This morning three of our students (Lisa, Kym, and Sergio) went to the Hospital Gafre Guinle with UniRio students from Enfermaria do Riso, which is a program in which students do clowning for children, families, doctors, nurses, administrators, and cleaning people at the hospital. It’s a really fascinating project which we’ll all get to see more of on Wednesday morning. However, just a few Michigan students each year on this trip get to follow the clowns on a day when they are visiting the hospital. Because the clowns go into individual patient’s rooms and do very sensitive work, we cannot send a big group of observers with them. I can’t wait to hear more about what our students experienced with the clowns this morning!
The rest of us had the morning to ourselves. I spent some time changing money and giving out weekly allowances to our students. Many students slept in this morning, some went shopping or sightseeing. It was a lovely way to start the day.
This afternoon we all met up on campus for a theatre game class with first year students and Prof. Marina Henriques. They taught us some theatre games, and we taught them some, too. We had a really lovely time together and spent a few moments at the end of the class reflecting about our ability to communicate without words through theatre and how much this kind of work encourages us to try harder both to communicate and to listen.
In the evening I was one of four panelists on a roundtable entitled the Fourth International Seminar on Theatre and Incarceration. The professors at UniRio always arrange an interesting panel of speakers to talk about issues related to incarceration and the arts while we are in Rio. This year the speakers included Viviane Narvaes (an UniRio professor who is just finishing a fascinating dissertation on the history of theatre in Brazilian prisons), a lawyer named Luciana who does human rights law, and a man named Cristiano Silva who lives in what Brazilians call an “open prison,” which is akin to some work release programs in U.S. prisons.
Those who live in an open prison have permission to go out in the day to work or attend classes, and at night they must return to the prison to sleep. Cristiano is an activist who is working with others in the open prisons, primarily poor Black men, to organize for the rights of those in prison and those coming home from prison. He described his first three years living in a prison where 400 men were placed in a room meant for 120. He said some men were tied to the bars, and that the floor was so covered in men that he couldn’t see the floor anywhere. He said tuberculosis and skin diseases spread rapidly among the men in this prison and that the main challenge of living there was just to survive. Many of the things discussed on the panel tonight were heavy because Brazil’s prisons, like those in the U.S., have so many serious problems. It felt good to be able to reflect on what activism looks like in prisons in both our countries and what role theatre programming has to play in this.