Hello sweet blog readers! I’m Anna Garcia, a rising senior at the University of Michigan! I’m majoring in Screen Arts and Cultures and feel very lucky for the opportunities U of M presents, especially access to dozens of fabulous organizations housed in Ann Arbor. One of those fabulous organizations has taken me across the hemisphere to Brazil, that org being PCAP (The Prison Creative Arts Project)! I began working with PCAP this winter where I facilitated theatre workshops at an adult men’s prison, Cooper Street Correctional Facility, and had an unforgettable time. I learned so much about the US incarceration system, made amazing friendships, and basically, had my whole world turned upside down. Being able to go inside a prison challenges all expectations that the media and society portray.
So upon hearing about Brazil, I jumped at the opportunity to go. Not only was I eager to do more work in prisons, but loved the idea of taking classes, meeting new people, and experiencing theatre abroad. Plus, YOU GET TO GO BRAZIL. Does it get any better?
It really doesn’t. In order to give you a better picture of what this trip has been like, I’ll walk you through one our days here in Rio de Janeiro! Our most recent Friday, aka MAY 20th, 2016, we had another jam packed day. Our schedules are interesting here- plans change on a dime and we usually end up exhausted and fulfilled regardless of what we do. We started our May 20th as a big group in a CLOWN CLASS. I hope you’re as excited as I was. We learned about UniRio’s hospital clown program, where actors trained in clowning do work at the local hospital by facilitating workshops and visiting patients. I was in heaven. Clowning has always been a desire of mine to study, and this trip has presented me with several opportunities to play and study the worlds tiniest mask (aka what they call the red nose). We played many games and talked about the work in the program. I loved hearing about how it’s just as much work for the clowns as it is beneficial for the doctors and nurses they interact with. Clowns need to be able to address problems, make something out of nothing and to be fully committed. Clowning ain’t no joke!
Our class ended and we had a bit of free time until our next activity. Because we are crazy people and instead of resting or getting a sit-down meal, a large group of students, myself included, decided to take a quick walk down the street to Sugarloaf mountain! If you think it’s a mound of sweet bread, you have a lovely imagination but are sorely mistaken. It’s a large mountain overlooking the water that we cable car’d up to. The views were AMAZING. At one point we were inside a cloud. Pictures attached below!
After sugarloafing it, we returned to UniRio to take another course for the day! I took a chance on a “mystery class”, meaning Ashley wasn’t sure what the subject was so people could blindly choose out of a few options what they wanted to go to. I, and several other students, ended up in a class with Paulo Merisio who teaches Pedagogy and Theatre Instruction. In this class, we were simply observers. We are incredibly fortunate to have lot of this trip catered to us as a group- we get to see shows, join classes, and visit places most people might never get access to. So the opportunity to be a fly on the wall was refreshing and relaxing. And, my feet needed a break.
The class is for students who are studying to become theatre teachers, but it is still an activity/movement based class. We saw performances of students that created short, original, solo performances based on any artist they liked. We saw inspiration from Van Morrison, Shakespeare, Amy Winehouse, and many other Brazilian musicians and artists. The opportunity to sit and observe was humbling- as a group we don’t always have to be the center of attention to learn from our experiences.
After the class, many students hung around the UniRio campus for their semi-annual semester party! Our timing couldn’t have been any better. We walked outside to see live music and tents being set up, dream catchers being woven, and students dancing on silks! We bounced around for a while, making new friends and talking with familiar faces we met that week. I was able to try the silk dancing which is basically a large piece of cloth hung from a tree. After several trial and error sessions, I successfully got on up there. Someone took a picture, but I cannot imagine that my heaving was graceful nor photogenic. In the end, we danced the night away until our feet hurt and were covered in dirt from samba’ing in the courtyard. It was a magical day.
All in all, the day was filled with many fun activities. However, I can’t help but reflect on how the classes and theatre work has affected me. Even in the our UniRio classes, it’s easy to escape into what feels like playing, but in reality we are learning so much about communication, being flexible and understanding, and developing tools to help us prepare for a life filled with a social justice fire to change the world. The visits to prisons, favelas, and hospitals are humbling and grounding- theatre is no more than a way to equivocate people. We are able to eliminate any judgements and just play the damn games. I feel very lucky to have these experiences and look forward to the remaining week. Tchau!