Guest blogger Violet on doing theatre with teenagers in the U.S. and Brazil

2 Jun

Violet on steps

Hello! I’m Violet, a rising junior majoring in Theatre Arts and minoring in Community Action and Social Change. I was introduced to PCAP through the two classes taught by Ashley Lucas. I found The Atonement Project, the fall semester class, when looking for requirements for both my major and minor. On the first day of class Ashley mentioned that if we had interest in going to Brazil we could take her other class, Theatre and Incarceration, in the winter. Needless to say I was sold from that moment. That semester I co-facilitated a workshop at the Washtenaw Youth Detention Center and this past semester at the Washtenaw Center for Forensic Psychiatry.  

Theatre has always been my way communicating with other people and the world. Theatre itself is a language and way to bring people together. Being in Brazil has added to my list of experiences where this is true. Despite my total inability to speak Portuguese, I was still able to create relationships with people through the games we played, the things we laughed at, and the songs we sang. I had never been to South America prior to this trip but it had always been on my bucket list to come to Rio. The icing on the cake was that I was able to come here do theatre.

I have seen many differences in the theatre of Brazil compared to the theatre in the US. Especially with the current political climate of Brazil, many of the shows we have seen have been addressing those political issues. Not to say politics don’t influence American theatre but Ashley did make a point that political theatre was more openly funded and supported in Brazil. However, I have seen more similarities than anything when going to the workshops. The most incredible workshop was the one in the favela. Six of us, myself included, went into a theatre workshop for teenagers led by UniRio students. I had done a workshop with a group girl teenagers previously before in Michigan and was expecting it to be difficult. With teenage girls it can be like pulling teeth trying to get them to participate. It took a long time to build trust and get everyone to participate in the workshop. However, when we arrived the first Saturday to participate in the workshop, we were immediately greeted and welcomed into the community. From the very start, we all got along very well. One of the games we played involved us dancing around the space to music and as soon as it ended, we all had to run to fit into squares that were taped on the floor. We were running around trying to fit as many people in one square as possible. The game not only got us physically closer but created a supportive atmosphere. Everyone was working to be inclusive and fit every person in the square. This environment would dictate the rest of the time we spent together including when we returned the next Saturday to lead a workshop. That next Saturday we came and we again received with the same positive energy as the week before. We introduced many new games to them all and had a total blast. 

At the end of each workshop there was a debrief session, something that is not common in US. I remember asking them all “Why do you do theatre?” and then through translation I got almost the same answer from everyone; “It is my dream.” This shook my perspective on theatre and opened my eyes to the privilege I held. My ability to study theatre in the US is a privilege. For these teenagers, just being in a theatre workshop meant they were living their dream. I realized I had taken for granted my access to theatre education and the opportunities I had in the US. For the kids in the workshop, this was the only theatre they were given and it made them feel whole. One boy said he liked the new games we had introduced to them “because they fed my soul.” These were maybe 16 year-olds describing the dramatic importance and impact of theatre on their lives. I saw this in my work in Michigan, and again I see it here that these young teenagers are the most thoughtful and honest people. Hearing their voices gave me a reminder of why I continue to do theatre and how fortunate I am to be able to. I cannot wait to return to the US with this renewed perceptive but hope to return again to this amazing place to these amazing people some day. Brazil, thank you for everything. 

Tchau,

Violet

sunset

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