My name is Ashley Lucas, and I am an associate professor of Theatre & Drama and the Residential College at the University of Michigan, where I also direct the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP). PCAP is a curricular program which trains students and community volunteers to facilitate arts workshops in adult prisons, juvenile detention centers, and communities of formerly incarcerated people. We host one of the largest annual exhibitions of art by incarcerated artists in the world every year in March and April, and once a year we publish a journal of creative writing by adults doing time in Michigan. Founded in 1990, PCAP is the largest and one of the oldest continuously running prison arts programs in the world. You can read more about us by visiting our website: https://lsa.umich.edu/pcap.
My colleague Professor José Casas will be joining the trip for the first time this year! José is an extraordinarily talented playwright who teaches at Michigan in the Department of Theatre & Drama. He has done theatre projects in youth detention centers in the United States and writes plays about a broad variety of social justice issues, including immigration, criminal justice, and most recently the Flint water crisis. I could not be more excited to share this study abroad experience with him.
All of the students who will be joining us in Brazil in the next few days have completed a course that formerly incarcerated poet Cozine Welch and I co-teach in Michigan called Theatre & Incarceration. In this class we studied various theatre makers who create performances with incarcerated people in countries around the world. Throughout the semester, the students travel each week in small groups to an adult prison or community of formerly incarcerated people to facilitate a theatre workshop. They spend an hour and a half to two hours in their workshops each week and finish the semester with an improv-based performance for an audience of incarcerated people, prison staff, and PCAP volunteers.
The PCAP Brazil Exchange Program began as part of the Brazil Initiative—a university-wide program supported by former president Mary Sue Coleman, who gave funding to seed as many exchange programs as possible between the University of Michigan and the federal university in Rio de Janeiro, known as UniRio. The Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) faculty and staff on our campus did an amazing job of reaching out to professors like me who might be interested in facilitating study abroad programs in Brazil. I knew almost nothing about Brazil or its theatre prior to starting this exchange in 2013, but when I heard that UniRio had a prison theatre program similar to ours, I jumped at the opportunity to take a group of students to Rio to find out what we could learn from these folks.
The exchange grew naturally, and soon the Center for Global and Intercultural Studies (CGIS) agreed to support our work as a credit-bearing class attached to the winter semester Theatre & Incarceration course that I teach in the Theatre & Drama Dept. and the Residential College. Three years into the process, we added another city to our travels because of interest in beginning a prison theatre program at the state university of Santa Catarina, known as UDESC. Without the support of the Brazil Initiative, LACS, CGIS, the Theatre & Drama Dept., the Residential College, and the PCAP staff, this exchange could not be possible. It, of course, also relies heavily on our generous and hardworking hosts at UniRio and UDESC. Three years ago Michigan News sent reporters Fernanda Pires and Levi Stroud to follow our exchange for a week in Rio, and they created really great print, photo, and video stories about our exchange program: http://global.umich.edu/newsroom/escaping-with-theater/.
While we are in Brazil, José, our students, and I will go with our Brazilian hosts—the faculty and students of UDESC and UniRio—to visit their ongoing theatre workshops in prisons, hospitals, and favelas (struggling neighborhoods). They will teach us about how they do theatre in these settings, and we will also demonstrate the theatre games and techniques we use in our workshops in Michigan prisons. What I love about this exchange is the depth of what we are able to do in three short weeks. Because our colleagues here are working in these challenging settings year-round, as we are in the Michigan prisons, they have profound and ongoing relationships with the people in their workshops.
They also understand and respect what we do with theatre at PCAP because their work is so similar in spirit.
The emails you will receive from me on this list in the next few weeks will narrate our journey through this intensive period of exchange. We enter many difficult spaces in doing this work, but we take every safety precaution available to us as we do this. When we go to prisons, hospitals, and favelas, we go in the company of local professionals who go to these places on a weekly basis, who know and respect the communities in each place, and who introduce us as partners in the work that they are already doing. We do the same for our Brazilian counterparts when they visit the Michigan prisons with us. We are thus able to encounter some of the most oppressed people in these cities without engaging in a form of poverty tourism. We instead enter these communities as guests of our university partners and as theatre makers who have come to learn and share.
Thank you for following us on this journey.
Boa noite! (Good Night!),