The Impact of Social Justice Theatre in Rio: A post by Brittani Chew

20 Jun

Although I grew up in a multi ethnic household, it was not until high school when I started to critically understand the effects culture and identity can have on individuals and their interactions between and within communities. For me, it was specifically invisible communities that caught my attention because of the complicated history often associated with society’s choices. I think it’s easier to ignore problems that cause fear than to find the root problem, and in a time where fear is seemingly more prevalent, I felt the need to get more proximate, more empathetic, more proactive in being an ally which ultimately lead to applying to this study abroad program. Fast forward 3 months later when I found out I got accepted into the program I was both nervous, anxious, and excited. How does one ethically enter into a community that in many ways does not belong to one and have positive substantial impact?

Brittani at the Escadaria

Katelyn Torres, Brittani Chew, and Nia Willis at the Escadaria Selaron.

My name is Brittani Chew, and I decided to join Prison Arts Creative Program (PCAP) because I wanted a better understanding of the community within the prison. This past semester I facilitated a theatre workshop with Christa at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional facility, which is also the only adult women’s facility in the state of Michigan. It is one the most transformative things that I took part in and possibly my favorite thing I’ve done so far.

It is the last week in Rio, and I still find myself looking forward to theatre classes.“Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Move your arms up as if you are a tree,” Professor Carmela Soares. Many of these classes, despite the chaos, are structured with exercises that contain purpose and meaning behind them. For example, similar to facilitating prison workshops, it’s important to start with name games and get to know everyone in a group before moving onto other exercises. After sliding and ducking through legs, speaking gibberish, and touching multiple body parts of people I met 50 mins ago, I found myself near a water station in record time.

Public transportation is how most of the UniRio students get around the area and how the U of M students got around these past few weeks. Buses magically avoid collision when they zoom past each other, and traffic laws seem to be merely suggestions. On a rainy Wednesday, I visited the hospital and participated in Professor Miguel Vellinho’s program called Hospital como Universo Senico. As we were rehearsing our songs, a patient dressed in purple pants happened to drop by and started singing and dancing with us. She told us she is 80 years old and that she is happy to be around “youthful and happy energy and that before that she was just normal and then became very energized.” Our set list contained both Brazilian songs and American ones: Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” “Stand by Me” by Otis Redding, “South American Way” by Carmen Miranda, “Mas Que Nada” by Sergio Mendes. As a group we visited the pediatrics center, chemotherapy room, as well multiple patient waiting rooms.

In addition to singing, we were giving “happiness consultations.” It begins with the UniRio student, Diego playing on strings in order “to listen to the heartbeat.” It turns out the man getting the “happiness consultation” was there because of heart problems. As we pulled from a box and read aloud the advice, his wife clutched his hand and started to tear up.

Theatre and art for the Brazilians seems to be another way to speak their minds, and it seems to be one the ways they can openly criticize their government. In many ways though, it can be hard because one can find this work to be isolating because many people choose to ignore them. I’m still coming to terms of how I should move forward from this whole experience, and I think in the capacity that I can help and with theatre as a medium I have come to a satisfactory yet unsatisfactory conclusion. I can’t help but wonder as I move through life, how I want to shape my world and in doing so, hopefully others along the way.

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One Response to “The Impact of Social Justice Theatre in Rio: A post by Brittani Chew”

  1. mrbriang July 4, 2017 at 5:54 pm #

    So lovely to hear and see people grappling with similar questions as we were last year! Kudos Brittani for this post that really gets at the anxieties, excitement and rush of experiencing just a bit of what magical work is happening at UniRio. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

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