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Guest blogger Kate Toporski on the Ramos favela and the play Ocupação Cidade Correria

10 Jun

Kate

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.

Ocupa tudo

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.

Ocupa

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.

shoes

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!

Can't stop

Guest blogger Tierra Christian on a play written and performed by young Brazilians from a favela

9 Jun

Hello readers. Tierra Christian here. I must tell you that my final days here in Brazil have been truly amazing. However, before I delve into one of my most lovely experiences on this trip, I will let you know more about myself. I am a black woman from Detroit, MI, and I am a newly admitted undergraduate student into the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. Alongside my major in public policy, I have chosen to minor in Afro-American and African Studies, as well as, Global Theatre and Ethnic Studies. Thus, you may see that my two greatest passions are social justice and performance. These two passions led me to Prison Creative Art Project’s Brazil Exchange.

Saturday, I witnessed some of the most amazing artwork and theatre that I have ever seen in my life. Cidade Correria was the name of this play. Such marvelous perfection were the elements of this performance that allowed its audience, even non Brazilians, to laugh, cry, be filled with energy, and experience every emotion known to men; audience members were forced into captivation with precise focus upon these performers’ every next move. These performers were that amazing. Before entering the theatre, there was a gallery that was by no means extravagant. Rather, it was everything that it needed to be. Almost every piece of artwork was made of cardboard and to decorate the cardboard’s brown overlay were spray paint, string, shards of glass, black and white maps of favelas (Brazilian equivalent of the U.S. “projects” or “ghetto”), and many other things that you may consider trash (i.e. crushed cans). Upon first arrival—after taking off your shoes—and to your left, was a great explanation of the situations that were going on in the favelas. It spoke of the current police brutality and racism that currently dictates the life of ones that live in the favelas. Eventually, I had even noticed that the satin covering that masked the floor was a red the color of blood. When I saw that, I felt that it was a metaphor for the bloodshed of the many black males killed by policemen in the favelas.

The play that was presented to us captivated all of this and even more. What I was most excited about was the fact that this play was performed by people that live in favelas! Finally, stories being told by the ones who truly live it. Finally, theatre being used as a tool to educate and create social change. On top of that, the theatre was so professional! The performers were speaking to their audience. I mean, there was constant interaction. For example, Vicente, Anna, and I were chosen out of the audience to participate in one of the scenes.

There we were standing in 3 horizontal rows, holding hands next to each person beside us, waiting to constantly be told to turn to the left or to the right. At first it was kind of funny, constantly turning back and forth, and the characters were funny. But there was something significantly terrifying about what we were doing. By the end, we weren’t smiling anymore. You see, we were the obstacle that continuously got in the blacks man’s way of success. He had one all three rounds—which encompassed education, poverty, etc—each of them ending with his victory stance. But they added a fourth round, police enforcement, and he was completely knocked down.

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A scene from the audience participation portion of Cidade Correria

What a perfect way to place your audience in the life that you struggle with every day, the life that you wish people would pay attention to, but instead they ignore.

What a perfect way to use artwork and performance as a catalyst for social change.

Guest blogger Leia Squillace on theatre practice in prisons and in Brazil

8 Jun
visit to Laguna

Michigan students in the town of Laguna (near Florianopolis), Santa Catarina, Brazil

Hello readers!

My name is Leia Squillace and I’m a rising senior at the University of Michigan. I am studying directing the School of Music, Theater, and Dance and minoring in Women’s Studies and Community Action and Social Change through the School of Social Work. I began my work with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) this past semester when I facilitated a weekly theater workshop for ten men in Cooper Street Correctional Facility. I had wanted to take the class for quite some time as I feel that it is an inexplicably perfect way to marry my interests in theater and social justice work. For me, theater is a constant practice in empathy, and I feel that this is more true in PCAP than in almost any other theater setting. In addition to wanting to continue my work with PCAP in other parts of the world, I joined this program to travel to Brazil in part because of the work of Augusto Boal, a theater practitioner who created a model of theater for social change called Theater of the Oppressed. He is from Rio and his work has always been inspirational to me. I know that Brazil has a different relationship with theater than the United States, but I feel that I need to experience it firsthand to truly understand to what extent. Additionally, I wanted to be a part of this program because in my experience, theater that exists outside of the context of the States often times uses incredibly powerful techniques and tactics to storytelling that we are unfamiliar with and I am excited to learn about any and all that exist in Brazil.

UDESC discussion

Michigan students participate in a discussion with theatre practitioners and students at UDESC in Florianopolis

Our first full day in Florianopolis, an island city in Southern Brazil, was a whirlwind as is to be expected when adjusting to a new place. We spent the bulk of our day at the University de Santa Catarina (UDESC), which is the state that Florianopolis is in. We spent the afternoon attending two events- first Ashley and a pair of UDESC students spoke about their experiences and work doing theater in prisons. I felt that this was a coincidentally well timed event because it was a very appropriate start to our trip. It allowed us all an opportunity to reflect on our own experiences working  with PCAP before driving into the work. It was also particularly useful to hear the UDESC students talk about their work as well because their approach to theater in prison is slightly different than ours.

First, it was important to listen to the experiences of others who have done similar work to ours. We have read articles and essays from others who do prison theater throughout the semester leading up to our trip, and a few of Ashley’s colleagues have shared their experiences with us in class. To hear people from a completely different part of the world who had never met Ashley before describe their work helped me to realize that prison theater is more than just a fleeting practice that has gained traction in a small community. Because Ashley knows so many of the prison theater practitioners in the states, it can feel like a very small community of people who all support each other in their work. This talk countered my view and helped to prove to me that prison and theater naturally pair well together because they appear in conjunction in many different contexts around the world.

After the talk we saw a production of an adaptation of the Greek play, Medea, called Gota D’Agua performed by the UDESC students. It was in the open air and traveled from location to location between scenes (much like Shakespeare in the Arb, for those readers from Ann Arbor). I do not mean to say that one performance can be representative of an entire culture or country, but this was a first glimpse at how theater is approached in Brazil. Specifically, Ashley had told us that there is a much stronger emphasis on community in theater in Brazil and thus far, the statement has held true. In a literal sense, after the show, the lead actress stepped forward and gave a speech uniting the plot of the play and the current political unrest in Brazil. [For those unaware, members of the Brazilian Senate are impeaching their president, Dilma Rousseff.] Additionally, one of the antagonists held a mask in the image of a former political dictator over his face to further unite the play with the community’s voice. In a more figurative sense, this performance could be called “community-centered” because of the format it was performed in. At the beginning of the show, the audience walked through the performance space and interacted with the actors. Often times, actors would walk through, look at, and speak to groups of audience members. Additionally, by moving locations, the audience was completely surrounded by the play and could feel as if they were within it. Through these aspects, the audience almost became members of the same community as the characters in the play. All in all, a thrilling first day that I think set a tone of introspection and openness for the rest of the trip.

Guest blogger Violet on doing theatre with teenagers in the U.S. and Brazil

2 Jun

Violet on steps

Hello! I’m Violet, a rising junior majoring in Theatre Arts and minoring in Community Action and Social Change. I was introduced to PCAP through the two classes taught by Ashley Lucas. I found The Atonement Project, the fall semester class, when looking for requirements for both my major and minor. On the first day of class Ashley mentioned that if we had interest in going to Brazil we could take her other class, Theatre and Incarceration, in the winter. Needless to say I was sold from that moment. That semester I co-facilitated a workshop at the Washtenaw Youth Detention Center and this past semester at the Washtenaw Center for Forensic Psychiatry.  

Theatre has always been my way communicating with other people and the world. Theatre itself is a language and way to bring people together. Being in Brazil has added to my list of experiences where this is true. Despite my total inability to speak Portuguese, I was still able to create relationships with people through the games we played, the things we laughed at, and the songs we sang. I had never been to South America prior to this trip but it had always been on my bucket list to come to Rio. The icing on the cake was that I was able to come here do theatre.

I have seen many differences in the theatre of Brazil compared to the theatre in the US. Especially with the current political climate of Brazil, many of the shows we have seen have been addressing those political issues. Not to say politics don’t influence American theatre but Ashley did make a point that political theatre was more openly funded and supported in Brazil. However, I have seen more similarities than anything when going to the workshops. The most incredible workshop was the one in the favela. Six of us, myself included, went into a theatre workshop for teenagers led by UniRio students. I had done a workshop with a group girl teenagers previously before in Michigan and was expecting it to be difficult. With teenage girls it can be like pulling teeth trying to get them to participate. It took a long time to build trust and get everyone to participate in the workshop. However, when we arrived the first Saturday to participate in the workshop, we were immediately greeted and welcomed into the community. From the very start, we all got along very well. One of the games we played involved us dancing around the space to music and as soon as it ended, we all had to run to fit into squares that were taped on the floor. We were running around trying to fit as many people in one square as possible. The game not only got us physically closer but created a supportive atmosphere. Everyone was working to be inclusive and fit every person in the square. This environment would dictate the rest of the time we spent together including when we returned the next Saturday to lead a workshop. That next Saturday we came and we again received with the same positive energy as the week before. We introduced many new games to them all and had a total blast. 

At the end of each workshop there was a debrief session, something that is not common in US. I remember asking them all “Why do you do theatre?” and then through translation I got almost the same answer from everyone; “It is my dream.” This shook my perspective on theatre and opened my eyes to the privilege I held. My ability to study theatre in the US is a privilege. For these teenagers, just being in a theatre workshop meant they were living their dream. I realized I had taken for granted my access to theatre education and the opportunities I had in the US. For the kids in the workshop, this was the only theatre they were given and it made them feel whole. One boy said he liked the new games we had introduced to them “because they fed my soul.” These were maybe 16 year-olds describing the dramatic importance and impact of theatre on their lives. I saw this in my work in Michigan, and again I see it here that these young teenagers are the most thoughtful and honest people. Hearing their voices gave me a reminder of why I continue to do theatre and how fortunate I am to be able to. I cannot wait to return to the US with this renewed perceptive but hope to return again to this amazing place to these amazing people some day. Brazil, thank you for everything. 

Tchau,

Violet

sunset

Guest blogger Alyssa Gonzales on a theatre workshop in the Maré favela

30 May

Aly

Hello all, bom dia (or boa noite for any night owls that may be reading this). My name is Alyssa Gonzales and I am currently writing this blog post in a tropical hostel only minutes away from the Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If I walk five minutes, I can watch waves returning from distant lands crash against the shore as the sun rises above the horizon. A short bus ride, and I am able to stand on top of the Pão de Açucar mountain and see the sprawling city beneath the clouds. The idea that I am in a land more than 6,000 miles from my home is almost too hard to comprehend. It is humbling to know that I am simply a small piece of a greater puzzle that is the human race. Or rather, a cog in a grand, powerful machine. I am an almost insignificant part, but I help to keep the engine pumping in even the smallest of ways.

I am incredibly grateful to PCAP, UDESC, and UniRio for allowing me to inhabit this country for a few weeks as a part of the Brazil Exchange. Since September of 2015, I have been a devoted member of PCAP, first as an undergraduate research assistant, then as a student of Dr. Ashley Lucas’s Theatre and Incarceration class. Through this class, I facilitated a theatre workshop for reentrants with two of my peers. Through this, I gained a better grasp on the power the creative arts has on an individual and a community. It also taught me the importance of respecting the cultures and experiences of others. All these things together have allowed me to engage in dynamic interactions which have made my time in Rio unforgettable.

As a member of an organization which promotes equality and social justice, it is important for all of us participants to remember our privilege, which we carry in many different ways. We attend one of the most respected academic institutions in the world, which allows us to channel our learnings to the scholarly community. We hold passports and identification cards that can safely allow us to explore the Earth freely and in good health. When we exit the spaces and communities of others who do not possess the same privileges as us, we could choose to leave never return.

view of Rio

On our first Saturday in Rio, PCAP’s students joined UniRio’s Teatro em Comunidade facilitators for theatre workshops in different areas of the Maré favela. Unless a person is from Brazil, s/he may not fully grasp the concept of what a favela is. The closest translation of this concept would be a slum, but that does not fully cover the situation of its inhabitants. Before embarking upon my journey to Brazil, I read up on Rio in popular travel guides and the first few responses to a Google search. When I arrived, I expected to see primitive infrastructure, a lack of an economy, hopelessness. Instead I found a lively produce market set up along a main road, a beautiful and refreshing man made beach, and the faces of people trying desperately to live a fulfilling life in an extremely adverse situation. As we drove the narrow streets into the Ramos neighborhood of Maré, we encountered a couple of police units. They casually carried loaded machine guns with them as residents walked past. To an outsider such as myself, it seemed more as if they were there to attack rather than protect. I could not understand why the Brazilian government would deny them of the basic rights they hold as citizens of Rio de Janeiro.

Our workshop for teens was held in the local health clinic. We began with a name game which involved tossing around an inflated ball while saying each other’s names. Everyone was a bit awkward at first, being in a space with new people and speaking names with sounds not native to their own language, but after a few rounds of theater games, we all warmed up  to each other. We transitioned to writing exercise the facilitators of this workshop use to find topics or ideas they want to explore for their final performance. The prompt for this particular session was the best day of your life. Though we did not share them aloud, we did speak amongst ourselves about our choices. There were discussions of travel and birthdays, but I chose the simplicity of laughter; an ordinary day in which negativity did not peek its head. I hope that the teens we worked with can relate to that. Following this, we were led to a man made beach in which residents swim on warm days. The water was cool. We exchanged laughs and took pictures under the sun before heading back.

We returned to our room in the clinic after that. Instead of returning to theatre games, we sat in a circle for a small discussion. In the beginning, we asked lighter questions such as: “What are your ages?” and “What have been your favorite things about Rio?” After the small talk, we moved into heavier topics. Our group, with translation help from our program assistant, shared opinions and differences on topics such as racism, feminism, and the role of the police. We compared development of social movements in the US with those in Brazil. We even got into a lengthy discussion about social perceptions of the music artist Beyoncé and her most recent album, Lemonade. As we geared up to leave, the participants asked if and when we would be coming back.

As I sat beside everyone, Brazilians and Americans alike, I realized there more similarities than differences between us all. We were all hard working, passionate people. We could think critically and trade opinions on hard topics respectfully. We could have fun and laugh over a simple game of woosh. The people who live in the favelas of Brazil are just as deserving of a fruitful life as a wealthy carioca (the term for a person from Rio) living by Copacabana beach. Through my few short weeks in Brazil, I’ve learned much about the country I’m staying in and myself. In a city of more than six million, I am a nameless face on the sidewalk, a grain of sand sitting on a shore. I’ve lived out of a duffel bag and a backpack, making it by on my weekly allowance of reais and two tiny feet. Even with early mornings and minimal internet access, I’ve never felt more content. But, through the talks of activism and social justice I’ve been audience to throughout the week, I realize that I can make a difference, even if it is simply gushing over One Direction with a local teenager. It’s a balance. One must throw themselves out there and experience it to fully understand it. We must stand beside the Cristo Redentor and feel small. We must stare at another’s smile and feel bigger.

Muito amor,

Alyssa Gonzales

Guest blogger Brian Garcia on prisons, racism, and teatro na comunidade

29 May
Brian in UDESC performance

Brian performing in a skit during a theatre class at UDESC

My name is Brian Garcia. I am a recent graduate from the University of Michigan in Interdisciplinary Performance focusing on the intersection of Latinx/queer identities and mental health. My interest in the Prison Creative Arts Project stems from a desire to integrate art making practices into social activist spaces. Over the past week I have been a part of an exchange program between the University of Michigan and UDESC (the state university of Santa Catarina) in Florianopolis, Brazil during which we participated in a two-day intensive workshop festival centered on a focus of “teatro na communidade” or “community theatre.” My participation in the workshops was only part of the experience as listening to and comparing my liberal arts BFA education with that of the UDESC students shed light on both similarities and the importance of difference in our shared vocabulary of social oppression.

UDESC & UM students in Vicente's class

UDESC and Michigan students in Vicente Concilio’s acting class

Within the relatively liberal community of art students at UDESC, I found myself meeting many students who oddly uttered similar rhetoric surrounding struggles with homophobia, transphobia, gender-identity, racism and oppression. One of these students was a self-identified cisgendered heterosexual man who studies theatre at UDESC. After realizing how similar our theatre curriculums were, we shared our perspectives of art in social movements. He told me how growing up in the state of Rio Grande do Sol – what was described multiple times as the Texas of Brazil- shaped his view of the world. As we spoke more, however, this student began to confide in me a more personal story about his cousin’s murder to gun violence by police. The incident reconfigured his art making and he intends to incorporate it into his senior thesis performance. Unlike his work in UDESC, this piece was not a scripted performance but closer to my familiar realm of “performance art” – to be performed in a small theatre free from the restrictions of the University.

UDESC & UM students performing

UDESC and Michigan students

As we sat in a restaurant late at night, he described to me his ideal performance piece for his senior thesis. He shared that he wanted to illustrate the ways in which those who were sworn to protect and help him killed his cousin. In order to show his unity in blood to him he imagines himself on stage literally drawing his own blood in front of a live audience. To get at how these well-intentioned people actually can cause more harm than good, he envisions a moment in which the performer cuts the tube drawing blood and bleeds out on stage. Ultimately, he suspects that someone in the audience would try to help stop the bleeding – an act that could potentially cause more difficulties in rescuing the performer if not fatal harm. All of this, he describes, stems from a desire to use his privileged status in skin color, gender and sexuality to leverage a conversation from that of a savior mentality to the high mortality of police gun violence.

Unfortunately, this story was not the only personal story of stray bullet deaths that was shared with us during our time in Florianopolis. Despite the United States’ constant media attention on the current political display between candidates for the presidency, gun violence and police brutality also affect my country at alarming rates. Another similarity I found between this proposal and my own lived experience is the manner in which close family deaths have influenced our thesis work. Together we enthusiastically spoke of a desire to illustrate institutionalized pain connected through familial relationships, a desire to leverage privileged identities through theatre, a desire to open up dialogue through performance. Most importantly however, this student’s description of his work pointed to a more fascinating aspect of what I suspect might become more pertinent in our work continuing in Rio: The ability to affirm and listen to someone’s story, recognize similarities, while also understanding that it is not your own.

Brian talking about race at UDESC

Brian (seated in front of black curtain) speaking about race at UDESC in a discussion during the theatre festival

Let me take a moment here to sidetrack to a different moment during the festival involving the same student. During the question and answer portion of our group’s talk to the rest of the participants at the festival, this student posed a question of how race impacts the work we do in prison considering the alarmingly high rate of people of color in prisons both in Brazil and the US. To be asked what racism is like in your country is like being asked to explain how gravity works. You don’t really know how to fully explain it because it exists beyond the extent of our current vocabulary yet we still feel it day by day. The daunting task to explain this seems greater with an actual language barrier and time restraints thrown in. The truth is anybody on a panel can give you an in depth analysis of the intricacies of race relations in their work or scholarship. So often has the institution of the University of Michigan taught me to spend time crafting unique answers that fit neatly into our current political and social understanding of oppression – however, I believe that this does not and will not ever fully reach the level of an answer that such a question merits.

So, to go back to the moment that this same white student explained to me his ideal performance: While the specificity of the student’s situation leading to the creation of this performance is unique to himself as the performer (his autobiographical experience, his self-described held identities, etc.), the story of his cousin’s death and the manner by which it is performed on stage function as artifacts of the communities that allowed this event to happen. The unique power of theatre lies here: to allow me as a foreigner to both connect and understand these experiences as not my own between the boundary of language is to connect in solidarity with the struggles of a country that is not my own. However, to both see how the passing of a loved one has influenced our work and at the same time sit in the reality that this is not my story is what theater helps me imagine. Particularly in a world in which I am constantly navigating the identities of a foreigner in my own country and a representative of colonial power abroad – it is pertinent I dance with these complexities before I step into a prison in a country that is not my own.

Ash speaking at UDESC

Ashley at the UDESC theatre festival leading the conversation about PCAP’s work

I often feel afraid of graduating and entering a world that continuously feels smaller and smaller. A world that no matter where I turn seems to not have a space that was not tainted by colonial super powers. A world that tries to convince me that my indigenous roots were meant to be expelled, that the colonizer’s ancestry I hold should rise supreme – a world that fuels this internal ancestral conflict and essentially holds no true “home” for me. But, it is this ability to hold an impossible duality of recognition and complete inability to truly understand the story of another that is so beautiful about the moment of sharing artistic work with a Brazilian theatre student in Florianopolis. Despite our figurative and literal differences in language, we are able to share a piece of each other’s suffering while imagining worlds of possibilities and it is this that makes me desire less of a home and more of a community through “teatro na communidade.”

Anonymous student guest blogger on the Oficina Intensiva theatre festival at UDESC

28 May

This student chose to post her blog entry anonymously.

Hello, everyone! I’m a grateful participant of the 2016 Brazil exchange, with very little background in theatre, or theatre in the context of social justice and activism. Because of how radically different this trip is from any other experience I’ve ever had, I knew from the beginning that I would love to be a part of it. My premonition was right; this week in Florianopolis has already started to change me for the better.

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Our group in Florianopolis

One of the experiences I have been lucky enough to be a part of these past two days is the Theatre Festival at UDESC (which is the state university just over the hill from our hotel here in Florianopolis).  We began the festival with a sort of call and response drum-circle game/song, in which everyone joins hands and gradually creates concentric circles around a group of drummers. It set, in my mind, the theme of the festival: community. I am not great in social settings, even ones I’m excited about. I really, really don’t dance or bob or sway or anything in public. And most of all, I don’t speak any Portuguese. Like most of my fellow students, I had no idea what was being sung, or what the rules of the game (if it can be called that) were. But despite all of these barriers, I was accepted as part of the group without a stray glance, and I found myself joining in without question.

The sense of acceptance continued throughout the day. The participants were divided by age and given coloured wristbands, determining which workshop block they would be a part of. After a quick break for incredible coffee (as indeed every single cup of coffee I’ve had here has been) we went to our first workshop of the day. For my group, it was a cortejo workshop, which is a traditional kind of dance. As my leaders explained to us, it is most of all an expression, often of religious joy, which is done for days at a time. We started the workshop by playing a name game, where we held a piece of one long rope of twine as we said our names and walked across the circle to take the place of someone else. At the end, we had a beautiful pattern, as well as a chance to start to remember names. Then, the leaders played music, and we were instructed to dance and move to the beat and to walk around, in whatever way we felt. The end result was a large, tangled mess. The leaders explained: all of us are one thread. Every person is connected, and it is important to remember that. However, even more important, in theatre and in life, is remembering that we have to be mindful of those who we share our spaces with. It was a stunningly simple premise with a beautiful conclusion, and I found myself nearly moved to tears by it.

The second workshop, which was about Afro Brazilian music and sound, also touched on this. After playing a name game, we were told to team up with another person and have a conversation using only rhythm that we created with our bodies. The room was filled with stomping and clapping as the pairs stared at each other, calling and responding with the beats they made. After, our leader told us, that it is this way in theatre and in life: we have to listen, truly listen, to those we are with, because all of us have to share the space on the earth.

I came away from the festival feeling as if something had shifted. I no longer thought about what I looked like when joining in group celebrations, which mostly included dancing, because it doesn’t matter how I am occupying my own space. The story I am living is not the most important one, and it is up to me to listen to the stories of other people. As well, I no longer had nerves about meeting new people who don’t even speak the same language. The question of acceptance is not something that’s brought up or thought about here, it is just a given. If you are willing to throw yourself into whatever you are doing, then you belong, and there is nothing else you need.

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