Guest blogger Tierra Christian on a play written and performed by young Brazilians from a favela

9 Jun

Hello readers. Tierra Christian here. I must tell you that my final days here in Brazil have been truly amazing. However, before I delve into one of my most lovely experiences on this trip, I will let you know more about myself. I am a black woman from Detroit, MI, and I am a newly admitted undergraduate student into the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. Alongside my major in public policy, I have chosen to minor in Afro-American and African Studies, as well as, Global Theatre and Ethnic Studies. Thus, you may see that my two greatest passions are social justice and performance. These two passions led me to Prison Creative Art Project’s Brazil Exchange.

Saturday, I witnessed some of the most amazing artwork and theatre that I have ever seen in my life. Cidade Correria was the name of this play. Such marvelous perfection were the elements of this performance that allowed its audience, even non Brazilians, to laugh, cry, be filled with energy, and experience every emotion known to men; audience members were forced into captivation with precise focus upon these performers’ every next move. These performers were that amazing. Before entering the theatre, there was a gallery that was by no means extravagant. Rather, it was everything that it needed to be. Almost every piece of artwork was made of cardboard and to decorate the cardboard’s brown overlay were spray paint, string, shards of glass, black and white maps of favelas (Brazilian equivalent of the U.S. “projects” or “ghetto”), and many other things that you may consider trash (i.e. crushed cans). Upon first arrival—after taking off your shoes—and to your left, was a great explanation of the situations that were going on in the favelas. It spoke of the current police brutality and racism that currently dictates the life of ones that live in the favelas. Eventually, I had even noticed that the satin covering that masked the floor was a red the color of blood. When I saw that, I felt that it was a metaphor for the bloodshed of the many black males killed by policemen in the favelas.

The play that was presented to us captivated all of this and even more. What I was most excited about was the fact that this play was performed by people that live in favelas! Finally, stories being told by the ones who truly live it. Finally, theatre being used as a tool to educate and create social change. On top of that, the theatre was so professional! The performers were speaking to their audience. I mean, there was constant interaction. For example, Vicente, Anna, and I were chosen out of the audience to participate in one of the scenes.

There we were standing in 3 horizontal rows, holding hands next to each person beside us, waiting to constantly be told to turn to the left or to the right. At first it was kind of funny, constantly turning back and forth, and the characters were funny. But there was something significantly terrifying about what we were doing. By the end, we weren’t smiling anymore. You see, we were the obstacle that continuously got in the blacks man’s way of success. He had one all three rounds—which encompassed education, poverty, etc—each of them ending with his victory stance. But they added a fourth round, police enforcement, and he was completely knocked down.

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A scene from the audience participation portion of Cidade Correria

What a perfect way to place your audience in the life that you struggle with every day, the life that you wish people would pay attention to, but instead they ignore.

What a perfect way to use artwork and performance as a catalyst for social change.

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