Hey there readers! My name is Kate Toporski, and I am a rising senior at the University of Michigan (dang that’s really weird to say…I’m not ready to almost be an adult!). I’m majoring in Communications with minors in both Writing and CASC (Community Action and Social Change). This past semester, I ran a theater workshop at the Cooper Street men’s facility in Jackson, Michigan. To put it simply, the workshop change my perspective, my ideas of happiness, and my outlook on life in general. The men in my workshop transformed my mind and heart, and it didn’t stop when I left Cooper Street, as we’ve been traveling around Brazil for the past three and a half weeks working in different prisons and communities.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve made a couple visits to Rio’s favelas, which are communities of poorer citizens scattered throughout the city and in the mountains. I was lucky enough to spend three days in Ramos, where I worked with both adults and children in theater workshops. The individuals that I met during my workshops in the health center there were strong, funny, smart, and oh-so-sweet. I feel so lucky to have been able to spend time with them, even if it was only for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, what’s currently happening in the favelas isn’t funny or sweet.
Due to the upcoming Olympic games in Rio, there have been a lot of changes happening across the city. These changes effect more than just traffic or the economy, the games bring on a certain necessity of safety, of both those visiting and the reputation of the city. This desire for the image of the “perfect” city can cause panic within the city, especially within law enforcement. Starting with preparations for the 2014 World Cup and continuing to today, police and other law enforcement agents invade favelas, not to provide safety, but to inflict fear. In justification of their favela raids, law enforcement claims to be making moves to keep the streets safe, but at that, risking the lives of those who live in these poorer communities.
This issue, while not especially discussed in our workshops in Ramos, were brought to our attention in a play that we attended on Saturday night. Little did we know, just 15 minutes away, was a small theater and exhibit, housing one of the most spectacular pieces of art that I have ever seen. The play was called “Ocupação Cidade Correria”, which featured roughly 15 talented young actors and actresses, all from favelas, all effected by law enforcement invasions, lack of governmental benefits, and the overall stigmas that revolve around those who live in the favelas.
The hour long performance featured various monologues, scenes, and dances about experiences that the cast had encountered over the course of their lives. Many of the skits within the play criticized the current happenings in the government, which included the education system, law enforcement, and all-around safety of families and individuals living within these communities. Each skit was raw, real, and heart-wrenching as we watched the struggles of favela life unfold on stage, from those who have suffered and persevered through the obstacles set up against them. The play challenged the audience to take part in a revolution of the mind- simply overcoming the stereotypes and governmental scares about what those of certain races, backgrounds, or lifestyles mean to society.
The performance was accompanied by a powerful art exhibit (pictures shown throughout this post), showing how recent political happenings have affected life in these communities and how the Olympic games have shifted the city’s attitude towards favelas in a time of pressure.
As one student mentioned while discussing the play, “I see it like this, this play was more than a reminder that talent comes from a favela, but more so that favelas are talented, inspirational, and strong. This play wasn’t about showing us how great the individuals are, but how great communities and how scary it is that the government is destroying them.”
Thanks for reading, and be sure to get out the play for yourself here!