Archive | May, 2018

Theatre for Social Change at UDESC, a post by Eddie Williams

28 May

My name is Eddie Williams and I am currently a student at the University of Michigan studying Acting and Psychology. I have completed four years at the University so far, but I still have one more year to complete because there are many more class requirements that come with having two majors as opposed to just one. After graduation I intend on continuing my education by pursuing a Master’s in Social Work. I figured by doing this I will be able to find a career where I am able use my love for theatre and the arts, not for entertainment per se, but more so as means to deal with social problems in our society today. Throughout my time at the University I have been looking for classes to take that combined both of my interests. I found that intersection when I took the Theatre & Incarceration class, taught by Ashley Lucas who is also the director Prison Creative Arts Project, also known as PCAP. The class and the program overall opened my eyes to the problems that exist in the criminal justice system and incarceration not just in the United States but around the world. I’ve gained so much insight, over the past couple of months, into the harsh realities of the incarcerated population. It is through PCAP that I was able to facilitate a theatre workshop at Milan Federal Correctional Institution. With the use of theatre, I was able to cultivate an environment that enabled the men to express themselves freely and creatively. All around it was a great experience, one that made me feel very fulfilled because it showed that importance of the arts and how they can be used to uplift, heal, connect, and ultimately rehumanize people.

Coming to Brazil was another aspect of PCAP that broadened my horizons and made me think about the issues of incarceration on an international level rather than just nationally. I would have never thought that I’d be able to go to Brazil. I knew going in that this was going to be a life defining experience, one that would further confirm what I want to do with my life. In just the first week in Florianópolis I have been able to see the different ways theatre can be used to express oneself and raise awareness to issues you never thought about before. On day two in the Florianópolis, the class and I had the privilege of watching four black women perform a piece discussing the issues of race in Brazil. They used dancing, singing, and different scenarios to bring to the forefront their black experiences. This specifically included issues of police brutality against blacks, colorism within the black community, lack of positive black representation, and ultimately the issue of slavery and its impact on us today. I was not surprised at all that the experiences that they had shared were exactly like the experiences of black people in the United States. As a black person myself, I resonated with the piece. It was important for people that didn’t identify as black to see it so that they could understand what life is like in our world.

Eddie

The talkback with University of Michigan students after the UDESC students performed the first half their play.

There were also the pieces by presented by Sisi, Alé, and other students of UDESC throughout the week that touched on very important topics. These topics ranged from what’s it like to be a queer black woman to the need for philosophy classes to remain an option as a major on the university level. Each performance was charged with a strong specific social message which forced the audience see things from a different perspective. The performers took our assumptions and pre-conceived notions about specific identities and flipped them on their head. This was reinforced by the very unconventional and Brecht-like presentation of each performance. For example, the UDESC student performance of the first half of their play started with us coming into a dark room and walking around the set, while the students began repeating different sentences, at various points of the stage, and lighting the room up with their phones. Another example was Alé’s performance which had the audience sitting in the round. He started by greeting everyone in a very sensual way either with a kiss or laying on their laps, and at many points throughout the show he talked directly to the audience. I found out later that his purpose for this doing was to make people think about how we often fetishize the LGBTQ community. All the performances made for an overall educational experience. I loved every bit of it as I felt I grew better as a person. It made me want to fully immerse myself in the act of listening to understand rather than assuming and thinking I know all the answers, because I don’t. With all that the class and I learned and was exposed to in the first week, I am excited to see what is in store over the next two weeks.

A Visit to the Women’s Prison in Florianópolis, a post by Stevie Michaels

28 May

My name is Stevie Michaels, and I am a student at the University of Michigan. I became affiliated with PCAP, the Prison Creative Arts Project, just one semester ago. After graduation, I plan to attend the Police Academy and become a police officer. I thought that PCAP would be an amazing opportunity to gain a well rounded education about the criminal justice system in the United States. And in the past six months, I’ve gained so much more that simply education. I have found passion, hope, and humanity in every person in the program as well as the inmates that have participated in the workshop that myself and two co-facilitators led in a men’s prison in Jackson, Michigan.

Stevie

Michigan and UDESC students at the university, getting ready to go to the women’s prison.

Coming to Brazil was not something I intended to do when I began my journey with PCAP. I thought PCAP would be a one semester class and in April, when my workshop ended, I would just walk away. That wasn’t the case. I didn’t want to stop learning about the people and I just wanted to immerse myself in a program that could actually bring change to a system that I found to be so cold. Maybe I couldn’t make a change individually, but as a collective group I found that, at the very least, PCAP brings smiles and fun to the inmates all around Michigan. So I decided to pack my bags and get on a plane to see what PCAP does with its partnerships in Brazil.

On just day two in Florianópolis we had the opportunity to visit an all women’s prison. The prison was right next to a historic men’s prison which is over 90 years old. The women’s prison is perched up on a hill, very small, and one might not even realize it is there. Prior to becoming a prison, it was a storage shed for the men’s prison. When I say shed, I mean it. It is incredibly small, housing 71 women inside it, which is overwhelming. They are currently building an addition onto the back of it so that by June they will be able to house 220 women. At the moment there is no grass, unlike the prisons I have seen in Michigan. Usually there is grass in the “yards.” If you look around you can see the paint chipping off the cement walls, and the unkept corners of dirt buildup and places where the air conditioners into the offices would leak water and rust. Because of the lack of space, the theater space that Vicente, a professor at the university here in Florianópolis, uses is an awkward open “cage” where everyone can see you. Vicente has only done a semester worth of workshops here, as he is still trying to gain more access to run programs in the nearby prisons. This type of area where the workshops are held is different than in the US, and many of the prisons have classrooms.

We spoke with the Warden of the prison, along with three of the women on the Minister of Justice’s staff, who were in a meeting the previous day with both Vicente and my professor Ashley to discuss prison programming and its importance. The entire time a woman from the Ministry of Justice was taking photos and staging photos of us to put in a press release. This was a bizarre experience because in the US no photos are ever taken inside the walls.

Although the prison doesn’t have conventional places to run the workshops, I think that this is a vital place to run them. Because of the lack of space and programming, a workshop could really bring some hope and happiness to a place where there may not be much of it.

Having the opportunity to speak with the Warden has encouraged me to learn more about the laws and rules of the criminal justice system in Brazil, not only to advocate for programming in prisons there, but also to compare to the US and see what we can take and use and learn from each other.

%d bloggers like this: