Learning to Do Theatre Workshops in a New Context, a post by Hannah Agnew

7 Jun

My name is Hannah Agnew, and I have been working with the Prison Creative Arts Project for a year and a half now. My first workshop was doing theatre with a group of incredible men at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility for a semester. Afterwards, I moved to the Sisters Within at Women’s Huron Valley and have since been continuing to do theatre with the talented women incarcerated there. I decided to come on this trip to Brazil because of the incredible impact theatre has had both on me, my fellow classmates and community members, and the participants of our workshop. Throughout my life, I have never thought of theatre as a tool for social change, but after seeing the influence it had in the U.S. carceral system, I decided that I wanted to see this work in a different context.

Here in Brazil, we have not only been extending our theatre workshops into prisons, but many other social environments. One of the experiences that has particularly stood out to me was our work in the favelas of Rio. The favelas are areas of extremely low economic income where many houses and families lack vital resources such as water, electricity, education, and many other basic human rights. Similar to the ghettos of the U.S, the people of these areas are irrationally stigmatized and ignored by society. When one thinks of the favelas, they tend to jump to the conclusion of danger and violence––forgetting about the humanity of the people that live there.Hannah

My classmates and I were split into three separate workshops within the favelas. I, along with Ashley and several other PCAPers were sent to a site in Maré where we would work with a group of teenagers ranging from around ten to nineteen years old. Going into it, I was not quite sure what to expect. The only theatre for social change I had previously done was in the context of prisons, never in any other social or cultural settings. But it was so beautiful. The workshop was led by Diego Marques, one of the Brazilian theatre students from UniRio that had come to Michigan in March. Instead of leading the workshop, as I have typically done with PCAP, I followed along with all of the participants. Together, we interacted in different dance, improv, rhythmic and theatre games for several hours.

What never fails to amaze me when it comes to using theatre as a tool in various social environments is when you become so immersed that for a minute, you can forget about what separates you all. In my experience, the workshop and those I have facilitated in prisons have been so focused on working as a collective to create something that the dividing walls of culture and class were forgotten about––all I could think about how hilarious the kid on stage was, pretending to be a dinosaur that accidentally killed his friend with poisonous pancakes. It was shocking how similar the effect of theatre was in an entirely different cultural and social environment.

In both U.S. prisons and Brazilian favelas, these theatre workshops went to show that anybody has the capacity to create art. In most societies, as a collective we tend to turn a blind eye to those who are different or deemed “unfit” to function normally simply because of a social situation that they are in. In the U.S., we label those who have gone through the carceral system as villains and unable to provide anything useful towards the world––we lack the empathy to understand how their circumstances and our racially/socially charged legal system led them to be incarcerated in the first place. In Brazil, it seems the favelas are so stigmatized with violence and danger that those living in them, which is 25% of Rio’s population, are forgotten about or even romanticized––people lack the motivation to support them or understand how the severe lack of resources affects their lives. While theatre does not solve these problems, it gives some insight into how much things change when we treat each other as equals and work collectively––regardless of each other’s backgrounds. It is so important that we provide resources to people in all walks of life, not just in the areas to which we choose to pay attention.


One Response to “Learning to Do Theatre Workshops in a New Context, a post by Hannah Agnew”


  1. Mais uma visita de amigos da Universidade de Michigan – Programa Teatro em Comunidades - June 12, 2018

    […] Learning to Do Theatre Workshops in a New Context, a post by Hannah Agnew […]

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