Theatre work has proved to be an educational practice of enormous value, frequently adopted in undertakings for social inclusion. Consisting, as it does, of collective effort, theatre is able to strengthen affective ties, self-confidence and critical thought by reinforcing the autonomy and creative ability of every group member. The actions of the Extension Programme for Theatre in Communities take place in territories marked by violence: The Maré Complex of favelas and Penha in Rio de Janeiro. Art and culture are recognized instruments of mobilization with the potential to exercise a strong impact in the lives of children, youths and adults by offering a counterpoint to confront and oppose the violence.

The principal objective of this university extension programme is to offer contact with theatre. We have observed that the continuity, regularity and quality of the activities proffered by the programme over the last six years, have ensured positive results both qualitatively and quantitatively. Achieving these results has been aided by important collaborations with partner enterprises: Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré (REDES), (Network for the Development of Maré); o Centro de Artes da Maré, (The Maré Arts Centre); Arena Carioca Dicró; o Observatório de Favelas (Favelas Watch) and the Centro Municipal de Saúde Américo Veloso (The Municipal Health Centre Américo Veloso).

There has been a steady growth in the number of participants: in 2017, seventy-five youths and adults participate in three theatre centres. In the university the number of students interested in joining up has also grown. There has also been an increase in the number of families and residents who form our public (policy of audience creation) and attend the meetings organized by our team. The activities of the programme are already included in the agendas of our partner enterprises. From a qualitative point of view, we note the contribution that the programme affords to the participants from Maré and Penha, as well as the students from the Teacher Training Course, future Theatre teachers.

The students from UNIRIO are responsible for guiding the practical work developed in the theatre centres which function simultaneously on Saturday mornings. The activities emphasise the development of improvisational processes for theatrical creation, with the object of stimulating creative forces in the young participants, developing their ability to work within a group and cultivating their interest for the theatre and its possibilities.

At the end of the year, there are presentations where ideas and subjects can derive from the reality of the groups and questions related to their community to the investigation of distant even fanciful universes. The open and collaborative process of play rehearsal makes possible the staging of theatrical events played before audiences that included parents and the general community.

The event is called ‘Maré de espetáculos’ (Maré of Events) (Maré is the Portuguese word for Tide). In the six years of the programme’s existence there have been twenty one theatrical events with casts made up of residents of Maré and Penha, directed by the UNIRIO students.

Video clip ‘Maré de espetáculos 2016’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0HNVnGUwKc

Concerned with the importance of ‘mobility’ across the city, we have created two events called Idas ao Teatro (Visits to the theatre) and Encontrão (Encounter). We recognise the difficulties that young residents of the communities have, particularly those farther away from Rio’s centre and the South Zone, in frequenting these areas. Whether due to lack of bus fare or the feeling they do not belong in some places, the fact is that many prefer to remain in their communities and surrender their right to the city. The transport provided by the university has been a major help in this effort.

Each year, the groups have had the chance to visit other cultural venues of our city. They have attended ballets, exhibitions, musicals, and many kinds of performance and plays. Considering that these populaces have been historically excluded from such places, these movements contribute, if not to a surmounting of social and economic discrepancies, to the enjoyment of rights. This does not mean that establishment values are being reinforced or mainstream productions are regarded as having a higher status. On balance, seeing a wider context helps us understand the contradictions there contained.

The right to circulate through the city signifies, too, the right to the city and to citizenship. This can mean a process of ‘urban regeneration’. Once they are more aware of their rights, favela dwellers will be more able to promote concrete and effective transformations.

Encontrões, encounters between all those involved in the project held in the UNIRIO School of Theatre offer another important opportunity to venture forth. The experience of being together in a university setting during the last Encounter at UNIRIO provoked a long discussion about how to enter the academic world, and Federal Government policies which have recently allowed many young disadvantaged people to enter and remain at university. The prospect of entering the university has become a stimulus to completing secondary education.

One must be attentive to the possibility that even actions by the university towards society might assume the nature of a colonizing project, in which ‘evolved missionaries’ enter the favelas to ‘assist’, ‘aid’ or ‘help’ people in a disadvantaged situation. Even though this reality has been changing over the last few years, the university, as an institution, has been seen by popular classes as a stronghold of the elite.

We note that a physical coming together between the poor communities and the University has provoked a clear change of perception for all concerned. The Maré/Penha residents do not now consider the university as unreachable and can now recognise it as a possible destination. The university students who frequently are not familiar with or have never entered a favela, begin to perceive these places as distinct from their common stereotypes. As concrete examples we can name Juliana Targino e Jean Barcellos, young people who began studying theatre in the 2011/2012 programme and who today are students of the School of Theatre of UNIRIO and facilitators for Theatre in Communities in which they started.

We highlight the following dimensions of this social action:

  • EDUCATIONAL – the impact apparent directly in the life situation of the participants; in relation to their rights as citizens; in terms of equality of rights and discrimination.
  • ARTISTIC ABILITY – Contact with the language of theatre, training, change of attitude towards the proposed activities, degree of involvement, attendance, participation, group interaction, growth, motivation, curiosity, appreciation.
  • COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT – Impact of actions with the communities and partners: strengthening of cultural identity, support of cultural diversity and audience formation.
  • IN THE UNIVERSITY – Contribution to the training of future theatre teachers, recognition by the University of the popular knowledge of the communities  and the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Universities are social actors with a great capability for intervention, able to complement the force of community groups, creating new networks of sociability with the objective of overcoming inequality. The participation of the academic world in iniciatives like ours aids in improving the preparation of professionals. The Theatre in Communities

Programme expresses in this way the most cherished values of the Brazilian university extension which aims to develop working methods integrated with its philosophical principles, principally maintaining respect for the people with whom we interact. We believe that the educator and the educated meet in an horizontal relationship where the exchange of knowledge and experience is the practical philosophical principle made possible by dialogical approach. Therefore the method of work and the ultimate aim of the action is: teach, learning, and learn, teaching.

We believe in the far reaching consequences of this programme: the consolidating of networks capable of involving community organizations, universities and public authority institutions leading to significant changes in the areas of popular communities. It should also be mentioned that there is a broadening of the programme’s reach (also on an international level) in it is being the object of study of the institutional research developed by the coordinator, academic works such as monographs and articles.

In 2014 the programme was recognized by the Official Notice EXTPESQ of the Fundação Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ) (Foundation for the Support of Research of the State of Rio de Janeiro). These resources made possible the acquiring of permanent materials for UNIRIO and the Centro de Artes da Maré (Maré Arts Centre).

The programme has a partnership with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor firmed by an agreement of mutual cooperation between UNIRIO and the American Institution. Every year, since 2013, the programme welcomes students from the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP/UMICH). In 2014 and 2015 students and teachers from UNIRIO have visited and taken part in the activities of PCAP in the US. More information: http://global.umich.edu/newsroom/escapingwiththeater/

 

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                                                                                              Encontrão Unirio – 2017

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                                                                                Encontrão – Unirio 2017

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