This morning half of the students, José, and I were up early to go to the Hospital da Lagoa for a workshop with a wonderful group called O Hospital Como Universo Cênico (the Hospital as a Scenic Universe). This wonderful group of talented UniRio students, directed by Prof. Miguel Vellinho, goes to a public hospital every Thursday morning to bring joy to the patients, families, doctors, nurses, administrators, and cleaning people. The UniRio students in this workshop are music and theatre majors, and they are incredibly talented. They play all sorts of instruments, sing, dance, and perform short pieces of children’s theatre as they travel through the hospital.
For our visit, they had prepared a lively medley of songs in English, Spanish, and Portuguese so that we could sing along as we danced our way through the hospital. We rehearsed with them in a garden in the back of the hospital and then followed them through the hospital lobbies and reception areas, the chemotherapy ward, the place for treatment for multiple sclerosis, and the pediatric center. In many of these places, the facilitators would stop to talk to and joke with patients or to sing and play with children. They also give happiness consultations, where one of the students announces herself to be the Dr. of Happiness and asks if we can listen to the patient’s heartbeat. If the patient agrees, one of the students with guitars plucks out what sounds like a heartbeat that then transforms into a samba, to which we all dance. Then the patient is asked to take a slip of paper from inside a plastic doctor’s kit, and the Dr. of Happiness reads the message or quotation on the slip of paper to the patient. It’s usually a lyric to a song or a quote about how special each individual person is. The patients often cry at these messages of happiness, apparently because they are so moved to receive this attention at a time when they are waiting, perhaps with sadness or apprehension, for medical care.
We were at the hospital from 8:30 AM until noon, and it’s a whole lot of work to sing and dance and march up and down the hallways and stairs for that amount of time! I always leave that workshop being so impressed with the energy of the students involved. Our Michigan students had a wonderful time. They gave so much of themselves to the singing and dancing. Liv was particularly charming and did a great job of entertaining the folks in the hospital. The other half of our group of students who didn’t get to go today will do this workshop next week.
In the afternoon, we all went to Prof. Marina Henriques’ Community Theatre class at the university. We watched a documentary about the Theatre of the Oppressed and Augusto Boal, and it was quite fascinating. The film had subtitles in English, which was really helpful for our Portuguese-challenged students. The Theatre of the Oppressed is a set of theatre methodologies that grew out of Augusto Boal’s work with everyday people living in various kinds of oppressive conditions. The military dictatorship in Brazil in the 1970s found this form of theatre so threatening that Boal was imprisoned for three months and then went into exile for ten years. The Theatre of the Oppressed is now admired and practiced by people all over the world who want to do theatre for social change. These methodologies lie at the heart of what we do at PCAP, and we study Theatre of the Oppressed in my Theatre and Incarceration course. The documentary we got to see today is not available outside of Brazil, and it gave some wonderful context to the work we do. We had a discussion of the film and then returned to Ipanema (the neighborhood where we stay).
The students and I stayed in our neighborhood this evening because major demonstrations were happening in the city center of Rio and in cities throughout the nation. President Jair Bolsonaro slashed the national budget for all public education by 30% just a few weeks before we arrived here, and students and teachers from high schools and universities across the nation—and a whole lot of other concerned Brazilians—have been coming together to protest this attack on an already desperately underfunded system of public education. Because political demonstrations in Latin America can sometimes turn violent, the Michigan students and I did not go, though the majority of us support this struggle for educational access. We show our support for public education in Brazil by partnering with two public universities in this exchange and by drawing as much attention as we can, here and abroad, to the wonderful work that our colleagues here are doing with theatre for social change.
Boa noite do Rio (good night from Rio)