Last week only half of our group got to visit the workshop hosted by O Hospital Como Universo Cênico (The Hospital as a Scenic Universe), and today the rest of the folks who didn’t go last week had their turn.

Prof. Miguel Vellinho and his students are so talented! They play a broad variety of instruments, perform some wonderful children’s theatre, and sing in Portuguese, English, and Spanish as they dance through the hospital bringing joy to folks who have a lot of reasons to be sad, tired, or in a bad mood. This time around the UniRio students decided to use two Michigan students, Kendall and Sergio, in some of the storytelling sessions that they do in the chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis treatment rooms. In these rather sensitive rooms in the hospital, the theatre troupe pauses for a moment to introduce themselves, tell funny stories, and sing songs.

All of their storytelling situations are designed to allow them to sing songs that suit the mood or action of the characters. In the chemotherapy ward, a Brazilian student named Juliana was supposedly in love with our very own Sergio, but because Sergio is from the U.S. and travels a lot, he had to leave her for quite a while, which led to a musical number where Juliana sits sadly at her window waiting for his return. Then he did return, and they did an adorable dance while folks around them sang another song about how good it was that he came back. Then Sergio decides to stay with Juliana, and the group sang while the lovebirds danced to yet another song. It was really cute.

In a different room, Kendall was introduced as a lovely girl from the U.S. who doesn’t speak any Portuguese, and she goes to a bar where the men swoon over her but don’t win her heart because she has no idea what they’re saying to her. That was a cute musical number as well. I think several other funny things happened to Kendall’s character, but now I’ve forgotten what they were. Suffice it to say that Kendall was great, and Prof. Miguel has enjoyed working with her so much, both at the hospital and in the Flint production, that he says she’s practically Brazilian and should stay in Rio and perform in his theatre group. I told him that Kendall is ours and that he can’t keep her! Then he offered to trade me his fabulous student Beatriz, and though the offer was tempting because Bea is awesome, I decided to keep Kendall and bring her back to Michigan. (I think Kendall’s mom will be glad.)

Neither Sergio nor Kendall had been told what their roles would be, though they were warned that they would be used in the stories. Both rose to the occasion beautifully, and the patients in the hospital thought both episodes were very funny.

In another part of the hospital, a woman who I think was somehow connected to the hospital administration used her phone to film us singing and dancing. Then she said she was working on a video for the hospital for something that was going to be used in bilingual teaching and that she wanted to get some folks speaking English on camera. I told her that we speak English very well, and because she doesn’t speak any English herself, she had no idea what I said but thoroughly enjoyed that I had said it. It was super cute. Then she wanted to know who I was and if I spoke Portuguese. She got me on camera saying that I am a theatre professor at the University of Michigan and that sim, eu falo portugues. (that yes, I speak Portuguese). Then all of the Michigan students used their very best English to say hello to the camera. It’s so funny (and to be truthful, it’s rather awkward) to be treated as celebrities just because we’re foreigners, but if we can use this to the advantage of the beautiful programs doing this incredible theatre for social change work with vulnerable communities here in Brazil, then we will do all we can.

Our colleagues at UniRio are facing massive budget cuts, as are all of the federal universities in Brazil, and if our exchange program can lend prestige, intrigue, or good publicity to any of these programs, then we will have done something really valuable. Every year that we come here, I am amazed and deeply impressed by how much our colleagues do with so few resources. I am also continuously blown away by the quality of the theatre and music that they create. It is a real blessing to get to witness and participate in all of the programs we visit in Floripa and Rio, and as our time here draws to a close, I am filled with gratitude for all that we have seen and experienced.

Boa tarde (good afternoon)!