had to be done. In the first iteration of the scene, a translation mistake was made and the wrong brother was killed. This called for the facilitator and the storyteller to ask the actors to replay the scene involving the correct individuals. At this point few things could have been more uncomfortable in that moment, but in the end we all got through it, and it proved to be my biggest learning curve in the power of theatre and humility.

This is the power that theatre can have; we went back to a moment in this boy’s life where he was quite possibly at his weakest point, and through theatre, he was able to have power over which actor would play him, and have the actors replay the scene the correct way. This process was certainly uncomfortable for me, but in seeing how therapeutic the moment was for him, I learned a lesson in humility: my discomfort did not really matter. I was glad that the facilitator did not allow us to prematurely end the scene due to our discomfort and our mistakes. We all had to dwell in the discomfort; much in the same way that that precious boy has to forever dwell in the discomfort of losing his brother. By finishing it out the way that it was supposed to be, we were able to give honor to his story and ultimately the life and loss of his brother.

Before this gentle teen courageously shared his story, unbeknownst to even myself, my thoughts about whose voice/language is important, was somewhat unjust. Since I could not understand their language, I could not understand their stories, so somehow unconsciously, that translated into me believing that they maybe did not have a story to tell. Through the experience of that workshop, my eyes have been opened to the clear truth that we all have a story to tell, and whether that story be told in Portuguese, English, or otherwise, it still matters just as much. We are not as different as we think. As Americans, we are not as big and important as we think. The world is so much bigger than just my country and my state. My language is not the only one that is spoken and my voice is not the only one to carry an important message. My story is not the only one that matters. Here, in a country outside of my own, my world, and I along with it, have become small; and that is not so bad.

Anonymous guest blogger on the PCAP Brazil Exchange’s visit to Florianopolis

17 May

Hey y’all, I am delighted to write a blog post about my first trip to Brazil with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP). I have volunteered with PCAP for two semesters now (my entire senior year). The first semester I facilitated a reentry workshop where we encountered individuals who just literally got out of prison or just recently had. The second semester I facilitated a workshop at the psychiatric facility where most patients are deemed mentally unable to continue trial or have charges pressed against them. PCAP has become not only a second home on campus but an inspiration that has helped me figure and build what I hope to do after graduation and in the future. I have been delighted enough to know all the people who I have gone on this trip with for at least a semester if not more.

I have been in Brazil for a couple of days now and something that I have realized that even though I love to travel, my appearance in another space or country is so insignificant and such a small event compared to the long history and millions of stories that have come before me and continue to grow after. There will be no way of knowing that Ashna has walked down this road many times to get the wonderful food that the country has to offer. Fortunately, on the day when we went to the most southern beach in Brazil, the entire class had the opportunity to have a lunch of an amazing restaurant and I was able to do something I have been wanting to do on this trip: leave a trail behind.

Today we went to the southern most beach in Brazil. Right on it we entered this huge seafood restaurant. The first thing I noticed was white, small notes written everywhere. Hanging off the ceilings, taped onto the walls, and literally anywhere that there was any space open. When I looked more closely I realized that these were all notes in different languages, shapes, and lengths. We then learnt that apparently in the 1970’s a lot of hippies did a lot of backpacking in this area and would stop at this same seafood restaurant right on the beach to eat. They would then leave notes taped onto the wall to leave a mark and so that future travelers would see, and it then became a tradition. The beauty of the restaurant mesmerized me. As I looked around I realized that there was so much history in this one restaurant and I was able to see it and experience parts of it through the notes. At the end of the meal we left a note as an entire class with all of our initials inside a big M. I also wrote a private note. Within it, I wrote a huge Greek symbol that means a lot to me that essentially states where there’s a will there’s a way. Then I filled each corner of the paper with something significant. In one corner I put the date, in another I put a Michigan M, in another I put family > everything, and in the other…Well lets just say it’s a secret that I hope leads me back to that very same restaurant to show a very special someone the note that I taped and left behind for no only others, but for myself to come back to.

Notes in restaurant.JPG


Also before this trip I had never really tried seafood other than fish and some shrimp; however, I literally ate all the seafood so well. As a class we got the seafood buffet that literally brought out just recently caught fish, crab, shrimp, and much more during a 2-hour lunch. It literally was the BEST seafood I have ever tasted and also the MOST fresh. I also brought a wonderful t-shirt from the place in order to remember these memories and come back soon.

Well that’s a wrap, and now you know the day of a life in Ashna’s shoes!




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