- Travel and Places
Gunfire and Flan: Creating Community in a Drug War Zone
When the War Came to My Favela
My first week at Morro do Providencia, the oldest favela in Rio, was met with hand grenades exploding 1/4 of a mile away from where I was eating. The grenade stopped an armored vehicle, painted with a skull and crossbones on the side. I ducked at the sound of Kalishnikov Rifles firing from the narrow alleyways up the hill.
I am a Community Artist. Which means I am an artist who uses story and storygathering techniques inside of communities to build stronger relationships. I live in these communities during the time I am working on their project, which is usually between 12 and 18 months, so it gives me a real immersion experience. It helps me understand diverse cultures on a profound basis. It also means I am constantly honing my own craft, as well as my lifelong education about what I can do, myself, inside of my own community.
But can you build community and relationships everywhere? Especially in a place that has become a war zone? In a place that, perhaps, needs community more than anywhere else?
My time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, solidified my commitment to this work, when I experienced, first hand, what will and does happen when relationships are broken, prejudice takes precedence, when the voice of the people is extinguished, when the story of who they are and what they can be, where they come from, is lost or rewritten. Living there was a frightening experience at times, but what was worse than the fear for my own safety was the recognition that, perhaps, some things can be broken so badly, relationships so damaged, that working for change is futile. By the end of my journey, I would find the answer to my question: "What difference in the history of the world will my being here make?"
I struggled with this question so much, that I kept a nearly daily journal, and photographed my project extensively during the last months of the project. This lens contains those journals and photos. I also include the journals and photos of my partner in this business, Dr. Richard Geer.
Spots of Light
We're here in Rio working on a new project. Sure, every project has its difficulties before getting started, but here is a new one. Thought you might appreciate it.
So, some places, we've not had lights installed, and that was a nightmare. Other places, the seats were not yet in place on opening night, and they were hammering them in at 4:00 that very day. We've had our leading opera singer stung by a wasp the day before opening and she had a reaction, ballooned up and started going into shock. We had both of our lead actors in Chicago disappear on us, on the very night we had visitors from around the country come to the performance, and instead, saw Al read off of a script. Small stuff. This is what happened to mark the beginning of the Instituto do Methodista production two weeks ago.
Three military trucks, filled with heavily armed soldiers drove through the tunnel, came into the Institute (NOT the favela, but here) and began firing everywhere. The helicopter above started shooting the rooftops of the Institute - NOT just the favela. Tore the devil out of the Instituto's new Pavilion roof - for what? Target practice? Meanwhile, soldiers begin making their way up the hill to the favela. Everyone scrambles for shelter. Our composer/local director, Ronaldo, gets stuck behind a locked gate, trying to get the lock and chain open, so he can get to the 2nd floor. (the locked gate is usually for our protection so no one can come in to our area, but now he can't get out of it to try to save his life.) The helicopter is shooting, there are RPGs tearing through rooftops and concrete walls. You do not want to be on the third floor right now (top floor). The middle of the building is safest. Twenty rounds go into the side cresche (nursery). Children are inside. More than a hundred bullets tear through the pavilion. A worker at the Institute, painting a wall when this happened, had a bullet hit the wall in front of him and it shattered and damaged his face.
The Commando Vermehllo (the drug traffickers who run our favela) are shooting back. The CV are on the hill, up and hidden away in the favela, and I don't know why, but the military is shooting up our Institute, which sits at the bottom of the hill. They don't care that innocent people - children and babies too, are inside. There was no warning here before the machine guns started blazing. Affter an hour or so, the institute Director arranged a 30 minute cease-fire to move the babies out of they nursery. Then it begins again. More troops come. Streets are blocked off. The news comes again (this favela gets the most press and the most military and police action). It is war. Pure and simple war.
A two year old and a twelve year old boy were killed on the hill. No one is supposed to talk about it.
Inside the pavilion, you stand on the floor now and it looks like a mirror ball is hanging inside - spots of light are pouring through the holes left by the huge rounds that tore through the roof, and the dots of light dance on the floor. Bullets are embedded several inches into the concrete walls and seats.
This is where we will perform. The damage is devastating, and I think of what must have happened to those two children, how mangled they must have been. But no one can talk about it.
I must go, more later. Have to go to work, they're calling me. Just to let you know- everyone at the Institute was safe. Only the one injury of the worker. And Ronaldo did get that lock open and make it to the second floor. OK, more later.
- - - - - -
OK, back now, so more of the story. The army comes back and this continues for three days. There was supposed to be a special program planned for Saturday, the food was already prepared and everything, but it had to be canceled because of the fighting. No one would come anyway, because it was all in the papers. Some people from the Instituto who have other places to go, leave - it's too dangerous. What is left afterward is a huge mess to clean up.
Scaffolding is up around the buildings now, and people from around here come to help make repairs. They pull off the broken stucco and start putting up new stucco, and plaster in the holes in the wall. Hard, hot work, especially when the scaffolding is not that secure, the floors are easily 35 feet high, they use a rope to sort of hold the scaffolding to the building, so as the workers climb it, it doesn't lose balance and tip over. Third world construction. Richard took some pictures- it is unbelievable. Creative problem solving at it's scariest and best.
Marion, the Institute Director, called the army office and complained about the roof of the pavilion and all the damage. This is a very poor Institute. When they got the new pavilion roof just a couple of years ago, it was a VERY big event - that they were able to afford it. This provides a place for the people to play ball, to hold events, it is used every single day. Today, a capoeira group is practicing there. And now, the roof is destroyed. Rain and rust will do it in if it isn't repaired. The army has not answered yet. Marion said if they do not make things happen for repairs, then they will protest. Not that it would matter. It's the lack of value for the human beings that live here. Just like the children who were killed. To them, it's just a couple of more kids who won't be on the streets. But the majority of our project's participants are kids. That's the reason closest to my heart, why I came to work here. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is we will finally be able to do. I don't know. I guess as this project unfolds, we'll find out.
Repairs Being Made after the Siege
Some Background on the Project
A group from a Methodist Institute from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, saw a community-building production of mine called "Swamp Gravy" when they were in America. They were impressed with the project and its possibilities. They then brought in a Swamp Gravy Institute contingent, including community builders and organizers, as well as community actors and storytellers. The Swamp Gravy people performed, and then, with the help of others from the Instituto in Brazil, did some story gathering, and created small performances at the church with the people in Rio. It was decided by the leaders at the Instituto that this would be a good program for them, especially to mark their 100th anniversary of their mission work, which serves the people in the favela above them. They then invited ,y business partner, Dr. Richard Owen geer, to come on a primary visit and get them started. Last year, the two of us came here together to collect stories, to create more interest and participation, and to begin forming the project with local leaders. Now we are here actually in the process of doing the Theatrical Community-building project.
About the war here.
The favelas are claimed by one of three main drug cartels. This has happened because the city of Rio historically has not recognized the favelas or the people living in them, even though 1/3 of the population of Rio lives in these ghettoes that rise up the hillsides throughout the city. Municipal water, electricity, and services often do not reach these places. They are a "no-man's land" (no-person's land) and go to the group with the biggest arsenal. The drug trade happens within these favelas.
We are at the bottom of one of Rio's more notorious favelas. The drug lords are heavily armed. I've seen some of the teenagers, when I went up there, with hand grenades hooked to their belts. They are the local law enforcement, and often take better care of the residents than the police.
The cartels are at war with the city and the government police. I don't really know how to use those terms either, because often, the people who are involved in the drug trade in one favela serve as police officers in another. I have heard just as many stories of horror done by police as by the drug lords. I tread softly around all of them. Very softly.
This past year, it has appeared to locals that the police favor one drug cartel over the others, and have begun invasions into favelas run by the other two cartels. We are in one of those which was stormed by the military a few weeks ago. Our Favella is run by Commando Vermehllo.
Within all of this turmoil, the Institute wants to celebrate the fact that through these very difficult 100 years, they have been committed to the work of service, and that as long as there is need, they will be there to serve the people, even when the city closes its eyes to the human beings living here.
Jules Corriere, April 12
The smell, the smell, everywhere I go it follows me here. Walking to the Cemetery, there is running water on the very narrow side of the street where I walk, coming from people washing cars on the curb mixed with raw sewage coming down the hill, and exhaust from the busses turning dangerously fast past the corner. I keep thinking-"You are a snob, Jules!" I am, I don't like the smell, I don't, and what a little thing it is-where so much else is going on: Bullet holes the size of fifty-cent pieces embedded six inches deep into the walls of the Instituto where I live, new holes appearing on a nearly weekly basis. Children being shot in the streets because there is a problem with too many children without homes here, and that is the military's solution. Hunger at the doorsteps of those lucky enough to have doors, and I see that, all of that, and I feel it, but it does not affect me the way this smell does. It makes me sick, and fatigued. Perhaps, because I can close my eyes, and stop looking at the hard things here, but I cannot stop breathing. Perhaps that is what it is - the scent of life trying to happen, and it is this struggle I am breathing in, and it goes through me with every breath I take-inescapably. I must keep breathing in the struggle. The smell reminds me of the things I wish I did not have to see, and wish I did not know, but exist whether I look at them or not.
Richard Geer, April 13
I thought that everyone would be from the favela, not true. The majority are from what the moradores, the favelitos, call the asfalto. It means, literally, "asphalt," but it contrasts. In the city proper, the streets are paved, not so in the favela. Cosme (CAWS may), a boy from Morro do ***, the favela behind the institute, is an extraordinary talent. He is over six feet tall, still with the narrow shoulders of a child, but with old eyes. He is my strongest memory from the rehearsal last night.
He was the drunk husband. "The drunk" not "a drunk" the specificity was amazing. He rocked onstage as if his feet were rounded on the bottoms. The same with shoulders and lolling head, all rolling. He was, at a glance, the-impoverished-husband-father -to-too-many-children-to-feed-so- let's-have-a-drink-what-the-hell.
Two things were immediately obvious, Cosme has a huge talent and he knows domestic violence. He is one of these actors who makes it look as easy as a cat curling into sleep. Perhaps his relaxation draws us into his reality. He is unflappable, unbreakable, the actor with him, twice as old, keeps breaking into laughter. It is laughter as pressure release, Cosme's reality is like thrown punches. She expected the pulled blows of "acting." But he isn't pulling his emotional punches, and she is on the ropes. When the scene is finished, with Ronaldo translating, I try to tell her that giggling happens at the fork in road, one fork leads back out to the silly world of pretend, rehearsal, and non-commitment. The other way leads into the story, into the trouble, into the heart of the character's predicament.
We're telling Eliete's story. Eliete (el ee AH chay) is the cook for the small kitchen that feeds some of the institute staff. There is a larger kitchen that feeds the children and the staff that takes care of them, but I don't know those folks. Eliete's story is featured in the play.
She was the abused wife of the alcoholic that Cosme played, and the mother of seven. She broke away from this relationship many years ago and came "down the hill" to the Institute. She came looking for Senor Mario, the boss of the Institute. The first person she ran into was a man sweeping. In a rather curt way, probably because she was nervous, she asked to be shown to the director. "I am the director," said Mario. She didn't believe him, nothing in the man's manner spoke of power or leadership. He was very quiet and unassuming. Eliete thought he was teasing her and stiffened, demanding to see the director. And when he again said that he was she was very embarrassed. She asked him why he, the director, was sweeping. Some visitors were coming, he told her. She told him, "Well, you go put on a tie, I'll sweep." And she has been working here ever since.
After rehearsal last night I ate one of her meals, a simple working person's stew of potatoes, beef, sausage and vegetables over rice. And of course the ubiquitous rice and beans which are de rigueur at every meal except breakfast and are delicious with hot sauce and a sprinkling of yucca flour prepared with spices, called farinha (fa REEN yuh).
The Great Pig
We're going to have to get a lot more organized. This is Easter weekend, it's kind of a loss. But it's the time in which we'll finish the play and get our ducks in a row. Brazilian Time is very slow. We don't even go down to rehearsal at the nominal time of the beginning. That is more like when someone might think about leaving home. So if you lived a half hour away, when you saw that it was 6PM you might get up and begin to get ready, and maybe roll out of the house by fifteen after and take half an hour to get there and walk in at 6:45. Six is the starting line, not the finish.
I'm not going to tackle that monster at present. I'll just adjust the nominal beginning time for a workable arrival time. This timing created a typical result. We were to meet at five in the afternoon to take a publicity photo. It is nearly a month into fall down here, so the days are shorter all the time. There is light at five, but not for long. In the afternoon word came that Mario would take us up to the wall on the hillside at 5:15. But by that time, he was not there and the light seemed pretty much gone anyway.
Okay. So I scouted the place up the hill for the photograph. The Institute clings to the side of a hill. The drive in is steep but there is a nice semi-leveled place that is parking and courtyard soccer. The main buildings are on either side. The hill goes straight up on the west and south of the property. For decades the favela has been throwing garbage over the wall onto the steep hillside that is the beginning of the Institute property. Today it is little more than a landfill lorded over by the great pig and his (or her?) harem of smaller pigs.
The great pig, it is said, is the property of dono the head of o trafico, literally "the traffic" in the favela. Nobody harms this pig. And it is toward him that I am climbing with a camera to check the light for a possible shoot the next day. Edmundo (edge-ay-MOON-doe) goes with me, a familiar face, so I won't be mistaken and shot, I guess. I climb up through the garbage about halfway to the wall and see that it will not be lit by the setting sun, so scratch that plan. I take a few pictures of the garbage and the pigs, and a boy picking his way home through both.
Light is fading fast but we are waiting for xeroxes of the scene of Helga and Dr. Tucker. Helga was a choir teacher from Germany who was notorious at the Institute. She was very strict, but she spoke funny Portuguese, so being in her class was serious and laughable. We're dealing with two groups of kids in the scene. Smaller ones are the flute class (they pretended to play the ditty all of us know: "there's a place in France where the women wear no pants...").
Bigger ones are in Helga's choir. The kids are patient and pretty focused. Not the cutting up that we normally encounter. And kids have time here. We are a real diversion for them and they seem eager to play with us. In the states we have to battle for a kid's attention against the streets or soccer or dance classes. Doesn't seem to be a problem here. The children are all neat and clean. They manage clean clothes, sweet smells and nicely cut hair, thereby sanitizing and erasing the most obvious markers of poverty. They come from families, that's clear, and they have a home where hygiene is valued and, more importantly, possible.
We have about twenty people who want to come all the time, children. They are probably going to be the core of the cast and adults will come, but not with such regularity or avidity. Jules, inspired now because she is here, and able--because finally we have heard some of the hard stories of the history--to write, is translating into words both stories and place. I don't know what I'm doing. We talked to Ronaldo about the importance of him being the director. We can't take the time to translate back and forth during rehearsal. And maybe some kind of a system started to work last night with Edmundo translating for me while Ronaldo worked the cast. I'm guessing my role will be to devise staging and then collaborate with Ronaldo to plan what will be done in rehearsal. But he will need to do it, because of the time-wasting translation thing.
Last night we did an exercise with the kids as we bide our time finishing the script. I asked them, through a translator, to tell me about the time in their lives when they were the most joyful. I'd seen previous improvs many times on this visit and on others. They are almost always violent. So I wanted to see their occasions of joy. It was a little game that begins with one person telling a partner a short account of a moment of joy. Then the listening partner tells it back in the first person, as if it happened to the listener instead of the teller.
This is always a strong experience, to hear your voice coming back to you, to be the subject of a story on someone else's lips. It is nourishing. Anyway, then the listener tells his/her own story and the original teller tells that back. Then they decide which one of the two stories they want to tell to another pair of people. If, for example, your story were chosen, then I, as your partner, would tell it to the next pair. In fours, these two stories are exchanged and then the four people (sometimes six) put the story on its feet.
In the group of kids from eight to eighteen, we got three stories. One about a birthday, two about Christmas. One of the Christmas stories was told by a raven-eyed girl with jet black hair, she looked almost like an Indian from the Subcontinent.
This little girl lives in the favela. Her hair dances down her back and it is so rich, heavy and full that I almost can't stop myself just from reaching out to heft it. She asked her parents for a bike for Christmas. Her father was broken-hearted to tell her that he couldn't afford a bike. So she turned to her mother. Of course, I can't understand their words, so I'm telling you only what I saw. Her mother didn't speak at all, just sat there. Finally she rose and went to a chest and brought out pen and paper so the child could write and mail a letter to Santa Claus, I suppose. Even the stamp was a challenge, you could feel the mother's hesitation to give it up. The next scene found the family, sleeping, awakened by a knock. "It's for you," the mother called from the door. Debra (the little girl) ran to the mailman who presented her with a big box (played by a bicycle thin girl of about twelve). As she was unwrapped the bike crouched down on hands and knees ready for its rider. The delighted child hopped on and pumped her legs on pretend pedals and steered the bike around the room.
These kids are expert on things close to their lives. Expertly simple, direct. Violence doesn't evoke surpise, comments or questions. It is. It stuck in my heart that remembered joy was in each case connected to days which were themselves already special. Birthdays and holidays are fun, but they aren't where I would look in my own life for joy.
I know how Mario gets the kids back. He gives treats. There is a Cheetos-like puffed snack made from Manioc. When I heard that Mario had scored it for the kids I laughed. It's called "Crac." I could see the headlines now...
Jules knew me well and saw to it that I got a huge salad with ranch dressing for my birthday lunch. The water in Rio is prone to bugs. Locals can drink it but visitors are advised not to. The water supply is okay, it is the leaky old pipes that get contaminated. Lettuce has to be grown and washed, and the bugs hang around, so we are advised not to eat lettuce. Jules found some hydroponically grown lettuce that Mario recommended, and some ranch dressing, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes. It was a feast.
We spent the afternoon re-interviewing the Ways, Mario and Anita. More about that tomorrow.
Jules Corriere, April 16
Feliz Pasquao! Happy Easter. It is a different holiday here than it is in the United States. It has not lost its reverence and its ritual. I wouldn’t expect to see Easter baskets and jelly beans here, first of all because no one can afford them, but secondly, it is not a holiday for marketing. This is still a very religious holiday, and since the most of Brazil is Catholic, the icons and rites and rituals are carried out everywhere. They don’t sell this holiday, they practice it.
On Friday, (Good Friday) all of the schools were closed. Some of them were closed on Thursday. The Instituto here has school for children, and their last day was Thursday. There was a celebration in the classes, and cake was served to the kids. This is a bigger event than you may think. Cake, and sweets in general, are a luxury. Children here may expect to get sweets like this only a few times out of the year. Cakes require cooking, and cooking requires an oven. People in the favela have hot plates fueled by kerosene, things like that. But no oven, no room for ovens, no room for tables. The houses are a place to sleep out of the weather, and most people spend their days outside of the houses, unless working, like washing clothes in the sink.
The other people who live around here, the people who live on the asfalto, are also always outside. There may be a community oven, but it is so hot, it rarely will be used. It is miserable inside these buildings. I believe I may have described this before - people in the favela have houses - built and pieced together, but they have windows, and there is a certain security - crime within the favela itself is very low (except for the drug trade.) There are very few murders and rapes. The ***(drug cartel) is the local law, and their punishment is swift and severe. Consequently, crime is low because of this.
The people who live on the asfalto (buildings on city streets, with rent) live in closed up, boarded up buildings, no windows (out of need for survival and security). Five to six families will live in one, with one bathroom at the end of the building. (At least there is a bathroom.) The conditions are often worse, certainly worse than the favela, but the trade off is, that they are not under the control of the drug cartel, so they have more personal freedom. But the Cartel does not control crime in that area like they do on the hill, so the people on the asfalto have to protect themselves. (I guess you’ve figured out by now that calling the police for help is a joke.)
Everyone is outside for this weekend. None of them have ovens or use ovens for preparing treats, save for these special occasions. So cake at the Instituto on Thursday was a huge event. I was given a piece of cake to take with me after leaving the classroom. Two of the younger kids I work with, Thalita and Talia, came to say “bon jea”(good morning) and saw my cake. I offered a bite, and then thought and gave them the whole piece. Duh, idiot. I don’t need the cake, I didn’t even want it, I took it out of respect for the people who gave it to me. Cake doesn’t mean the same thing to me.
A little later that day, Richard and I wanted to get a few things from the market. It is about an eight minute walk from here, through the asfalto. Everyone was out on the street in front of their houses, drinking and talking, chairs brought outside, music is playing, it is the celebration of the resurrection and hope, and everyone here participates. Young, old, rich, and poor.
I’m not as frightened walking through this part of town as I am in the favela. I’m actually pretty comfortable. Especially when, on our walk, one of my kids from the project sees me - he’s playing bola in the street, with a popped bola, and calls to me “Julia! Jule!” I turn to look, oh my gosh, my name being called out in the street by the children, what a wonderful thing that was! He brings me the bola, torn in half, it looks like a hat, and I tell him this, so then we make a game of wearing the hat. Nothing goes to waste here -- food, clothes, even broken toys are made into a new kind of toy if possible. We finish our game, and get to the market to find it shuttered. They closed on Good Friday. We had to go far away, into a more downtown area (Mario drove us) until we found an open market. It took us about 15 minutes. On the way, we saw three different pilgrimages from different churches, carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary. The first one choked me up, I don’t know why. Maybe because what I saw was so sincere. So real. It was a practice, not a rehearsal. I don’t know. Then we saw more. And by the big Rio Bridge you see in the pictures of the city, there was a huge passion play with a couple hundred people.
No colored eggs, no chocolate bunnies, no jelly beans. It is a holy day, not a holiday. I’m glad I got to look at it, like through a window, I felt like I was looking into the past, when the holiday was still connected to its original purpose. It was an odd, awesome experience.
Mario and Anita
Richard Geer, April 16
Marion. I'm not exactly sure when it was, but sometime in the last forty years, earlier rather than later, the worst thing in his career happened. It wasn't being arrested in Angola and jailed for several months. It wasn't even the deaths of the children who were corralled in the Institute by the police and shot to death. Those things were, perhaps, accepted as one accepts the weather. What nearly killed Mario was the cessation of the programs he'd spent decades building. If the Institute cannot serve, if Mario cannot serve, that is terrible. It was in a time of intense anti-American sentiment (happening again today), probably in the sixties. A director was brought on who was Brazilian, after a string of American directors, including Mario. This man was politically grounded and found that taking American money, help and food made the Institute appear to be in thrall to the Americans. So programs closed and people went hungry and jobless in the name of political correctness. At that moment in the Institute's history, little more than half way through the century, its trajectory faltered. The Institute today is a shadow of itself in its prime. One could say that Marion (locals call him "Mario") is the same, now he is an old man, then he was young and vital. But Marion is not done with service, nor is Anita, nor, I hope is the Institute.
Today it isn't the fascism of political correctness, it is the fascism of religious correctness in the guise of fundamental Methodism, and Marion hates it. The church wants souls, not mouths, converts, not friends. Throughout their careers, Marion and Anita have acted for hearts, mouths and minds, not for souls. The souls are left free to choose. This may be an error, but it is one I'm choosing to make as well. Ronaldo tells of being one of the boys playing courtyard soccer when it came time to stop, five o'clock. The boys begged Marion to let them continue playing, till eight, he told them. But in a few minutes he reappeared carrying four chairs. Without a word spoken, without a look from Marion, the boys stopped playing soccer and helped Marion move chairs and desks. "Every day for fifteen years this place helped me. But it also taught me, through example, always example, to help others."
We were talking about choir the other day, and Ronaldo, in his fifties, told Anita, "I'm poor today because of you." Anita was his choir teacher and she told him he had a good voice. Today he is a composer, singer, guitarist, writer and director. "It's her fault."
Ronaldo took us to see his daughter's production. She is co-director of a group whose Brazilian name means "Theater of Fear." We went to see their production called "The protest." It wasn't good, and neither Jules nor I had the heart to tell Ronaldo. We managed, rather gracefully I thought, to avoid judgment. The context of the show was theater ripped from the daily headlines of violence. What was wrong with the show was that it was drawn from a newspaper, not from a human breast. The specificity that would have been in a first person account was separated by two degrees, one journalistic, one theatrical. Of course Jules and I couldn't understand a word they said. But good theater is apparent, even if its words are foreign because its choices are particular. We saw generalities. Situations depicted without being observed. The effect was like a park instead of a rain forest. In the rain forest are many species in their synergy and diversity. Then there is the park with one grass and three or four kinds of tree. Monotonous.
The young actors were wonderful people, as we found out later over drinks. I enjoyed talking to them about stories and community. I thanked them for their show. Ronaldo's words came back to me: "My daughter, Gabrielle's, company (a middleclass theater company in Rio performing socially relevant plays) talks about 'the violence' in their performances, but they have no connection with any of it." It showed. Ronaldo went on "Our cast, the people in this play we are shaping, they live this violence first hand." Theirs is local expertise, and when it comes on stage it is invariably powerful and real.
Out of Place Princess
My room. Humble, but much more than any one I'm working with has. Life is so different here. Homesickness kicks in on days like this.
Jules Corriere, April 17
It started raining last night, a thick, heavy tropical rain. Umbrellas are a laugh in the tropics. The only thing to do is let the rain just fall, and deal with it.
I live in the building across the compound from where we go to eat. I live on the third floor, accessible by stairs along the outside of the buildings, so it’s three flights up to go home, and three flights down, and a walk up the hill and then another couple of flights of outdoor stone steps to get to the eating area. At least the eating area is mostly covered, it has a roof, but the walls don’t meet the ceiling, so rain blows in a little. It was a damp breakfast and lunch. And dinner.
It is nice that it has cooled things off here. And getting soaked tends to cool a body off, too. I’ve just finished drying up for the second time today. I don’t change clothes between, because I don’t want to create more laundry. It’s been one big wet T-shirt contest. (I’m not winning, either!)
The rain cleaned the air, and I’m grateful. Yesterday, a man below my building was burning trash and tires for most of the day. I had to close my computer, the black smoke was coming in the windows and soot was getting everywhere. I wore a scarf around my nose and mouth for a little while, but it was so hot yesterday, close to 90, and it just got too hot. Not to mention I looked like the guys in O Trafico. Haha. But now, the air is cooler and softer. More breathable. And that man can’t burn tires in the rain. Nice.
Our stages were delivered this morning, in about 12,530 pieces. What a gift. Our friend, Christian Nacht, owns a company that puts up stages for different groups all over South America. He is the one who put in the stages and seating for the Rolling Stones concert here on the beaches of Rio just a few weeks ago. He’s a friend to some of us here, and he donated the use of his equipment for stages and seating for our production. What a gift.
He delivered it early, so our actors will have nearly a full month to rehearse on their spaces. Of course, I feel sorry for the poor guys here-- the trucks came in with 10 tons of equipment to unload in the pouring rain. No, for once I didn’t go down and try to help. I am still not 100% recovered from my surgery last month, and I’m not going to push it, especially when it looked like there were enough hands.
Inside the pavilion, we are experiencing the first heavy rainfall since the siege, and the floor is a mess. Some of the guys are taking turns using a giant squeegie to push the water out of the building. Puddles are all over the floor, a few inches deep in places, where the rain is falling through the bullet holes.
We have so much more leverage here to put up staging. We get to move it where we want, and we don’t have the usual hassles of the Fire Marshall (like the one in Swamp Gravy) telling us we can’t do this or we can’t do that. We told this to Steve, the son of the Institute’s director, who is helping us with stages and lighting, and he said, “No, you don’t have to worry about fire codes here. You just have to worry about 'under fire' codes.”
What to do in case of coming under fire? Egads! In that building? Pray, I guess, because that roof isn’t going to protect you from anything! Haha. It is Swiss cheese.
Trying to laugh. The truth is, I’m a princess. I’m not cut out for this work. I don’t have any business being here. I look at Mario and Anita, how they are here just about every single day, for forty years. They are saints. I couldn’t do something like that for such an extended period. I’m not that good a person. I’m feeling homesick, and guilty because I’m homesick while I’m trying to do this work. I’m just not that selfless a person. I’m sharing a bathroom with three other men. (I guess I should be glad I’m not sharing it with the whole building.) The class system is such that I can’t go into the kitchen across the way and fix something for myself. I like beans and rice, I do, and I am grateful to be fed. But part of who I am is doing things like that for myself. I like to cook. I like to serve. And God knows, I like variety. I’m not allowed any of that here. And I miss it.
I really want to cook dinner. It’s one of the things I do, that I like to do. At least maybe cook for myself and Richard and Ronaldo. Culturally, I’m not permitted to do that here. They have people to do that. And before some of you write back and tell me how inappropriate I am for going along with that kind of system, you have to know there are lots of people complicit with this behavior, including the people who do the serving. Julia became very angry with me the other day when I tried to help put things out on the table. She pushed me away from the dishes - I was trying to help. But that is her job, not just her place. Her livelihood depends on it, and when I start to do some of her work, she sees it as me possibly taking work away from her. We have to do better than that when we find ourselves in other cultures that we might not agree with, nor fully understand. Assumptions get us in trouble. You could assume, under a purely American philosophy, that Julia would want to be liberated from such servitude. But…What I view as servitude, they view as gainful, legal employment, without which, they would be in a much more difficult place. It is very complicated here. This was the last place to abolish slavery (as we in the colonies knew it) and this favela was founded by the people who were released under the birth act. People were still slaves, and after the act, anyone born to slaves were free, but their mothers and fathers were still owned. Consequently, through this act, slavery actually continued into the 20th century. This is a culture with a living memory of actual servitude, not just philosophical.
So. Not being able to do the things I like to do, simple things, makes me even more home sick. I know, boo-hoo, poor me. But I’m not trying to hide behind anything. I am a princess. You guys know me, and know that about me. I will do just about anything for anyone, I’m a giving person in that way, but I like to have my little princessy things, or I’m not a happy girl. And one of my little things is a long leash. The danger is such here, that I am on a very short leash, and not really able to go anywhere on my own. People have been promising me for a week now to take me out, either to the beach, or shopping, or to Corcovado, so I could get away - not by myself, but at least have a little variety to my life in the favela. Well, it ain’t happened yet. I could take a bus, like I did the other night to go to the theater production that I watched with Richard and Ronaldo. But the state department advises against using public transportation, because that is where travelers experience the most violence. (haha, except when travelers come to the favelas for some damn fool reason!)
There isn’t anywhere to go when it rains like this, and the rain here is heavy and lasts for days. Soon we will be deep into the rehearsal process and there will be no time to get away. So, I’m here. Working. Just working. And sitting. And you will get this email several days from now, because when it rains here, the internet is not available, either. Waaaa. But I never denied being a princess.
SHULA ULTRA VESA (It is Raining Another Day)
Juless Corriere, April 18
Internet is still down, so you won't know about the rain until it is over.
The stages are almost fully in place now. The design is dynamic. And, thank heavens, I've completed writing Act II. I won't have my usual edit time to polish this baby, but Ronaldo, my composer, translator and co-director, will help with this, I'm sure. As he translates from my English into Portuguese, he'll be able to keep the poetic edge I'll need, and clean up language as he translates.
We're having some slowness in getting adults in the performance. And getting them into rehearsal. They came to the first few rehearsals, none of the roles were assigned yet. But Ronaldo just left to meet with a group to recruit some folks. And we've got some people from the Institute who said they want to be in it.
Solitaire on the Titanic
Richard Geer, April 19
We hit the wall today. Jules started to bang it and bleed yesterday. I felt it today. It is the impossibility of doing what we are used to doing easily. For instance, at this moment there is no Internet in this entire facility. It rained yesterday and the Internet on our side of the commons spluttered out. It wasn't in our dining room as had been promised. The bright blue high-speed cable, like the snake in the garden, mocked us. Even downstairs in the office, off the back of one of the main computers, the cable was useless. "When it rains, the Internet is sometimes off." Across the commons, the other Mario helped me to connect. That was two days ago and it took more than an hour of hexidecimal codes and little windows notification boxes in English for a Portuguese speaker to guess at. I was doubly useless--Portuguese and Computerese, no hablo.
Mario knew a lot, but he was over the wall in Brazil, my computer was all US.
And today when we needed it, the computer room was locked anyway. So we tried burning CDs. CDs are rare as gold, only a very few in the whole place. Both Jules and I can burn to CDs--record files on CDs, Jules can even burn a DVD. But the computers here are so old that not one in the whole place can burn a CD, let alone a DVD. So we can give files to the ICP, but not the other way round. Their computers still use floppy disks, banished from our laptops two generations ago. We couldn't send a file through the Internet and we couldn't burn, so we couldn't get back a translated copy of the text.
Well, now we do, and this is how it happened. Downstairs in the back of one of the old desktop computers Ronaldo found a little USB port. Oh, blessed aperture. We have this little 512 MB memory stick that Jules' fabulous husband bought her. So Ronaldo shoved his little antique floppy up front and the little USB in the rear and the bytes started dancing the light fantastic. Fertilization, gestation. No parturition. Next chapter. Not a printer at the institute worked. I stared down their old warhorses, but ended up blinking first. The word processor said "print," the printer said, "aye, sir!" but not a damn thing dropped out. But who cares about us, we're only sort of directors and writers. Anyway, we had the files, but the cast doesn't have scripts.
Meanwhile upstairs a rowdy marble-throwing menagerie of mostly children is accomplishing damn all. Another evening lining up as a total write off. I decided to drop out and type up some publicity related stuff that had to be done tonight. Got it licked, got it burned on our last or second to last CD and handed it off to Anita to take home and shove up on the Internet. I came upstairs and Ronaldo is sitting with about fifteen people from ages 8 to 28 and over at the side Jules is all by herself typing away. But I see the green screen from feet away and can't believe my eyes. She's in rehearsal playing computer solitaire. My tickle box got tipped over and I lost it. Playing solitaire while the Titanic, hell with the Titanic, somebody's cheesy yacht, is taking on water like a bitch.
And that was about the end of the horrible terrible really bad stuff. I actually got two actors and went off to our suite, away from the noise, and did a bit of work. Acting work. It was very nice, even through Adenaldo as the interpreter. Lielson was my actor, he'll be a good Young Doctor Tucker, the founder of the ICP.
INDIAN DAY - Jules Corriere, April 19
Today is "Indian Day". It is a national holiday to celebrate the native Indians in the country. All of the children here are dressed in Indian costumes. There is such poverty, but the school has found a way to get all of the children a sort of costume, made from muslin, burlap, old sheets, etc., and the children are all wearing them today. Indians dressed as Indians. It's quite a wonderful sight. The costumes they made are colorful and beautiful. It sort of reminds me of what we do for our kids in Kindergarten for the Thanksgiving holiday. But here, the traditional Indian songs are still in the local vocabulary and memory. The children are outside of my window singing those songs right now.
The pigs have come down the hill today. The sow just had babies, and a little piggy was next to her this morning. Richard and I got some photos of three of them, including the big porco. He would make a feast, he's huge, but everyone here knows not to harm any of them. They belong to the leader of the Commando Verhmelho. They are his pets. If you eat his porco, he will eat you, haha.
Jules Meets Claude, the Great Pig - (Jules Calls hime Claude, we're not sure what his Brazilian name is...)
The pigs (um porcos) dine on the garbage on the hill. We sit at the bottom of the favela. There is a very steep hill leading up to the first line of buildings, and the hill between us has always been a sort of dumping ground. It is not as bad as it once was, because now the municipal garbage collectors are allowed into the bottom street of the favela. The other streets leading up are far too narrow for cars. For one hundred years, these narrow roads were dirt and mud, but last year, they put down concrete. It's much safer now. Fewer houses have fallen down the hill due to heavy rains. And it makes things more sanitary, as well.
The script took on an edgier turn than I expected. It is still very safe for the favela people, but there are some things about the church here, well, it just kind of slipped in. I don't know if it will be allowed to stay in, but there are things that I thought were important to be said, because a few people had the courage to speak them. The biggest idea is that of the judgment, almost persecution, that many feel from the church (not the Institute, but the church associated with it.) To give an example, there are two capoiera groups (traditional African-influenced dance/music/self defense) who will be participating in our event. When the pastor here found out, he was very upset. "We can't have that. And if we do, people will leave. If you put those groups on our poster, we won't participate, we will not be with them for any reason." He wants to work only with good Christians. He doesn't want anyone else coming here to the church or to the Institute. He wants to keep his flock pure.
What you need to know about this church was that less than one hundred years ago, when this church and Institute were founded by Dr. Tucker, it was during a time when the Catholics here had a stronghold on the government, and the laws were those of the Catholic Church. Dr. Tucker, a Methodist with the Protestant movement, was the hunted. A lynch mob came after him, they burned Bibles, he and others with him were persecuted. He escaped, and continued his work here. He created service programs, which ended up serving some of the very people who had persecuted him.
A long-time Institute director, Marion Way, is very disturbed by this new-century behavior of the evangelists, like that of the new pastor. He says they are more interested in winning souls (driving up membership) than doing the work of God, which to him, is service. He is afraid that the Church, which is related to the Institute, is becoming the very monster it was fighting only one hundred years ago. Exclusion and judgment seem to be in practice in a high degree. So, some of that has come out in the play. But I spoke about it in historical terms, rather than doing "confrontational theater." We don't need to be pissing off anybody here. But looking at it through an historical perspective, it can be an opportunity for self-examination.
The question is: Are you serving your church by being here - trying to win membership and support, or are you serving the people by being here? It is a complicated question. The answer, as I observe it, is yes to both. We'll see if what I have done with it will fly or be censored. We'll see.
Oh, man. The police just showed up. We'll also see what that's about, too. It's just one car, and it's the city police, not the military, so that's at least good. Three heavily armed police are up the hill, I have a clear view of them from my window. I asked Richard to take a picture for me. I'll send it when I can. There wasn't any fighting. They just went up to conduct business. (Probably taking bribes to assure a week of peace.)
(I'll send picture once I'm back in the states. It's a great, scary shot.)
WE DRANK A LOT OF WINE - Jules Corriere, April 20
Oh, my God, I am sitting here with this fabulous Brazilian director named Billy, but he speaks no English, I speak no Portuguese, the printers at the Institute are all broken, I have rehearsal schedules that cannot be published, I have written a text that cannot be read by anyone. We've had some rehearsals, mostly with kids, but now the adults are showing up, we really need them, and it is utterly disorganized. I guess it is a cultural thing to have so many things break down like this, but it is slowly driving me crazy. I'm having a hard time dealing with it because I'm usually the stage manager that whips people into on-time schedules, but nothing in Brazil is on time. I should have known that when my plane trip was four hours late coming into Rio! And no one really had anything to say about it. That's just life here~! I should laugh. I actually am laughing right now, but I wasn't earlier this afternoon, I was getting frustrated about not getting the work done and having it ready, I'm feeling ineffective, but I guess I just need to go, oh, well, it's just going to be this way. It got so crazy tonight, I did finally give up. Richard left, (he was in the nice air-conditioned and quiet room downstairs, working on a paragraph about our work for a man associated with Viva Rio.) I was left upstairs, alone, with about 20 kids and some adults, and Billy, He was nowhere, Ronaldo (who is also my translator) was nowhere, I don't know what to do or how to get started, so I just turned on my computer and started playing solitaire. It was mass chaos. The kids are playing this game with marbles, tossing them across the room to hit a wall and see how far it will roll back, and I'm just sure that one of them will hit and smash my computer. I don't know how to tell them to stop. SO I gave in to the chaos. Richard came down, relaxed, cool, happy, (he'd been out of the loop of chaos for more than an hour.) He looked at me and said "Oh, my god. You have lost it." He knew it, too. When I turn myself off and start playing video games during the middle of what was supposed to be a rehearsal, he knew I was at the complete and total edge of my sanity. We drank a lot of wine.
NOT LOST IN TRANSLATION - Jules Corriere, April 21
Finally, finally, finally. Things are pulling together. We’ve got actors coming regularly, and I think I have gotten my musician/composer/director/translator to come to rehearsal on time (meaning, no more than 15 minutes late!)
Richard took one group tonight, along with a translator. Ronaldo and I were to take another group. Ronaldo is very Brazilian. He’s a very Brazilian director. It gets loud and chaotic. I looked around and realized some of the chaos came from a group of five teenage girls who were here, but hadn’t been assigned roles yet. I found a scene in which they could all be together, and I took them with me, scripts (translated in Portuguese) in hand. And we went to another room. It was gloriously quieter. Only the noise of the soccer game outside the window in the courtyard, and the bus traffic, but not screaming kids. Ahhh. It was great.
Since I wrote the script, I know what it is, what they are saying, even when speaking Portuguese. With body language, I direct them in how to portray the roles - some sassy, some gruff, some “know-it-all”.
Amadeus laughed at me tonight when I finished - he is one of my room mates, and has decided to join the cast. He said I did OK, but I need to be fluent in Portuguese starting tomorrow!
Oh, gosh. I had a fun day.
Then, at dinner, my German friends were there, Simon and Martin. Martin has decided to join the cast. We spoke German and English at the table, he would switch over into Portuguese as well, but I’m starting to pick up on the language, so every fifth word or so I’m understanding. It’s much better than when I first got here.
The best time today was when I met a new Pastor. His name is Eduandro Machado, and he works with the Prison Ministry, as well as with an International Watch group, like those who look into places liike Guantanamo Bay, etc.) He is an absolutely lovely man, with the most beautiful energy. I really admire the work he does, it is very much like the work of Bill Cleveland. Some of you know who that is, he’s one of my personal gods in this kind of work. With Eduandro, I realized how intimate language really is. When you have good energy, when you come from your heart, THAT translates.
If, If, If... - Jules Corriere, April 22
A day of boredom with pockets of violence.
We have rehearsals in the evening, but that leaves all of the morning and afternoons vacant - to do what? Here? stare at walls, or hide behind them, your choice.
The internet was down again yesterday. That broke me a little bit. I had such hope when I was connected to the outside world, and then poof, it was gone.
Richard went for a walk with me late yesterday afternoon, around 4:00. We got around the corner on our way to cemetery, and the building on the corner is falling down, with plywood nailed up where some bricks used to be. This is an asfalto house, like I mentioned in an earlier journal. It is hot, so one board that serves as a kind of door is down. Lots of people have taken the boards down for the afternoon, since it is so hot. (the smell again...) These houses are open for everyone to see. All of the houses around here are this way, so there is nothing strange about it to them. Inside, as Richard and I pass (and remember, the difference between "inside and "outside" is a stone step that serves as a threshold, but there are no walls) A man "inside" grabs a woman by her hair and slams her into the ground. She got up and ran past him, "outside", then past us, and the guy just looked at me, I turned my eyes away and walked quickly around a pole that was at the corner, Richard walked past too, neither one of us knowing what to do. i just wanted to get the hell out of there before something else happened. She ran away down the road, which I was glad to see. But, she lives there, she'll be back, if she isn't already. Violence is ordinary and life is cheap here.
Then we went back to the Institute.
We had rehearsals in the evening, they were going pretty well. I did more of the "body language" directing, along with the little of the language I am picking up (learning phrases like "come with me" "speak louder"). It is going surprisingly well, and the folks here seem to like the script. And the stages are wonderful. The Pavilion echoes. We'll have to figure out a way that the echoes don't take away from the show. But the rehearsals that we have been having have been pretty good. We still need about 5 more good adults.
Hugo. He's about 11 years old, no - 12 now, he had a birthday two days ago. I brought some happy meal toys with me here to Brazil, and among them was a digital watch. I put it in an old box, with a piece of candy and told him Feliz aniversario. He put it on right away, had me help him put it on. He was thrilled, then he hid the candy, and went outside to eat it, but before he did, he called his friend, the other boy in the cast his age, and he shared it with his amigo.
Hugo comes to all the rehearsals. He wants to work, he wants to help, he wants to learn, but also to teach - I turned on my computer, and he showed me some things about my games. Hugo is the age of the boys recruited by the drug cartels. Please, god, I think each day I see him, please, let Hugo say no. Boys can say no, there are not a lot of threats or anything like that, there are plenty of people ready to get the quick easy money promised by the CV. But once you make that commitment, that is it. You know things others shouldn't and the only way out is a bullet. Most of the time, the bullets come before they turn 17. The largest percentage of killings happen with the little favelitos who guard the entrance. They are given Kalishnikov rifles and shoot anyone coming in who isn't supposed to - other drug gangs, or police. Often, they are fired back on. They are the most expendable. Please...not my Hugo. We are finding a place for him to do more. Some kind of internship. Something. If this could be a long-lasting project … if, if, if, … he could become a member of the company. If, if if. But it is so difficult to say if it could happen. I love this kid. Big heart, big brains, big potential. If.
Richard, Ronaldo and I came back and watched a movie together. Then went off to sleep.
A few hours later, the war started again. It is so strange - the contrast of this place. Most of the days are long, long, drawn out and boring, and then, it becomes explosive.
I am having different reactions to the gun fire these days. Last night, it was strange, I heard the big guns first, the police tried to go into the favela with an armored car. But just one car. Makes me wonder what they were trying to accomplish. I heard some pops from a small gun, like a .45, pop, pop, pop, then some big ones "boom boom boom". from the police car. Then the kalishnikov. The kalishnikovs have a very distinct pattern sound to them. And they are the easiest to follow by listening, so you can know where it is coming from, and whether or not you should look for a more substantial shelter. One of the things I've been educated on here.
Poor Ronaldo. He really has terrible timing when things start to heat up. Last time he was outside of the gates, and couldn't get the lock open. Last night, he was in the toilet. He said "So, I put my head down, I stay there, mostly, I protect my pen". We all laughed.
With the first few shots, I'm having a similar reaction as before, I startle, but I don't pop my head up anymore to see where it's coming from - that was my first instinct when I got here, try to see where the shots are coming from. but that's not the safest thing to do. My body jerks now at the sound, but now, instead of coming from a fear reaction (I used to get kind of shaky/scared) I get this adrenaline rush - I can feel it, it's really weird, this kind of scientific reaction - I start, then, hold still, I listen first to see if I can here from which direction it is coming. Then I listen for gun fire coming from another direction. If that happens, I know to stay down. If it's just one gun, or a gun in one direction, it's not as big a problem. Sometimes, people just fire guns. If there are two different guns, or the sounds of the shots are coming from different directions, I know it's a fight, and best to lay low. Don't even get up to close a window. i thought about it last night, my windows are always open for the air, but my bed is against the wall, and not under the window, so it's safe. This is a really thick walled building.
Last night I heard specifically three different kinds of guns. There may have been more, but the fight only lasted about 35 minutes. Then the police ran away. As I said, I don't know what they thought they would accomplish. Only the military can go up there successfully. The *** are just better armed than the city police. I guess the police figured since it was late (about 2:00 in the morning) that they might catch them unawares, but as I said before, there are people stationed at the bottom of the hill all the time.
It wasn't a bad one this time. The fights that last only an hour or less, we call those fireworks. I think I fell asleep before it was finished, because I heard the sound of the kalishnikovs moving further away, and knew it would be ok. I don't know when Ronaldo made it back to bed. He wasn't leaving until he knew his pen was safe.
A HUNDRED YEARS SPEAK - Richard Geer, April 22
Jules has been so much more faithful with her journaling. Part of it is distraction, she's very homesick and feels cloistered here. The walls are very thick in this old building. I love the architecture of large open windows doubly shuttered with immovable louvres on the main frame of the shutter with some glass above them, but the shutters themselves are open. Hinged to this shutter is a smaller solid door that fastens with a slide bolt to the shutter so it can swing as one. One can have wide-open windows, half glass half louvre, or solid wood. The walls on this top floor, the third, are easily a foot thick. On the lowest floor they are more like three feet thick.
Still the noise is RIGHT HERE with you all the time. The foot of the Morro da Provedencia rests just below my window, and around its perimeter is a heavily traveled road down which buses, incredibly, horrifyingly fast buses rifle along at any hour. Then there is the ever-present laughing and shouting of children.
Last night Jules and Ronaldo awakened to about half an hour of intermittent gunfire from the favela. Jules listened before drifting off to sleep as the fusillades seemed to be moving away. She is pleased that she is calm enough to fall asleep in gunfire. Ronaldo was caught in the bathroom and was worried enough to remain there for most of it. With my earplugs I heard none of it. From up the hill on many nights comes the sound of parties in the open-air community hall, which is nothing more than a sheet metal roof over an area the size of a basketball court. The sound from this and other sources assails the ear. You don't decide to listen or not, as you might to the city sounds at home. It is HERE. Roaring. Noise pollution will be a major concern for all the parts of the performance.
We had rehearsal today outdoors in the sunlight, instead of evening. We'll begin the play that way because we walk through the graveyard. At eleven in the morning Ronaldo began working with the Eliete scene as Jules and I continued to do script related work in the room. We could see them at about our eye level across the quad, on the hillside where the new steps climb the cemetery wall.
I've included a picture of that in this email. Ronaldo is playing as the cast of Eliete is singing. On the steps the man seated is Lielsen, one of the Young Dr. Tuckers. In the rear, in a pink shirt, is the real Eliete, watching rehearsal.
We worked also with the Capoeira group. I don't know if that's spelled right. Capoeira is a form of martial arts developed by Brazilian slaves to resist their bondage. It is symbolic of resistance. It is also associated, though incorrectly, with the religion of Macumba. So the evangelical Methodists (NOT Marion and Anita) are suspicious and fearful of Capoeira. The Methodist pastor insisted we not put their name on the poster. Instead, Jules has written the argument about inclusion versus exclusion of Others into the script. The Capoeira group is more African, darker skinned than the average of people around here. They were chanting a call and response during their own rehearsal time in the Cannonball factory. It was basically a chant of racial pride from what Renaldo could tell me. The group is lead by a drummer and someone playing the typical instrument of Capoeira, a pice of bamboo bent like a bow, five feet long, with a gourd attached for resonance. The steel string is struck to produce a tone and vibrating rhythm. From the circle pairs of children dance forth to whirl and tumble in dance battles with one another. It is exciting and beautiful. We finished rehearsal by walking the route of Young Dr. Tucker with Lielsen, Jules and me. Cosme came too. The timing to the graveyard gate worked well. In the cemetery we came across a group of our girls, so we cast them on the spot in the scene. Several to talk together, and another, a wraith, to walk into the ground as Tucker speaks of the forgotten children lying in unmarked graves. Then we had lunch. A little progress!
The performance. With exactly three weeks to go, we are just beginning to see our way. We have a script, it is translated, we have music, we have some of the cast. We do not have all those things together at the same time--Oh, my, the perfect illustration of my point just happened; a knock at the door just now, there stands Edmundo for rehearsal; but there is no rehearsal, he apologizes, he forgot to call Marion and check the schedule.
A production begins as one idea. Then it divides and the pieces stumble apart. As we begin to rehearse the pieces propagate like randy bunnies. No longer one idea like "the cast," but scores of individual people, and hundreds of different moments at which people and tasks and particular places are must intersect and often don't. We are perhaps just past the widest point, but the mother of chaos lies ahead. That is the period of production when all the elbows on all those ideas and people have to accommodate one another like tall passengers economy class. Like flight for a bumble bee, it's impossible but not un-doable. It is no harder than a million things like conception, death or love. Finally, the production is one thing again, and a hundred years speak.
ONE LIFE - Jules Corriere, April 22
The One. I spoke about the one life that might be affected here. Well, one life is affected by my visit here. The only one that could be.
What difference, in the long run, in the greater scheme of things in life will it make? I don't know. One person will examine life differently. Probably live life differently. Just one life different. I guess it makes a difference.
I keep walking in the cemetery under the favela.
I come here to read the epitaphs. I read them for those who have died, so close to here, and have no epitaph. It is the most painful thing I can imagine, and I see it every day here -- people, children, lost to the world, and unknown, not a word spoken about their death, or what might have been possible.
Every life has value. Every life is a story, full of great sorrow, great joy, some boring days, and other days filled with so much excitement you wish you were two people to live them. Lives so full of possibility, not the possibility of greatness in the way of politics, but greatness of heart. The possibility to perform acts of great kindness and small gestures, a smile, a laugh, a touch, which seem to mean nothing, but like the flap of a butterfly's wing, is capable of creating great change to sweep across the world.
I come here to remember the little butterflies, who never had a chance to flap their wings. You will not find them here. Their voices do not speak to us across time. I cannot speak for them, but I can remember them.
CINDERELLA GOES FOR A DIET COKE - Jules Corriere, April 24
It's a beautiful day here today. Sun is out, but it's not too hot. We had a rehearsal with some kids in classes here. They, along with their teachers, will be in the show. These are some of the kids I wrote about on Indian Day. They were so cute, and I had a lot of fun with them. Anita translated for me, I explained to them what their scene was about, but I did so in a "once upon a time" way with them. They are in a scene about when the Institute decided to create a camp and went looking for their perfect little Eden for the children. I did more acting and animal noises than speaking. The story goes, in kids terms of course, that the people who were sent to look for the camp described the beautiful birds in the eucalyptus trees, the ducks swimming in the pond which they would turn into the swimming hole for the children, and the chickens in the chicken coops. The leaders would actually turn the chicken coops into the kids cabins! As I told it, and acted out the different animals (especially the chickens) they laughed, and I think they had as much fun as I did. I hope so.
It's been gloriously quiet today. Just the usual city traffic and nothing else. Ahhhhh. It's been two days without gunshots! Ahhhhhhh.
This princess has become a bit of a Cinderella. Richard was taking a nap in his room. Ronaldo in his. I couldn't sleep. I grabbed a rag that sort of serves as a shower mat (eww, disgusting. I know, but it's all I've got.) I brought it to the sink and poured some cleaner on it. I don't know what the stuff is, but it smells like cleaner. And then I carried it to my room and swabbed my floor with it. My feet have been getting filthy from just going to turn off the light before bed. Then, I rinsed the rag out, it was black, I added more cleaner, and got the hallway. That's when I looked up, and there he was. Richard had awakened, saw me out there, grabbed his camera. He knew he better get the shot while he could! He couldn't believe his eyes! Haha! Oh, i was a mess. But now my floor is not. It's so nice to walk on it. I figure I could do that about every three days or so. It really helps. I wipe my computer off daily, Richard and I both do, and the paper towels we use are black each day. That is why people keep everything covered here, to protect it from the pollution.
That idea of things being covered has become a visual motif in our play.
We've got about a hundred sheets that the hotel donated to us. We're using those in the play. (then we'll distribute them to the people, I suppose.) Here, what you find when you go to any meal, is a tray with cups, but a towel over them. A tray with silverware, but a towel over them. The food has towels over it, everything, everything is covered, even once the towels are cleaned, they have a towel over them, or are placed in a plastic bag and tied, to protect it from the pollution. So, Richard had the great idea of covering things in the play- memories, people, artifacts. And, in the parallel story I tell of the nine boys who were murdered here, we cover bodies, too. Pretty cool idea. We're also doing things with the sheets in the graveyard. We have to be careful, people here get freaky about graveyards. Way more than what I've experienced in the US. We now have a staircase built from the cemetery, over the walls into the Institute. They look at me and say "YOU did this!"
It was my wild hair notion last year to do a progressive theater piece - starting out at the Institute, walking outside of the gates, (the idea that we are now in this wild place, without a home, without the safety of gates or walls, just like Dr. Tucker experienced when he came here.) and then, with an actor as a guide, and a series of scenes performed strategically along the path, we go to the cemetery. Lots of people from the Institute are buried here, and so the voices from the past call out and are heard again. I just loved that notion when it struck me. And then I thought, it would be cool if we could create a way over the wall, and back into the Institute. We could somehow go over the wall, like the favelitos, only we could do it without sneaking, and we could create a way for THEM inside, too, without sneaking. An opportunity for inclusivity during this production.
And, well, we have a staircase erected now - the guys came in and built it with the stage equipment provided by Christian, whom I wrote about earlier. It looks great! And the favelitos are using it to come over the wall now, instead of the other way, which was a little more difficult. The wall will come down, after the show, but right now, there is a whole new dynamic about the place, about it's openness.
I walked with Richard and Ronaldo to the market. On our way, two federales (not in uniform, which is scary) were on the sidewalk, with big machine guns, and they were looking at people's documents. I quit speaking to Ronaldo. We just shut up and walked by. I had forgotten to put a copy of my passport in my pocket before I left, and I was afraid I'd be asked for it. You need to keep a copy of your passport with you all the time here. I stupidly forgot. But they were only looking for contraband from the guys on the sidewalk and in their building. I leaned over toward Richard after we walked past them and whispered "Let's put some pep in our step" Richard said "Oh, yeah" and we hot footed it to the market. On the way there, I wondered, is that diet coke I wanted worth all of this? I was surprised, when my answer was "yes." You have to allow yourself to get past the fear and have some of the little things you like, or life becomes a prison. It felt like prison last week, I am trying to create a different reality for the rest of the time I'm here--It worked, they were gone when we walked back.
… and then we had a CRAZED, but interesting rehearsal. Last week, I wrote to you about reaching the point where I lost it. At one point tonight, I looked at Richard, and I could tell, oh, yeah. He's losing it. It was his first big rehearsal with lots of people, the chaos, the noise, the translation problems. At one point I went and put my finger in his ear, to keep his brain from spilling out.
OK, so I didn't do that, but I looked at him, and the picture came to me to do it, and thinking it up is almost as good as really doing it!
LITTLE ANGELS - Jules Corriere, April 25
Feeling very tired, depressed.
I am having a hard time living here and trying to find some centered-ness within this violent, hard world.
I was in Richard's room crying this evening. There is so much going on here, I barely know where to start each day. And when I'm done with the day, what have I really accomplished? I just wanted a sign, just some little sign that it mattered. I miss my kids at home, I am on edge waiting for the next series of boom boom rattattatats. I don't understand anything - I'm not just talking language here, I'm talking about the culture of violence that has been allowed to spread so deeply, and so broadly. It is an accepted thing for these wonderful people I am working with to live in the world's most dangerous city outside of Baghdad (according to the Associated Press and the BBC.) How did it get this way? Why was it allowed? How could any reversal be possible? The people I am working with were born in the favala, and accept they will die in the favela, just as their parents, and their parents did. Where do they find their sense of centered-ness and peace and acceptance? My own heart aches to be here, to see everything I am seeing and to be part of it. I was at the point of giving up. My heart just can't take it, I feel like there's nothing here I'll be able to do, and that the whole situation is hopeless.
Then I started thinking I was going out of my mind. I thought I heard someone calling me outside. Man, I really am homesick. I went on talking to Richard, and I heard it again. A Brazilian mental hospital is NOT a place I want to visit. Then I hear singing, and my name being called again, and Richard hears it, too. We both get up and go to the window. Outside, Cosme and Hugo are serenading me. There they are, standing under my window, singing. When they are finished, Cosme yells up in very good English (he must have asked for lessons on how to say this, because he doesn't speak English) but he yells up to me "I love You, Jules! We love you!"
If you don't think I cried…
It was my sign, I guess. Love. I needed it. They saved my heart and my hope. I was feeling like everything was hopeless, and right then, these little angels gave it back to me.
I tell you, I could use a regular dose of it here. There is so little to remind me of hope. This is one of those moments I don't think I will ever forget. It's a great thing, to ask for a sign, and then, to get one. (And to have a few witnesses, so I know I didn't just imagine it all.)
IN THE NEWS WITH THE FEDERALIES AGAIN - Jules Corriere, April 26
With checkpoints on Rio de Janeiro's highways and a stormtrooper presence in nine favelas, Brazil's army pressed its search for eleven guns stolen from a local army depot, the Associated Press reports.
But, as the article notes, this "massive sweep to recover a handful of weapons" is, to put it mildly, "unusual" and, despite the presence of 1,500 troops, the army has yet to find any of the stolen guns.
That the traficantes have serious weaponry--often stolen from the armed forces--is nothing new. It has been known for years. The question is, why all the fuss now, particularly over ten assault rifles and a 9mm pistol?
Why isn't the army looking inside itself? The thieves were dressed in army regulation camouflage uniforms. How did they get them? And they apparently moved in and out of the arms depot with ease. How did that happen?
Given that the military is looking in favelas controlled by the C*** V*** including Morro do *** and Mangueira, this would lend credence to rumors that the authorities actually favor a rival drug gang called Amigos dos Amigos.
So far, one teenager has been gunned down, caught in the crossfire between the army and the drug dealers at Morro do ****, not far from Rio's famed central railway station.
Eight Killed in Rio Favela Fight
April 26, from the BBC, about the situation erupting here.
The Brazilian army occupied Rio slums two weeks ago. Eight people have been killed in Brazil during a gunfight between suspected drugs traffickers and policemen in a Rio de Janeiro shanty town.
The shooting started during a fight between rival gangs for control of the northern Imbarie slum, officials said.
It occurred after the Brazilian army ended a massive deployment in the city.
Rio de Janeiro - one of the world's most violent cities - has seen frequent clashes between security forces and members of heavily armed drug gangs.
FROM ASSOCIATED PFRESS
The army occupied slums in Rio two weeks ago in an operation that lasted nine days and involved 1,500 troops equipped with helicopters and armoured vehicles.
The move was aimed at recovering weapons stolen from a military base. It led to daily shootouts with drug gangs and left several people injured.
Human rights groups have criticised military tactics used in Rio de Janeiro.
They say security forces should switch tactics towards community policing to try to reduce the high levels of violence in the city
The latest shootout erupted when a gang from the Santa Lucia shanty town tried to invade the nearby slum.
DIRECTING THE DIRECTORS - Jules Corriere, April 27
Tonight was probably the most difficult night directing I have ever experienced! It was also one of the noisiest nights out on the football court, which is immediately outside the pavilion (open bars in the windows, no glass, no sound separation.) A fight broke out, there was a tournament. Over 100 kids from the favela were outside playing football, and we were inside trying to rehearse a scene, with layer after layer of directors. We are directing Billy, who is also a director, Well, let me first establish the layers:
Richard is directing Ronaldo, Ronaldo is directing Billy, Billy is directing the others in the cast. Billy is wonderful. He's got incredible ideas, I just sat and watched him for a while tonight (one of the better moments of the evening.)
Meanwhile, Edumundo is here to help Richard and me translate. But he begins directing on his own! He is a very opinionated person, so even without Richard or me asking him to translate directions, Edumundo decides to give some direction, himself. He is directing…but he is not a director. I have to, in my body language and very little Portuguese, UNDO what Edumundo has just spent 10 minutes talking them in to doing. It is a zoo! Then, MORE talk, as to WHY we won't do it that way. It made sense to Edumundo, why not? Then we get into an English/Portuguese discussion about the merits of doing things literally vs. figuratively. And this goes on for oh, I don't know, twenty minutes.
Brazilians talk EVERY little teeny tiny detail down to its smallest component before moving forward, at least, all of these Brazilians do. We had a four minute scene to rehearse tonight. We rehearsed it for nearly two hours, and only just barely made it to the end of the scene!
And that was amidst the chaos. There are games outside lasting for hours on end - screaming, whistle blowing - (while we try to sleep, too.) Then, inside, we have some of our actor kids making some noise. The pavilion is like a huge, metal auditorium - tall metal ceiling, concrete floor and roof, it echoes like crazy, and amplifies the echoes, which are all in a language so strange to my ear. How do I work? How do I move forward? It feels so impossible, what we are doing here! What are we doing here!!! I feel like I'm barely functioning at times. Earlier today, when I worked with a class of kids, I was fine, I did just fine, but now, here, holy cow. It's ridiculous. The entire proposition is absurd! I keep reminding myself "You live for this stuff Jules! You live for trying to do impossible things and then sticking your tongue out and saying nyaa-nyaa, I did it." But so far, I've been biting my tongue and biding my time.
Edumundo Stikes Again
Jules Corriere, April 28
Edumundo strikes again. I’ve written before about Edumundo, his opinions, and giving directions to the cast, translating to them what I didn’t say. Haha. Right. It’s getting less and less funny. Tonight, I began to realize the little wiener is not translating for me all that literally at ALL. In fact, when I give praise, when I ask him to give praise when I think it is due, he said something, and instead of smiles, I got the look of discontent. When I gave other pieces of information for the kids to do, he didn’t give it all to them. When we went on the hill to perform one of the scenes, I had asked the kids to sing me the song, I thought they did it so well. This is when I KNEW he was not translating for me, the little dictator. He was actually telling the kids to shut up and they were awful. Meanwhile, the kids think it’s ME saying this, and not that it is Edumundo’s opinionated self. My cast starts to leave, so I jump up and begin singing a little of the Eliete Song, which I had originally asked to hear, in a very fun way, until Edumundo turned it into another round of criticism. I turned to my Hugo, one-hundred-percent Hugo is what we call him, he’s always there. And I do a little pleading faces, and said Musica, Musica, Eliete Musica, Por Favor. He immediately got it, they all started singing. We had fun. (finally, without the constant barrage of critisim that Edumundo had been giving.) I then dismissed the kids, and left Edumundo up there with Ronaldo, who is Brazilian. If Edumundo wants to work on the show, I’m going to let him work with someone who knows the language, who can be aware if he is changing things or is just plain refusing to say something because he doesn’t agree with it. Irritating. You don’t know how irritated I was. I could, in his last interpretation he did for me, I could tell how much he was NOT conveying my words or my meaning- this most especially through his body language, the way he gestured toward the kids, Oh, I was hot. I don’t ever talk to the kids that way.
Especially tonight, since two of my kids were having a hard time - they came to rehearsal anyway, but were so sad, I guess they wanted the network of support. Katia and Anna, identical twins from the favela, lost one of their friends in the afternoon - shot to death in the favela. In the states, there would be an outcry, and a vigil, it would at least make the news. Here, it is life. Nothing un-ordinary.
The best way I have found now, to deal with it, is to not look at the whole thing. Richard had talked earlier, about being here and looking up that hill, and all its challenges, it’s like staring at the sun. With the sun, we know not to do it, because it hurts us. I think the same situation applies here. We can look at pieces, or fragments, and that’s all we can look at, all we can handle or touch or try to help. Only little pieces. The image as a whole is too mind boggling to grasp. And hurts us if we look too long.
Jules Corriere. April 29
Sick. I am sick, sick sick -- huge fever. I have Dengue fever. Hurt all over. That is all I can write today.
THE TEACHABLE MOMENT - Richard Geer, April 30
For the third weekend in a row, there is a national holiday. Unfortunately, Jules is lying in bed sick as a man and we desperately need to rehearse. Instead, a two day forced pause.
In the book I'm reading, "A Short History of Nearly Everything," the 18th Century chemist/alchemists are searching for elan vital the force that animates. I'm also in search of it. I realize how thoroughly I depend on "the teachable moment" for the momentum to drive home conviction in a cast. The closest I can come to it is when I am working wordlessly with a couple of actors listening to the music of their speech and following in my double text. Then I can feel that force and do its bidding. But most of the time I feel like the boy in the bubble, my what gets in is filtered - I'm always slightly confused (behind or ahead in the text), can't hear properly with the din or am simply distracted by it.
Yesterday I needed that force. With English speaking groups it is often all I can do to rally them to focus, attendance, timeliness and the expenditure of energy necessary to make a performance. Here, I am the climber who has slipped on the ice face and is picking up speed. With so little time before we open, 12 days, can I stop the slide before the crevasse, and gain the top? But of course my analogy is false. It is the slide toward the crevasse that will discover if anyone cares enough to be on belay. These productions, if they are any good, always encounter this question ‐ Why is this project worth doing for me personally? Each person in the cast must ask it, and answer in the affirmative from the deepest available place if the show is to catalyze. Can these children understand that this place that has always been part of their lives is conditional ‐ on the margin's margin and that they have a chance to help? It is possible that the 100th anniversary can re-fire imaginations and warm cold purses. The adults who were once students here, can they connect to a cause made partly of memory, but also of vision? Can the others who are accidental in all of this, friends of somebody-or-other who like to act, can each find individual reasons to commit? I've told Martin, the young German volunteer serving his year of national service in Brazil, that he can put himself in my hands, that I'll take care to make his first acting experience positive. In the middle of the night I woke up wondering if I could. We will be lucky to have thirty people in the show. Others just haven't come. All the previous work of two trips of making friends for the project has resulted in only one woman, Eleana, returning to perform. Our little band of children, so conditional themselves, have turned out to be our foundation.
Yesterday we were to have run through the play. Instead we had two disasters. Disaster One: We asked the remaining cast to serve as audience to Dr. Tucker as he strolled along remarking the history of the place. As I write this, I have hit on the solution to a big part of the problem, but I'll explain the folly first. We begin the play on the steps of the church with old Dr. Tucker and old furniture pieces and memorabilia covered over with white sheets. The old man pulls off the sheet and begins the story of how he came as a young man. He pulls off another sheet to discover his younger self. The younger self tells the beginnings of the venture that would in 1906 be concretized as Institut Central do Povo. As Dr. Tucker Jovem (young) talks, he walks his audience of 30 to the graveyard. Now here's the rub. The trip down the steep driveway and along the roadside is directly on the flight path of the already-famous-to-you buses of Rio. A central bus station, the Rodoviaria, is just on the other side of the tunnel mouth and often three or more buses are at the stoplight at the foot of the ICP drive. What we confirmed yesterday was our worst fear. With an audience of only 15 they couldn't really hear a thing. And if they could hear, the element of distraction was so great that they wouldn't bother. Waves of sound pound the ear as waves of buses brake and squeal only six feet away. Why would we have gotten such a stupid idea in the first place, to think we could walk and act there? I can't answer that. Inspiration is connected by only a thin thread to reality. It seemed like a good idea.
When we got to the cemetery gates I asked Anita to translate for me. First I thanked the two young Dr. Tuckers (each is to lead consecutive groups) and the Portuario, the Dock Worker, then I roared with laughter and told them that the experiment was a complete disaster. And they all laughed too. But, as I said, I've solved it. From now on the play won't begin until we reach the cemetery. The audience will walk in groups of thirty at ten minute intervals (this, too must be tested, will it work?) and arrive at the cemetery where they will then meet Dr. Tucker (old) and jovem and set out on a walk through the somewhat quieter English cemetery.
By the time we finished with the cemetery part of the journey we had lost many cast members ("I'm tired, I've been waiting around, now I'm going to do something else...") We had neither the Eliete or her drunken husband to finish the act. So we went on to act two. But we had only the adults to do the first scene. And even that was in disarray because Jules, who had been directing the details of it the night before, was upstairs enjoying serious flu-like symptoms and a high fever and regularly confirming Newton's second law. We bungled through, but then, already half an hour past our nominal stopping time, we gave way to the inevitable. There wasn't anyone else there anyway. Anita and I sat down. She is very concerned, even annoyed and resentful, but she is too good a person, and too long experienced to stay down. By the time we were locking the padlock on the pavilion she was resolving to write a nice note to each person to impress on them the reason for redoubled effort, timeliness and attendance. I ate some dinner and was coming back down with a somnambulant Jules when on the soccer court below me I encountered a vision. Twenty or so young men and women, mostly gay men, were doing a movement routine only using little plastic stools. It reminded me of the briefcase drill teams I've seen in parades in the US. There was one man out in front singing the song in lieu of a recording and all the rest were in neat rows drilling their hearts out. My first thought was, "so Brazilians really are focused and disciplined after all." I looked at the leader out there in front doing all the moves and singing the song to boot; you're a better man than I am Gunga Din.
THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA - Jules Corriere, May 1
Sick, but managing the fever better. Couldn't move out of bed yesterday. I can't remember a time when my fever was so high, for so long. My entire body aches, every joint. Dengue fever is also called breakback fever, and I understand why, it feels like the entire body is broken, especially around the back.
The upside of all of this (always that silver lining) is that I am now in Ipanema, at the nice apartment of our friends Christian and Jutta. So, while I've been so sick, I've at least had my own bathroom for most of it. And no one is burning trash or shooting anyone around here. At least not up here on the 16th floor.
There is even a bathtub here. I took several cold baths to try to keep the fever down. The tub felt so good, it's been weeks since I took a bath.
At the general rehearsal Saturday, (which I missed, as I was in bed at the Institute with a very high fever.) it was discovered that the street noise proved too loud for part of our progressive performance piece in Act I. So, we are doing some fancy footwork and moving some scenes, so they do not have to take place near the very noisy street. I've mentioned before the noise level here. I've traveled quite a bit over the years, and I can very safely say that I have never experienced a city as loud as Rio. It is amazing. So, we are moving some scenes around, two weeks now before opening.
Oh, I want my appetite back. I've lost weight I could barely afford to lose, after having lost so much because of my surgery in March. I've lost it because of this illness, but also because of the daily menu. We've been living rather modestly, and eating what everyone else eats: Beans and rice, every day. You don't get fat eating beans and rice. Richard says, "I love it, I love beans and rice." Yes, I do too, I understand that. I also like them. But every day, twice a day, weeks on end. You don't get fat, that's for sure. My clothes are drooping on me. My boobs are gone. You definitely do not get fat on a favela diet.
Jules Corriere, May 2
If we didn't have pictures, you wouldn't believe it. But we do.
You know how I said that at least nobody was burning anything here? And how nice it was at this nice high rise in Ipanema?
There was a fire last night. We're on the 16th floor of 17 floors. I woke up arund 3:00 and hear Richard walking and I smelled something. I asked him if he smelled it, he said yeah. We look out one balcony, it's clear, i look off the other balcony and smoke, several floors below us. No fire alarms, no nothing. Richard says, "I think it's time to leave" and of course, I'm already grabbing my shorts and my shoes, grab my computer, and we're out the door. Sure enough, when we get to the ground floor, everyone has cell phones, calling people (I am hoping the staff is calling other people in the building, but this is Brazil, who the hell knows) and the fire trucks and civil defense cars are here. Guys in very military looking uniforms (which gives me a hard gut feeling after what has happened at the Institute lately) are looking at the building, with freaking flashlights. Looking for the fire. Meanwhile, still no alarms. We realize there is no damn central alarm system in this building. I've been here long enough, I say "Of course" instead of "How dare they". Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Brazil.
About an hour later at 4 in the morning, a very nice English speaking Brazilian, who makes her home in New York now, tells us "I have spoken with them, and they guarantee that it is over". This lovely woman even offers for us to stay in her living room if the smoke is too bad. She is on the 3rd floor, we're on the 16th, the fire was on the 11th. We had smoke, they didn't. It wasn't too bad when we got up, though. But how much do you want to bet I took that guarantee to heart? I slept lightly during the evening, and then more heavily during the day.
I slept heavily today because I still felt terribly sick, but I am now having a spurt of strength, and thought I would write. I think I am finally improving. It's been a long 5 days of this fever. Martin has it as well, big tall German boy is krank, krank, krank. He stayed with Marion and Anita all weekend, he was so bad. We've both experienced moments of being delirious. Richard has several times come and asked, "Hey, you ready to talk about the show" because we're working on the Anglin brothers show which opens next month, and I just rolled my head, all the energy I had, and said "Nooooooooo". I couldn't. This isn't princess talking, this is, "I am so sick my body hurts so bad I am just trying to get through this please leave me alone because talking makes me throw up and thinking makes me hurt more". But, I ate today, some toast and some rice. (No beans.) And salty pretzels. Closest I could find to saltine crackers.
Well, I don't want to spend all my energy now. but that's today. Oh, and Richard rehearsed again, a much more productive rehearsal. Edumundo did the same to him tonight, from what Ronaldo told us. So we'll sit down with him tomorrow and ask him to please, just translate for us. And, have fun, be nice with it. We'll find some diplomatic way of doing it. I'll let you know how it goes.
Maybe tomorrow, I'll be well enough to go to the bakery for a donut. If I can think about it without throwing up, I'm halfway there.
"Don't be nervous. You only hear the gunfire when you're nervous. When you're not nervous, you don't hear it at all."
GUNFIRE AND FLAN - Jules Corriere, May 3
"You teach me in English. This speech is in Portuguese, and I think in German."
Poor Martin. Richard was working with him as an Actor tonight, since the other actors hadn't arrived, and it was something that could be done in the time. But, Martin isn't an actor. He doesn't understand this as "refinement work" or "something to do." I think he reads it as us fixing a problem. And there's nothing really wrong with his performance. Richard and I admire him very much.
Martin is a 20 year old kid doing alternate service work here, rather than joining the military, which is required in Germany. He'll spend one year here, by the time his service work is over. He does things at the institute, like pour and mix concrete, like teaching, welding, anything that is needed. And he's very, very German. Ordnung. He's about as out of place in Community Performance as I am in Rio. And, he's trying. He wants to be perfect. He wants everything in straight lines. God, I love that, the only other person here I've found that would like to see that, no matter how ridiculous a notion it is. Oh, how I would love a rehearsal that started on time, or a space that had some noise containment, or a translator that actually translated for me. But the god's honest truth is we don't even get that with Community Performance at home. I think the closest we come to schedules and timeliness and organization is when we work with the Mennonites in Newport News, who came there via … you guessed it … Germany. (We all find our way back home again, don't we?)
Martin thinks we are crazy. A valid assessment at this point. We're two weeks from opening the show, and the adult actors regard rehearsals about as casually as people in the 70's regarded sex. (Or so I'm told.)
Our kids show up every day. They've been great about coming, but there is a severe focus problem, and this I have some understanding of. I can work with that. I realized earlier on that when I give the kids something specific, detail oriented to do, they are brilliant with it. When they are left to "wait" to do those brilliant things, it gets loud, cluttered, fuzzy, and very difficult to pull back into focus. While Richard works on blocking one scene, I take the kids and work them on adding details to their other scenes, so they can stay occupied with something. The up side is that it creates a better atmosphere for Richard to try to get some other scenes done, but it wears my butt out. And half the time, we end up not using what we spent time working on. I guess we just look to that as a workshop.
I made a breakthrough with Tais last night. She's been one of our harder early-teen, maybe preteen girls, and is all about the hormones. It was easy to be annoyed with her, and put her on that shelf, use her in her scene and say that's that. Except, it's not. She stepped up last night to act out a specific part that another girl just wasn't doing. In the scene, the campers had gone to their cabin and found a scorpion. I wanted the first girl who saw it to get wide eyed, scared, start pointing, you know the low comedy bit I'm going for. The girl I was asking to do it, didn't. Tais knew it exactly. She stepped up, and it was incredible, to suddenly see an ordinary face turn into "the performer". I watched her performance persona literally wash across her face like a sunrise, and suddenly, she was acting, emoting, working, brilliant, and beautiful, by the time she was done with her bit, she had changed my mind and heart about her. It was not a huge bit, there weren't even any lines, but it was the effort, the focus, the care that she took, she stepped beyond herself as the flirtatious siren-ess, and risked being funny, risked being laughed at. That's huge. What guts. It was a beautiful moment in the middle of the pandemonium we called rehearsal.
We've been eating dinner after rehearsal, around 10:00 or 10:30, Richard, Ronaldo, Martin, Amadaeus, Adonealdo and I. Cosme sometimes joins us. Partway through dinner tonight, (yes, I ate for the first time since last Friday), I started giggling, and Martin, sitting across from me, knew why. I turned to Richard and said "That's a significant amount of gunfire we've had during dinner tonight, wouldn't you say?" "Oh, is that gunfire?" was his retort. Cosme, who lives in the favela, said to Martin, who translated, "Don't be nervous. You only hear the gunfire when you're nervous. When you're not nervous, you don't hear it at all." Julia made flan for dessert and it was the best, best best I've ever had. And she made it with powdered milk. Go figure!
I've Never Lived in a Place Where Making Art Was So Dangerous
STORIES TOO DANGEROUS TO TELL - Jules Corriere, May 4
There are some stories I could not tell in the play because it was too dangerous. Literally a matter of life and death. A journalist was murdered here last year for telling the wrong story. His intentions were to help the favela, to bring their situation to light, but he brought the wrong story or wrong picture to light, and they executed him. (The cartel.) People are killed all the time here for talking too much. So I wrote a play about what we could talk about, and got creative in drawing historical parallels that kept current stories just out of hands reach, dressed them enough in the past to protect all involved.
I've never worked in a place where making art was so dangerous.
Story number 1 I could not tell
(But, I found a way to show it without telling it in one of my scenes, put it in an historical context, likening it to the persecution that happened 100 years ago.)
9 boys murdered here at the Institute.
A group of boys from the hill had come here to play soccer. A usual event. People play soccer here all the time. The police came through, and started shooting. The boys ran (I would run, too, if someone started shooting at me.) half were near one gate of the soccer court, half were near the other. Five boys headed toward the back building to hide. Nine others started running up toward where our kitchen is. Four went up, behind the kitchen area, and five went through a hall to the dorm areas behind the kitchen. Those five were cornered in a bedroom (the bedroom I stayed in the last time I was here) with no way out, and were murdered. (None of the boys had guns.)
The other four were caught trying to climb over the wall behind the kitchen to get away. They, too, were gunned down. All died in a pile on the floor.
The five who ran through the other gate ended up near a classroom. A teacher inside heard police shouting "Here they are, here they are". The teacher came out as the police officers were aiming their guns. The teacher asked "What's going on?"
"They are resisting arrest."
"They are not armed. They are frightened and running for their lives. I am frightened too, are you going to shoot me?"
The police then told the boys they were under arrest and took them away. If the teacher did not come out, and had not been there to witness, those five boys would have been murdered, along with the others. None were older than sixteen.
There is supposed to be a law here. Police must tell a suspect "You are Under arrest" three times, and then they are allowed to use any force they think is necessary. It is common knowledge that the police are dyslexic with the laws here. Instead, the joke goes: "Bang, bang, bang, you are under arrest." Because the other joke here, is that if a victim is gunned down under the police term "resisting arrest" then, a formal investigation is not started. Here, if you resist, then you must be guilty, and you give up your rights. But if you do not run for your life, you will be murdered. kind of like the nice little witch ducks we had a couple hundred years ago. If you somehow get free and float to the top and live, you are a witch, and will be killed. If you drown, then you are innocent and not a witch. But still dead.
Story number 2:
This favela sits atop a hill, but on the other side, it is a steep cliff - granite. The city began using dynamite, to get some of the granite from the cliff, for construction purposes. The people on the hill, the institute and other groups kept writing, calling, and visiting the city, asking them not to do this, it was dangerous, someone is going to get hurt. But still, every day, the city came and used dynamite and got more gravel. Then one day they came and more than gravel fell. It seems the indiscriminate way they were blasting shook loose some foundational places in the cliff. Part of the mountain, along with thirty houses, with people in them, went crashing to the ground, two hundred feet below, to their deaths. One man had been with his infant child to a local little shop to pick up some eggs. He came back home, and looked at the gaping hole where his house, his wife, and his five other children had been only minutes ago, before he left. He called for them, but a neighbor came and said she saw the whole thing go down and none of them made it out. The man, in his great grief, threw himself and his infant over the edge of the cliff.
This city continued to blast after that until the news started giving the story some coverage. More than thirty people died and thousands protested before they listened.
Story number three:
There are a lot of street children in Rio. A lot of them go to the streets instead of the favelas because it is safer - they won't be recruited to do drug work, and the bullets do not fly on the asfalto as much as on the hills. But the government doesn't like all of the children on the streets. The kids do things to earn wages - they sell newspapers around the city, things like that. The papers are delivered around a church where the children get together during the night. They are known especially to sleep together at night around the edges of a big cathedral, for safety. It is still dangerous in the city. (After all, "safer than in the favelas" is like saying "safer than in Baghdad." Duh.)
Well, the government said the problem with all the street children needed to be fixed. This is how they fixed it. Military police went to the Candelaria Church and started shooting and killing the children, all aged 10 and under, then went to the Vigario Geral favela and started shooting anyone who was outside. Twenty nine people were killed in one night, mostly children. At this point, an organization named Viva Rio was formed to scream out against this disregard for human life. Thousands of people dressed in white held a demonstration and paused for two minutes in a silent plea for peace. The pleas are still pretty much silent, or falling on deaf ears. We work in silence along with Viva Rio.
So. Yeah. Seeing how much time is spent in the news worrying about whether or not Katie Holme's wedding dress will be strapless or not, hmmmmm. Big freaking news.
I must go. We have a busy day ahead. Lots of rehearsals.
BEING WITH REAL PEOPLE - Jules Corriere, May 5
The only thing I know how to do at this point is to push the show to happen, and that's what I did tonight. The actors need to know the rhythm of the show, they need to know the pace, the length, the flow, so they know at what point to start getting into place for their next scene. This has, until tonight, failed to happen. The flow has been stopped, nightly, and tonight, I was determined not to let it get bogged down into conversation again. I don't imagine Ronaldo is very happy with me right now. I heard him say some things to Anita and Marion and Edumundo with my name in it, and I can understand that he's frustrated. He's a wonderful artist. He is used to working with refined, disciplined actors in a professional theater setting. To this point, he's been stopping the show when he sees a place that needs to be refined. That is the usual practice in regular theater. And, it does need to be done.
We also have to keep in mind that Community Performance actors are regular folks. They don't have the focus, training, discipline or patience to stop and wait while one person receives 10-15 minutes of personal instruction about character, or line readings. This is important, work, yes, I don't deny it. But we simply do not have time for that any longer. I looked at the 40 people we had in the room, and just knew, if we continue this way, we will never open.
I had a wonderful success the night before (well, I thought it was wonderful) by pushing two scenes, without stopping, allowing mistakes - because of course, allowing mistakes lets people see where they messed up and will help them remember not to do it next time. I ran the two side-by-side scenes, outside on the hill, three times in a row. Ronaldo wanted to stop the music - they were off pitch. I wouldn't let him. He started talking with the kids, I said "NO, we must continue." I forced the flow. By the end of 40 minutes, we had accomplished what had not been done in the past month. The scenes ran consecutively, three times in a row. The kids went from place to place (with a little effort, but they got there) and the adults started figuring out where they needed to be to begin the scenes, and where they needed to take their exits. I saw in that rehearsal the possibility of tonight's. I knew I needed to push the same way. And I did.
I was tough. I even told Richard I wasn't going to talk to him about anything right now when he came to me. I know he was doing his best to keep the politics in the room, but he and I had agreed already that it would be better if I took the wheel. It is always touchy when two alfa males are in the room. So when conversation started to happen, I went ahead and let them talk in their bubble, (Richard, Ronaldo, Marion, Anita, Edumundo) and I just started running it. When they looked up, we were rolling down the road full speed ahead, and they needed to step out of the way or get flattened. I wasn't stopping anymore. I didn't do it for me, I did it for the cast, who were looking so tired, and confused, they still had no clear picture of what the whole thing looked like, and it just wasn't fair to them.
Piecemeal doesn't do it in community performance. You have to push it, so they see the whole product, and only then do the community members understand the bigger picture. They have to understand what the big picture looks like before they can improve the smaller picture they participate in, within their own scenes. It's been difficult explaining this process to some of the artists we're working with here.
"But Cosme's performance was wooden onstage! It will mean nothing if he speaks like that" Ronaldo implores, trying to stop the action and fix Cosme during a run-through.
True. Cosme needs to become impassioned, but we cannot afford to stop the flow. This is where side-coaching comes in. Or, if it's a bigger problem, grab Cosme once the scene is done and run him through his lines again, while he's off stage. Find moments in between, but don't take up the moments with the group.
"What good will it do if he just says his lines? There's no passion." Ronaldo asks.
There is a completely different aesthetic quality to community performance. Ronaldo is so giving. So caring. He said he will step aside so we can drive it. We told him don't step aside, step in, do side coaching, grab people when they have time, but not on stage.
I have tried to explain to Ronaldo, so has Richard, but I don't think he gets it yet. I don't think anyone truly gets it until they've seen one of these shows. The truth is, you don't come to see community performance to witness Olivier-like performances. Although we do often have some shining performances, in each of our productions, with people who have very fine actor chops. And we do try to get the absolute best out of each actor, so we have the highest quality production that we are capable of producing with the group. But that's still not the reason to come. You come because you can witness, and be with, real people, telling stories from their own experiences, from their hearts. Some people are speaking publicly for the first time. What power! You come to see a community of people find and use their voice. There is such beauty in that.
"But what about the art?"
I think about the question.
Isn't that art?
In its purest, most basic form? Brining to expression what is inside? I don't know. I guess it's just a different aesthetic. But it's the one I'm here for, and the one I care about.
COST VS. BENEFITS ASSESSMENT - Jules Corriere, May 6
Richard just came in and suggested we spend the rest of the week back at the Institute.
NO. I don't want to, for several reasons. The biggest is I know his tendencies, he will try to do everyone's work for them if it isn't getting done. He doesn't need to waste his energy on those small jobs. He has opened three shows in a row now with no break, and we begin work on the next one literally ONE DAY after we get back in the United States. He needs to not wear himself out. We will give 100% of our artistic attention to this project, which is, like many other things here, on fire. But we can't get bogged down in administrative work, or cleaning, or maintenance. We usually end up doing those things, though I've pulled myself out more over the past few shows. I need to pull him out of it for this one. We exchanged a few heated words, which is normal for the week before opening. We'll blow up at each other because it is safe. Neither one of us is going anywhere, we are in this totally together, we're not going to take our marbles and leave. If we yelled at the people we really wanted to yell at, then we'd be out of a job! And it's OK. It's a way to let off some steam. Then we laugh about how stupid we are, eat some chocolate, drink some wine, watch a bad movie together with English subtitles. So, it got a bit tense when I said "No." I don't want to move.
Other reasons not to? Hmm, lets see… The pollution is so much worse there, the burning trash every other day. The danger is more intense there. The noise is far greater there. And there is just no resting in between. The privacy I enjoy at Ipanema is gone. The comfort, too. The Institute is pretty Spartan. The idea of going back permanently just depresses me.
After he leaves, I give it a little more thought. I don't want to be selfish, I really don't, but when I weigh things out, I ask, Realistically, what good will it do me to be there twenty-four hours a day, when our first actors don't begin to arrive until 4:00 or 4:30? There is nothing to do but busy work. Things we could usually do, if we were in America, we just can't do here. We can't call anyone and arrange special rehearsals, or arrange rides, or make sure people get here for rehearsals. We don't speak the language. We don't know the numbers to call. We can't call for publicity opts, we don't know the language. We can't build our set - we have to undo the whole thing each night, because the rats will nest in the sheets, and the people will steel the other items, like sewing machine tables, desks, old telephones, and suitcases, etc. In fact, twenty of our chairs were stolen last night out of the back room.
To my mind, it is practical. I do cost vs. benefit assessments all the time. The cost of killing myself to TRY to do something at the Institute, vs. the realistic gains… I don't think the end-result benefit equals out. It just doesn't.
And I don't think the Princess is too Princessy by preferring to stay overnight in Ipanema, instead of where the bullets are flying by as frequently as the busses. I think anyone would prefer that, unless they're one of those ultra macho types who read "Gates of Fire" and want the adrenaline rush of the experience. Most sane people don't choose to live in a war zone.
THROUGH THE WALL - Jules Corriere, may 7
We’ve had a hell of a struggle trying to get people to come over the walls of the Institute and be in this project. There just don’t seem to be stakeholders for this project anymore, aside from Marion and Anita. Stakeholders come in many forms – as financial resources, as story resources, as actor resources, but we’re just not getting any of these resources.
I was first aware of the lack of story-resources as I went to write this play, and realized, I had no really good stories. I’d heard many that I could not use, those I sent a few days ago. I gathered them on a previous visit. What I had in my collection provided by Anita were nice little “wasn’t the Institute so special” stories. The kind that you have to use sparingly, like the top level of the food pyramid, the fatty sweets, too much of which will make you ill. But it seems that’s all I had. When I asked for more, they just didn’t come. Where had that room full of story tellers gone? I have a picture of them from a previous visit, and they were all going to give and collect stories? What happened?
I begged for more stories when I couldn’t get the play written, and then some came. From Anita. Only Anita. This play has been Anita’s dream for the past five years. She’s been looking forward to this commemoration. She lives for this Institute, and her husband, Marion. Such a lovely woman. Brave, too, she didn’t flinch when we suggested doing part of the show in the cemetery. Nor when we said we should build a staircase from the cemetery over the wall into the Institute. Full steam ahead with those plans. But a good rounded play, by, for, and with a community needs to have stories from that whole community, not just one person’s perspective. As wonderful a woman I think Anita is (and I do, she’s about the most decent human being I’ve ever met.) she is one person with one particular view of the world, and a community play is interesting in its multiple lenses. When I arrived in Brazil, a loose Act One was written, but to my mind, very weak and lacking in conflict. Didn’t have enough material for act two.
At the very first rehearsals, I watched Ronaldo’s workshops and several scenes improvised by the cast, and I begin to see what is important, what other people cared about. Anita cares about the Institute and she should, it is her world and they do good work, but there is more in this community than the Institute. I saw people that cared about helping others in danger – this coming from kids more than anything. We have, in act one, the scene of an abusive relationship, and how, after the woman’s husband died, she came down the hill and went to work for the Institute. It was a way out. She found independence, but lived in fear until the husband’s death.
The kids, during the improv scene without the translated text, came running in to stop the abusive husband from beating his wife. (This was not written in the script, I don’t show domestic violence in the work I write. We already know what it looks like. I try to find other means to talk about it that removes it one or two steps.) The improv has the husband grabbing her, but then her children come in and some of them as neighbors come in, and police come in. And they stop him, and remove him from the situation.
Anita leans to me and translates what is happening, then adds, “That would never happen. No one would go to help. Especially not the police. Not the neighbors. It isn’t realistic.”
To me, it was perfect. The real trick to community performance isn’t telling the story of a community’s history – it is telling the story of a community’s possibility. I am moved by the choice to show the impossible. So the script begins to evolve. Right there, in the racket and commotion of the big echoing, two hundred year old room, with kids screaming and tossing marbles, I am overcome by the sheer inspiration of writing the impossible toward the possible. The kids came up with the idea, right? They are the only ones with the vision and hope for a new world. So I write this piece, adding it in to the previous scene.
What did I do! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, please don’t!
Mama! Mama! (They run to her and get behind her.)
Husband comes screaming toward her and raises his fist to hit her, and just before he strikes, he freezes. She walks out of the pose, and away from his fist.
In my dream, my children never see his fist hit my face. (The children leave.) In my dream, it is the last time he hits me. It is the last time I call out for help. In my dream, my calls for help are heard. My neighbors and friends are not too afraid to get involved. They come in and they stop him. They take him out of my home, away from my children, who are sleeping, who never saw any of this. In my dream, I am strong enough not to let him back in the door again, and I take care of my seven children, and we live in a home where hands are fold holding, not hitting, faces are for kissing and not slapping, and hearts are for celebrating, and not grieving. In my dream.
I write this in a way that can be translated easily. I want it to be more poetic, but dealing with translation issues and poetry can be tricky. Ronaldo is enough of a lyricist, that he will, as he translates, give it the poetry I want to speak, but can’t for the sake of simplicity. He knows what I am going for. It works. At our first rehearsal of this scene, there are tears. “Sim, sim, sim” “Bom, bom, ta bom” is what I hear. Thunk, good, I hit a nerve. I’m inspired. Let’s do some more of this.
Act II is created in a similar fashion, except with a lot of input by Anita. We need more stories from more people. They just don’t come. Where is everyone? I work with what I have and play with different voices and points of view.
Then, rehearsals. I see disappointment in Anita’s face when she comes to a rehearsal, which is supposed to be with the entire cast (ensiao geral) and 12 people arrive. Mostly kids. Many late. Accumulation happens, so we end up with maybe 30 within the next hour, but still mostly kids. Why don’t people care more to participate as actors? As storytellers? To help out financially? We had a great gift by Christian, of the stages. But it looks like the community participation started and stopped there. Richard and I look back on meetings over the past three years. Where have all of those leaders gone? What happened to them? Why did they fall away? Why is this not important to them? I wonder, has the Institute outgrown its usefulness? I see the children being served, and think no, it hasn’t. It provides education and a safe haven for so many children, from 6 months until teen years. But children aren’t usually an important constituency to consider. They can’t vote, they can’t sway dollars and minds in meetings, they can’t implement new policy. They’re the first to be overlooked. And most in need.
This project IS important to the kids. They ask Ronaldo, “Professor, what happens after the play? Will we still get to do this?"
Ronaldo lives in Campinas. We live in America. The new Director of the Institute, well, I have been here a month and he has yet to introduce himself to me, or even come to a rehearsal, and we are doing this play for his institute. Then I think… or is it for his Institute? Maybe we are doing it for Marion and Anita’s Institute. There seems to be a sort of split between the old timers and the new comers, and loyalty is not toward the Institute, but rather, to one of the two leaders- the actual with the title, or the one who has been here 40 years and will never stop (Marion). Because of this, I do not know if the new leader will try to find a local director to take over and carry on with the project. It isn’t his baby. He isn’t participating.
I saw this back in April. I thought then that we were going to have trouble with long-term sustainability. The more I am here, the more it looks like my instincts were true. And I hate it. I hate plop-and-drop programs. Come in, do a project that people fall in love with, and then just leave. I hate programs like that. But after Richard, Ronaldo and I go, what will happen here with the kids involved? Will the new director ask Ronaldo to come back? Will he try to find someone local to do workshops, as the kids ask? Or will this just be chalked up as a nice little celebration that had its moment, and everyone will move on from it?
We certainly didn’t come here with those expectations. We came here thinking we had leaders and stakeholders. But the stakes shook loose. We’ve been pushing this thing along amongst ourselves. It’s been a very hard wall to make a way through. We came here thinking this would perhaps begin a new chapter in the Institute’s history. We thought it could, since a pavilion and Samba City has been built across the street, we thought we could bring this across the street, do an ongoing theater project with the stories and people here, as tourism is beginning to grow, right here. What happened to that? What happened to those contacts? What happened to those efforts by the people here? It could have turned into a way for actors to EARN a living wage here. It’s why we came. We talked about paying a few Raeals per performance to each actor when we created the big show. That was the intention. While we were gone, the follow through for the show happened, but follow through for the bigger idea did not. Too bad. So much for the new chapter.
Yesterday, a bulldozer was at the Institute, clearing some ground in front, preparing it to be paved (they are doing all kinds of repairs in preparation for this centennial) and the bulldozer went out of control and knocked over an entire section of the Institute’s Wall. Um Caminho sobre o Muro. Indeed.
TOMB ROBBING - Jules Corriere, May 8
We finally have all of our actors for the cemetery scene today. This is a first, and we open in less than a week. We’ve been waiting for LaNinha, who was to arrive last week, but came this morning. Brazilian time.
Relieved at having our actress with a primary role in this scene, we schedule an afternoon rehearsal, because of course, the people here do not go into the cemeteries after dark. So, 3:30 is our time. We go down stairs, and there she is, La Ninha, who plays the part of Eunice Weaver, known here as the Angel of Lazarus because of her work with the well children of Lepers. Also there is ever-present and on time Martin (Young Dr. Tucker) and Thamiris, the brilliant child actor, who plays the child cared for by Eunice. Everyone is here and on time. Another first. We climb over the staircase over the wall, into the cemetery. It smells weird there today. “What is that?” I ask Richard. “Dead people.” He jokes.
We make our way to the performing area, and I see people. What the … then Ronaldo says, “What if we perform on a day, and someone dies?” Don’t event think about it, I tell him. We get closer, and I see more people.
It can’t be. But it is. A funeral is to begin at 4:00. I tell Richard, who is using his big director’s voice, that there is a funeral. “Then we’ll be quiet. We can’t lose another day of rehearsal.” He asks Anita to ask the cemetery director if we can rehearse quietly. As I write, more people are gathering and looking. I’m feeling uncomfortable. They are laying a loved one to rest in thirty minutes, and we are here with back packs and scripts, and a guitar. And now, Richard is taking out his camera to document the whole thing. It seems macabre and ridiculous. Rio. Oh, and the funeral is starting on time. Ronaldo turns and laughs, “The only thing Brazilians do on time is die."
Anita and the director come over. We can stay here and hold down our voices until after the service, and then they will bury the person in the cemetery above us. Remember I told you it is on a steep hill, with winding paths. They will be on the other side of the cemetery. So we can rehearse then. We wait a little. We’ve got a plant we want to put on a stone. SO many of the stones here have plants growing inside of them, or trees, and I wrote about it in the text, but the place Richard has chosen to do this doesn’t have such a stone marker, so we bring a fake. But we can’t get it to stand upright, there’s no place to hold it or put it. A few moments later, I cannot believe my eyes. Richard has scavenged two blocks of granite or stone from another grave, he is now resorting to grave robbing, to set his props. He uses the stone to hold up the plant. It works, and I am speechless that he’s done this. Must be my Catholic childhood upbringing. Ronaldo then says, “no problem if we don’t have an audience, Richard will just dig one up.” The service is over, and people are going up above, and we run through the scene and the song several times.
I should not complain. I put us here in the first place. But tomb robbing for props? OK, so he put the stuff back exactly where he got it when we were done … but still!!! That’s our ever-resourceful Richard! Ay, Carumba!
Then on to the evening rehearsal. Boy, if we had more rehearsals like this one over the month we’ve been here, then this week wouldn’t be so darn uncertain. I think we’ve finally found a working rhythm. Ronaldo was pacing the show, Marion came with snacks at an opportune time instead of in the middle of a difficult blocking sequence. Snacks are very important here. Food is not taken lightly, and when someone shows up with crackers and Guarana to drink, everything else shuts down. All last week he brought them in right at the crucial crunch moment when all the pieces need to pull together. Marion enters with the crackers and clang, pip, pop go the taught, thin threads holding it all together! But not tonight, it was perfect timing.
The kids are memorized now, more or less, and we had a room full of most of our adults in the play. And for the first time, we did the entirety of Act II, without stopping (OK, we stalled in the transition between the school scene and the Family Club scene, but that’s it.) We took them through the ending, to the final song, with the “I Remember” but it is a phrase more like “I hold you in my heart always”, and then the finale number, which is the ICP song. They CHEERED when they’d gotten through it, they cheered at knowing they could have people cheering for them at the end of the week. They cheered at the magnitude of the task they had just accomplished. Was it perfect and brilliant? No. But it had a shape, and that shape we will refine over the next week. We’ve got something now, and they see it. This is why the push. They see the picture now, and they believe they can do it. And by god, I believe they can do it. Instead of fixing the transition that stalled, I tell Richard “Let’s let them go home with a victory” and he agreed, so did Ronaldo. We’ll fix transitions the next night, and work pieces. If the actors come to the rest of the rehearsals and the performances, then we will have a show.
Military check points along the highways on the last several nights drive from the Institute to back to Ipanema around 10:30, 11:00 pm. And one in the afternoon on our way in. A month ago, checkpoints were set up along the highways like this, just before the siege into the favelas. Please, please, please, not this week. We’re finally getting some rehearsals happening, and the show opens soon. Not this week. Storm the compound after the 15th! The show must go on!
CHARGING BY THE HOUR - Jules Corriere, May 9
I guess the saying is "What goes up, must come down." Or…things eventually flow back into their natural pattern. We went from chaos, to order, back to chaos.
There is a constant force that pulls here, pulls back toward old patterns, despite how affirming or how positive a new pattern may be.
An Australian business man I had breakfast with the other day was telling me about the last time he was here for a project that should have taken three months, and turned into five. This happens in America, too. I wasn't too surprised to hear it. But then he continued.
He runs big projects - revitalization of buildings, things like that. People here do not charge by the project. They charge by the time. He went on to say it's been his experience, that in most other places he's worked in the industrialized world, due to the technological revolution, people and companies charge on a per-project basis. That is not the case here in Rio.
The Australian man hired a worker here, who brought his two sons into the project. He was getting paid the same amount of money, but he now had the help of his family to do the labor. The Australian man really came to like this family of people working his project. He hired them to do a restoration. The entire building needed to be gutted. They came with a bag, and in the bag was a mallet and several chisels. They were going to gut it by hand, one whack at a time. This floored the Australian. It was an immense amount of work to do with primitive tools.
The Australian had a company back in Sydney. He had a timeline. He also had a machine that would make the project go faster, and MUCH easier on the man and his two sons. This is back breaking work. Sheer, bone jarring, back breaking work. The Australian had his machine - a diamond-tipped stone cutter, shipped to him. He showed the men how to use it. They were amazed, as in minutes, rather than days, the stone cutter made neat, sweet cuts out of the walls. There was NOTHING like it here in this region. NOTHING. They were the only ones to have this. It was easy to handle, easy to use, and could quite possibly add years to these men's lives, by saving them from such back breaking work. He even made a deal with the men, and for part of their wages, they could own the machine, and use it for their future business in Brazil. (It was a sweetheart deal, he liked these folks, and lost money in the bargain.) The Australian is thinking this is going to be such a great thing for them. It will save them time and pain. He thinks he has done a great, good thing.
The project still took five months. Even with the machine. When the Australian came back the next year, with a new project, he looked up the family and wanted to know how they were doing. He imagined by now, with a tool like that, that the family would have blown away all other competition and bids, making lots of money, because they could multiply the amount of work and jobs and money they'd been making by at least four fold. They could accomplish so much more. What he found was the machine covered over with a cloth. The men don't use it. They still charge by the day, because they think they will make more. It doesn't benefit them, in their minds, to do a job quickly. Fast work, in their minds, equals low pay. They don't think to outbid other offers by promising a fast turn-around. They don't think of how many more companies they could be working for, how many more jobs they could be doing, and so how much more money they could be making. They continue with the mallets and the chisel.
We had a rehearsal the night before that was orderly, it was focused, it was easy, smooth, everyone finished early, they had a clear picture of what the next week could look like. There was an opportunity for smooth sailing. And then, tonight, the sails ripped, the boon fell, my head exploded.
I, as usual, went up the hill with the kids to do Act I, and the two scenes that they are in. Richard is with three adult actors and one scene for act I. Ronaldo is with 2 adults, and the most focused of our children, with one scene for act I. I've got twenty kids and pre-teens who lost their minds. They were terrible. Two fist fights between boys and girls broke out DURING the first scene. Right in the middle of it. I try, with Anita, to call them to order. Then, only two of the seven kids who are supposed to sing the Eliete song come out to sing. The rest stand against the wall, talking, laughing, taunting. I stopped everything, and then just exploded. I had Anita translate, after I stopped Hugo from punching Jessica, who had been punching and taunting Hugo for the past ten minutes:
"Is this the performance you want to give to an audience in three nights? This is terrible."
Jessica smiles. I turn to her, and ask Anita to translate for me word for word:
"Are you here to rehearse tonight? Because it doesn't look like it. If you aren't, I would prefer you go home, because I do not want to deal with you or this behavior any more tonight. Others here know your lines, and we will do this without you tonight. You can come back tomorrow and try again."
Then I told them to go apologize to Lucianna, who plays the role of Eliete, because they ruined her opportunity to rehearse the scene just now.
Then I said the unimaginable. "Right now, you haven't earned treats. You may still have an opportunity to turn this around, but no chocolate tonight."
I've been rewarding the kids with a treasure box, in it small toys (Happy Meal Toys), stickers, ponytail holders, pencils, and candy. The pencils and candy have been especially popular. But I told them I don't reward bad behavior. I asked them if they could pull it together and try to do it right this time. They started to, a little. They got themselves ready, and quieter than they'd been all night. I don't need peace and quiet between scenes. The most I ask here is they not have fist fights and screaming matches during the scenes. So, they quiet to that level, waiting for the next Dr. Tucker and the opportunity to turn this around. They look like they are ready to.
Only, my other actor did not come. Ronaldo was supposed to send the next in the series of Dr. Tuckers. We have three, since it is a progressive piece, the audience moves in groups of 75. Along with a narrator, through the groups of scenes on the hill, in front of the church and at the cemetery. But Ronaldo keeps my actor! Huge screw up. HUGE! I've now got twenty kids I have FOUGHT to keep into some kind of a focus, and 5 minutes goes by, ten minutes, 15. After waiting more than twenty, and losing the little focus I had gained, I went down the hill, to Richard, sitting with his three adult actors, and said "I will not be with the kids tomorrow. You or Ronaldo can. I'm not doing it tomorrow."
Then went back up the hill. Still no actor. 30 minutes of kids waiting for an actor who never shows up. Meanwhile, Ronaldo repeated his actor in the pavilion. That's where he was. I still don't understand what happened there. The whole translation thing has been problematic. We thought we were clear. Run each Dr. Tucker actor through your scene once.
It all fell back into it's familiar, comfortable, loud, unfocused, disorganized state, very close to what we started with a month ago. I know they will get serious, I know a good rehearsal is often followed by a lousy one. It will pull together, but I don't have patience for it anymore tonight. Not after an hour on the hill with the kids' fist fights and screaming matches.
For act II, I sat in the seats, watched and took notes. And dealt with the fever some more. I was too pissed to do anything else. I tried like crazy to get the thing rolling earlier tonight, but couldn't get music started for 45 minutes. So it was a lot of chattering, wasted time. Then, I couldn't get an actor for my scenes in act I. More wasted time. So, for act II, I got off the bus.
The truth is, Act II drives itself now, people know where they need to be, for the most part. I really would have jumped in if there looked like there was a problem. The only problem in the room was the severe level of talking during scenes, from kids to adults. But I wasn't fighting that battle anymore tonight. I was done. Done. Done. Then I went up and ate beans and rice. I want a backyard, home grilled cheeseburger. And to be over this fever. I think I was cranky partly due to the stupid Dengue which is still hanging in there. More about that later. I'm done for tonight.
NO BON BONS - Richard Geer, May 10
Casts are casts the world over. After a good rehearsal, depend on a bad one.
Since the kids knew that the night before they had hung the moon, they were all very relaxed and sociable. They forgot completely how they had done what they had done - through attention and silence. Tonight their performance doesn't slip, only their silence and their attention to the plays unfolding. In short they gab like magpies the second they are not onstage. And the adults are no better.
We refuse to become mean, but report reaches me that Jules has exploded. I think of Vesuvius and form an instant image of Jules, headless, with lava running down her shoulders and chest. I can afford a giggle, Jules cannot, she is trying run the Helga and Eliete scenes, the ones will all the kids on a fifteen minute cycle absent Dr. Tucker.
This was our plan. The first act performance is comprised of three 15 minute clusters, the first on the steps of the church parsonage, the second in the cemetery, the third over the wall in the upstairs yard. On performance day the first 75 people will come to the parsonage steps and on a pre-arranged signal the show will begin. Seven and a half minutes later the audience will walk to the graveyard and seven and a half minutes the cemetery scene will start AND on that same fifteen minute mark, the first scene will repeat for another 75 people. Fifteen minutes later the first group will be at the upstairs yard for Helga and Eliete, the second group will be at the cemetery, and a third group will just be beginning the scene at the parsonage. One more group after that and we will have sent a totatl of 300 people through the process and we will be done by 5:30 when it gets dark.
As you can see, this is fairly exacting. To rehearse, and so as not to waste time, we decide to put a Young Dr. Tucker (the only person who goes WITH the audience, the others remain at their positions and repeat every fifteen minutes) at each of the three stations, parsonage, cemetery, yard. Only we can't do the cemetery scene in the cemetery because the gate is locked at night and because We communicate this very carefully to Ronaldo and his time keeper, and to the time keepers for the other scenes. I am one. I tell Anita and Laninha, the other two time keepers, to begin five minutes after we separate at the pavilion. I think briefly about firing a starters pistol to make the timing exact, but how could you distinguish my shot from the others who aren't shooting blanks.
We begin without incident at the parsonage. But my part is easy, I have only Valcurio, Cosme and Billy. I've printed the text in 16 point type and placed it under clear plastic on the patio windowsill that faces the audience. Valcurio will never be memorized, and at this point Martin and Billy need it too. Things stumble for both Valcurio and Billy, but we have plenty time and so we finish and I direct Billy to the pavilion where the cemetery scene will begin. Martin strolls up three minutes later, having come from Helga Eliete, and we prepare for our repeat scene. He brings news that Jules Vesuvius has erupted. "But it is good, I think." Vesuvius comes by a few moments later like a wrecked car looking for a place to pull over. She swears that she isn't going back tomorrow to the Helga Eliete scene. The children are out of control. No candy tonight. This is on account of their success the night before. (I should treat success severely and not celebrate it, it nearly always breeds this result with inexperienced casts. But I won't stop myself. We must have the joy.) Jules goes away, Martin finishes and I send him off to the pavilion. After a few minutes Lielson approaches, but I notice he is coming from the pavilion. I smell trouble but say nothing. On with the scene. We have time, I know, to do the scene two times, since this is the last of the rotation. We do, we return to the pavilion, and find it nearly empty. Jules tells me that her second Dr. Tucker was ten minutes late and her third never arrived. That explains why Lielson was coming from the pavilion, he WAS coming from the pavilion - instead of the yard. We determine to say nothing, now. Full speed ahead.
The pavilion is a room full of cats. If there weren't bars on the windows the cast would be climbing through. We've added a few costumes and it is mayhem. As two English speakers who refuse to berate and abuse, we feel all the potency that a futbal fan feels screaming at the television to mend his team. The people are right there in front of us, but we can't control them. Jules, feverish now, she continues to have three or four bouts of fever per day as a residuum of Dengue, and has retired to the highest farthest corner of the bleacher to take notes. She'll remain there for the whole play.
It is madness. I can't get Ronaldo going. I can't get the cast focused. Even the people like Anita and Adenieldo (yes, the spelling of his name continues to change as I learn a bit more about Brazilian pronunciation - there is an "l" but it is often not spoken in polite conversation) and the other responsible adults seem powerless or not caring about the chaos. I try to shoo people this way and that, I utter impotent phrases in bad Portuguese.
Now this is the part I don't know: If we just sat down and had a mental cigarette break - did nothing - would the situation resolve and the rehearsal proceed in the same time anyway? Or does our wet noodle flogging actually result in the cats forming up into a herd a bit faster? That is the question. I am too terrified to find the anwer.
The act runs through with constant sssssingg. ( That's Brazilian shushing. There is not "sh" sound, only "Ssss." Like snakes. But the cats here aren't afraid of snakes.) They sing the last number, we place a small bow at the end of the play. Then we let everyone go. We are desperate for food and wine. I am thinking about the ice cream in the freezer.
This morning Jules says she needs to get over her anger before she goes to Gamboa. We are watching the cast ruin what they have created. Yes, they'll snap around when the audience comes, but they've laid down terrible work patterns and it will wreck havoc in the show. We're trying to figure an approach to preempt the problems. For Jules, today, Ronaldo is much of it. If we were doing music as the cast arrived, in other words, if we started on time, they would be focused. It's true. AND it is a scut job for the music director - to rehearse as a group arrives. It disrespects the music process, says it is nothing but a pass time. Ronaldo will stand and talk to people, visit with friends, even, while 20 people lose focus and drift into play and conversation - that's what we see. I wonder what he sees. Likely his is culturally appropriate behavior. I've never seen Ronaldo scream at the cast, no matter how frustrated he is. That's good. This isn't like poverty culture in the US where the women shout and smack the kids into line. The Brazilians are a cross between the very allowing parenting cultures of, say, the white Mennonites we work with, and the very performative culture of, for instance, inner-city blacks. The result is as brightly colored as a Rio beach towel. So the question is how to push the envelope without pushing somebody. From what we can see, Ronaldo's behavior at the beginning of the rehearsal signals the cast to go into a conversation instead of a work mode. And when Ronaldo is ready to work he can't get people to attend him any better than we can. He is used to getting professional productions together in five days to tour schools, but his cast is small and the people are professional. This is a rather large beast who wanders into our yard every night as a volunteer. There is no stick, and last night the carrots didn't work. Jules said, "no bon bons if this keeps up." No bon bons were given out.
YOU SHOULD NOT GO THERE - Jules Corriere, May 10
Rehearsal was mechanical, but mostly cooperative. We added candles for the final number and remembrances. Again, no worries about fire codes here. And as for the under-fire codes I wrote about last month – the bullet hole damage has been, at least temporarily, repaired. 116 of the 117 bullet holes in the roof were fixed. We found one place where water was leaking in. Must have come from a stray .45 or something, it was a small hole, not like the big rounds that tore gaping holes in the rest, haha. Last night’s tropical deluge tested the patchwork, and it held well. Boy, did it come down, and it wasn’t even in the forecast. Imagine: tropical rainstorm, tin roof, large building, no amplification of voices. It was good though. It forced everyone to become loud actors. It also forced a sort of attention. They had to struggle to listen for when they came on for a scene, since this whole time – they’ve been so unfocused, they don’t know the scene patterns well enough to know by the action on stage. I was thankful for the rain.
We ran through Act II twice. We got our lights in yesterday. We did it once for the lights to have a run through. We did it a second time to pull them in to focus and familiarity. Good god, we open on Friday. Day after tomorrow. We still have not rehearsed the whole show, Act I running through Act II, in one piece. I’ve never worked this way before. Toss aside all normal customs, loosen your hair, be Brazilian. We are. I felt bad about not giving out candy the other night. I gave it out last tonight. They deserved it, and, well, I’m a softy at heart. I can’t stay upset, even as they tear down the very thing we’ve been trying to erect for a few years now. Whatever we build on opening night (day after tomorrow) is what needs to be seen. I’ve accepted that. And I’m still going to push for the very best creation we can conjure. It is a conjuration at this point. I almost feel like finding those practitioners of Santeria from the Cemetery to do a little hoodoo for us. I’m only half joking. All prayers and small donations welcome at this point.
We got in the taxi tonight, at the foot of the hill. I think I’ve forgotten to mention that after the first few weeks here, I got over my culture shock. I’m actually enjoying most of my time here. (Sans gunfire during evening work hours and dinner.) I know all the bus routes and take them when necessary. I prefer the taxis. For 2 reals, I can get the same distance as a taxi for 24 reals. However, the suffering of an extra hour or so on the crazy Rio bus isn’t always worth it.
I walk to the market every morning for fresh bread from the bakery. Two small loaves, one for me, one for Richard. Total? In American about 20 cents a loaf. Delicious. I’ve found a bakery that I sneak off to alone once in a while, and get … Brazilian donuts. The princess must have her sweets! It’s a great little greasy spot three or four blocks from our Ipanema apartment. Danishes, donuts, eclairs, empadas, bread, cafÃ©. Yummy. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but it’s a nice little oasis. I’ve figured out menu and dining customs enough to get what I want on the very few occasions we do not eat at the Institute. We have breakfast in Ipanema, but lunch and dinner at the Institute. But last night, all that was out were their version of hot dogs. This time, it was Richard who was the princess: “I ain’t going there!” So we took a taxi back to Ipanema to go to a restaurant there. Which brings me back to us taking a taxi at the bottom of the hill. I’ve even gotten good at giving pretty decent instructions to the taxi drivers. He takes us to our apartment, then, stops. It was funny.
He asks: “Do you speak Portuguese?”
We tell him: “SÃ³ um pequeno.” (only a little)
He says: “Onde eu o colhi…” (Where I picked you up…)
“Ã muito perigoso.” (It’s very dangerous.)
He says: “VocÃª nÃ£o deve ir aÃ.” (You should not go there.)
We tell him “Obrigada. Boa Noice.” (Thank you. Good night.)
We laugh some more. A lot more. I could imagine a good hearted cabbie in New York picking up a couple of nice white Australian tourists, maybe Swedish, in the middle of Harlem, at about the same time of night. “Listen, you look like a couple of nice kids. Let me tell you something…”
Richard and I laughed a lot. I laugh at lot when I’m nervous, it’s my stress reaction to tell jokes under fire (literally) but this time I laughed because it was genuinely funny. Being warned by the kind taxi driver to stay away from there.
I woke up with fever, again. This Dengue has a nasty little habit of hanging with you. The worst of the symptoms were over after the first week and a half or so. Now I’m left with a fever that comes around about three times a day. I’ve been keeping tylenol running through me pretty consistently, at Adrienne’s recommendation. (Tylenol vs. aspirin products, which I was taking originally, but later found out you shouldn’t take aspirin products, as another little nasty habit this fever has is to turn hemorrhagic.) Tylenol helps keep the fever down, but doesn’t keep it from coming. I can feel it coming on now, I know when it’s about to hit, so I try to find a place to rest, where ever I am, when it happens. My skin starts to hurt, and then I get this sunburn-like rash on my face and chest. And my joints and back ache all day, fever or no. I’ve had the show and the pressure of it to keep me on my feet and try not to give in to it too much. Sometimes it does get me, and I have to lie down. It’s a weird fever. I am most feverish through my head and torso. Sometimes, my arms feel cooler, but my core is too hot to be near. We were watching a movie the other night, Richard, Ronaldo and I, on a big couch. We weren’t even scrunched up together, plenty of room between us, and Richard had to move away from me, I was too hot to be near. I radiate heat. It’s been weeks of this fever now. I’ll be glad to be rid of it, but tropical fevers like this take a while to run their courses. I add it in to my whole experience. Two weeks ago, I said I would trade it, I would regret it if we didn’t accomplish the goal of getting this play up, I missed my family so much, but now, that this place is in my system and in my blood (literally, with the Dengue) I have found a joy and appreciation. Do I want a nice juicy steak about now, and clean, fresh clothes? You betcha. But I wouldn’t trade it. Not for nothing. It stretched me beyond points I thought I was capable of stretching. I think that’s always a good thing, despite the pain of it. Muscle is built by stretching, tearing, and building anew. I’ve built some personal muscle, even as I continue to lose weight with the fever. I have to go to work now.
WIND OF CHANGE - Jules Corriere, May 11
I’m now back in Ipanema after a long day. We shared a taxi with Ronaldo, who stays tonight in Copacabana, a friend has lent him a room. He too likes to get away from the Institute when possible.
We had a very decent dress rehearsal tonight. We managed to put together the run of act I scenes and act II, although we only ran through the Act I series three times instead of four, as planned, because of another miscommunication. It wasn’t a huge deal to me. Richard was discouraged. I understand his frustration. He’s had such a difficult time getting people to do what he asks. Even with lights, and an English speaking lighting designer, the lights were, according to Richard, a Brazilian version of his light plot. (We miss you Brackley.) But it is very workable and functional. It just isn’t what Richard asked for. We open tomorrow. There is little else to do but take what we have and make it work now.
Tonight, our second guitarist did not show up. Ronaldo ran from one scene to the next, but never made it back to the scene in the cemetery. He can’t be two places at once. Or can he? Richard goes away and comes back with the idea that Ronaldo move the song in the cemetery up, so he plays that first, then goes to the next scene, to perform Eliete’s ballad. Then, come back down to perform in the cemetery again. It makes for a lot of running on his part, but both songs get done. We time it, and it works. What does it mean? Another change for “I hate change Martin.” It must be difficult to be a German, in Brazil, doing community performance.
I can appreciate the frustration of other professional theater practitioners who have come to work with or observe our work. To them, our form of theater is Brazilian. It makes me laugh. It helps me understand why we drive them crazy.
The rain held off tonight. We left the Pavilion very hopeful.
During dinner at the Institute (no hot dogs tonight, but I’m not sure what the meat was in the gravy.) I felt a wind come out, strongly and suddenly. “Wind of change” quickly came to my mind, after the pretty decent final rehearsal – But I had an uneasy feeling about this wind. It was a cold wind, blowing from the sea. Earlier in the day, I saw on the water large cumulus clouds, rising higher, it was about 3:30, and I told Richard, if we were in Virginia, I’d say expect rain at 5:00, bodesome conditions. The rain held off, though. But that wind…
We drop Ronaldo off first, Copacabana is on the way to Ipanema. As we pull in to our apartment, our cab driver, who we find out at this moment speaks English, asks if we have a view of the ocean. Yes. He says “Raisaka Praia tonight. It will be something to see.”
Raisaka, I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it, but it is very strong wind, very large waves, a mini-hurricane. All ships were reported to come home from the sea. “Ice rocks are promised for tomorrow.”
Hail. Big winds. Opening day, with the first act outdoors. This weather is extremely unusual this time of year. This is when it is normally drier. Richard stops cold. “Hail?” I say, “Of course. Did you think it would be easy?” He says, “Of course not.” We’re quiet for a moment.
Hail? Wind? Rain? During the dry season? I tell Richard, “And Saturday, we get locusts. Loosen your hair and be Brazilian.” We’re both wearing small thin stress lines around our foreheads right now.
I’m worried too. Poor Marion and Anita, they have worked toward this for five years. This isn’t just the play going on this weekend. They have an entire weekend full of outdoor activities planned. Why not? It’s the dry season?
We have our doors in the apartment on the balcony closed. The wind is so strong, it is blowing my hair, through the closed doors. It is whistling through the doors, not a little, but like a tea kettle blowing at full steam. The wind is screaming to come inside. The water is crashing its way closer to the line of hotels on the shore. We’re not on the balcony watching tonight, because the wind is too strong, and you don’t want to be blown down to 17 stories below. So we watch it from the living room, out the closed balcony door. The waves are cresting at about 3 meters, and it is just beginning. It is promised they will reach 4 meters by morning. And, it is a full moon tomorrow, making the surf that much stronger.
We have a back-up plan to perform in the auditorium if it rains. We even rehearsed this way Saturday, as a “just in case” plan. Rain we can handle. We proved that last night. We never expected hail. Tin roof and hail? Yikes. And we just had the roof repaired! Imagine the noise of hail on the tin roof. And even if we scream loud enough for the lines to be heard, will anyone venture out to see it? All ships have been called home. This does not bode well. But we go on anyway.
HOLY COW - Jules Corriere, May 12
"Holy cow, they did it."
The wind was still whipping in the morning when we woke up. The sky had some blue in it, but it had blue the day before as well. Sure enough, as the morning wore on, the sky got tired and started to lose its color.
We arrived at the Institute by lunchtime. White clouds moving in. Everyone is buzzing. No matter what is in the forecast, anywhere in the world, on opening day, there is a determination that nothing will stand in the way. I looked around and amazingly, there is Billy, Lela, LaNiha (who was absent at the final dress rehearsal) and all of our children except Hugo who works. (He's twelve.) Then, there's Amadeus, Adonieldo, Cosme, Amanda and Martin. It is more than an hour before their call, and they are here. Another first.
It's still warm outside, and the sun peeks through often, then it's quite warm. The kids enter the pavilion after they watch me go inside. They're very helpful, and assist me in putting up the set. Even though Adonieldo has been sleeping in the pavilion this week, to stop the thieves, we still put almost everything away each night, locked in ANOTHER building. Twenty chairs for the set have to be carried over here every night. The light board and follow spots are taken off of their very high perches each night, and locked away in a cabinet in another room. Adonieldo keeps things from being robbed by sleeping there, but we do not want to leave things out that look too tempting. He might get beaten up for twenty chairs if more than one person comes. But if thieves came and saw the board, the lights, the speakers, the cables, I imagine they wouldn't have a hard time killing him for them. So, he sleeps there to protect the small stuff, and the big stuff we hide. I could imagine Brackley and Joe shaking their heads at this. Nightly, the lights and set are demolished, and daily reconstructed. It reminds me of that Egyptian birth and death myth. I think of myself too, sometimes after nightly rehearsals, I too am demolished, and then reborn the next morning to start all over again.
Magnum and Hudson (pronounces "Ood-sone") carry chairs over. Girls set the tables, sheets, bibles, quilts, clotheslines. They ask me Why they come so early. I point to everything they are doing. And then say "Prepara todos. E prepara Camesa." Prepare everything. And prepare costumes. At that, they make sure their costumes are there. I also have treats, and give them out for their help. I've got small toys today. Everyone who is there early and helps gets a toy. Word spreads fast that it's a big score today, and pretty soon I've got all my kids here. "Jules! Present!" And I hold out the bag and toss whatever I pick up first. They're all happy. But one. Katia comes back about 15 minutes later. She says in Portuguese "trade" but I understand. And laugh. And she's been a help, so I let her trade for a different toy. Richard had just arrived at that moment, and he laughs loudly in his "Richard laugh." Good. That's a good sign. When Richard laughs like that, all is well. And it radiates to other people and helps them feel it, too. He pulls out his camera. As time for beginning approaches (we start at 4:00, and it's 2:30 or so, now) the sky is becoming increasingly white, then gray. He's snapping shots every 15 minutes or so. We keep hearing last night's forecast in our minds: "Ice rocks are promised for tomorrow."
The cast has begun to gather, and the crowd is amassing. Today's opening is a "VIP/Preview" opening. But still, an opening. The big Anniversary is the 13th. Today we have friends and family, plus a group of kids from a shelter in Niteroi coming. So, hopefully, a kind, loving, (forgiving) audience today.
As Marion calls for the first group … sprinkle, sprinkle. But many have come prepared with umbrellas and jackets. We have experienced in the past that even a little rain keeps people away from rehearsal and events. Ronaldo says "Rio people melt in the rain." Still, we have a decent crowd.
30 seconds into the first scene, the rain starts. It isn't terrible. By the end of the scene, it's gone down to a trickle. We walk to the Cemetery for the next scene. The capoeira group, whom i saw below, and asked Ronaldo to get in place 15 minutes ago is not there. Ronaldo sings alone, instead of with them. Too bad, but it was OK. The capoeira add so much. But they were being Brazilian. They made the other two performances. They just arrived to their scene in 40 minutes instead of 15. (Don't ask me how a group can come to perform and then miss the first 1/3 of the show. I don't understand and quit trying.)
We then go up the hill, over the cemetery wall, into the Institute, and we see the last of the scenes and song for Act II. They're doing well. The kids are effervescent. Luciana is getting over her shyness as Eliete. Adonieldo is quiet – he's playing the role of Marion, a quiet, unassuming, man, but you can't play quiet and BE quiet, especially outdoors for 75 people. He'll get there.
We begin Act II immediately after the final group, at Christian's recommendation, instead of waiting until six, since people coming to this area do not want to be here after dark. "That place I picked you up – it's very dangerous, you should not go there!) So we get everyone back to the Pavilion. I ask Ronaldo to play a song for people, so they aren't just sitting there as the film crew (it's being documented today) sets up for an additional 5 minutes. THe crowd claps along to his song. We begin.
Amadeus doesn't do his opening line, he cracks a joke as the first words, instead of being the imposing MIlitary/Catholic leader. Instead of "Attention! Attention, whoever has a copy of this book (a Bible) report to the Pavilion immediately." It's the beginning of the persecution scene, and he decided to be cute. He walked in and said "Oh, good, you're all here." Then resumes his lines with Cosme, "Where did you get this book." Cosme is supposed to say "From Dr. Tucker, of course," and then be thrown down to his knees, and the book is taken from him to be burned in a big barrel on the floor, 10 feet below the stage. It gets thrown in dramatically and makes a loud, crashing, intimidating sound. Cosme sees Amadeus get a laugh, and decides he wants a laugh too, so acts silly and laughs, doesn't say his lines. I think to myself, "No, please, not now, don't go and disrespect the process like this." But then I breathed and let it go. Whatever it is going to be is about to happen and I have no control over it. So I sit and wait for whatever drama decides to unfold itself on the stage tonight. It's their show, they're going to do with it what they want.
Adonieldo, in his power, pulls things back into focus for that scene. Acts as the policia, is very imposing, and puts the intended mood back into the piece. From there, it stayed in focus. They were really wonderful, and one scene flowed into the next. But by the third scene, the rain started pouring. The tin roof amplified the sound. They continued, but I caught Richard's eye across the room, and I had Ronaldo near me, we were all thinking the same thing – should we stop the show? But when the kids entered the stage for their camp scene, the rain quieted down. We were able to finish to the end. Ronaldo played the final song, "Song of America" (meaning, South America) it is a beautiful ballad. Instead of "I remember you" they did "Obrigada" which is "Thank you." And I started to cry. Holy cow, they did it.
Their "thank you's" are not lined up and orderly in the song. It wouldn't be Brazilian. They are spontaneous, coming all at once or none at all in moments during the song, but tonight, they just kept spilling forth and wouldn't stop. Ronaldo extended the music a little to contain all of the Obrigadas, and then he started to speak the Obrigadas. Obrigada Instituto, Obrigada public, he thanked the Institute, the families, the children, I couldn't catch everything, it was Portuguese, but it was said with such heart, it was so moving, then they finished the rest of the song. At the end of the song, the cast received a standing ovation from the full house. It was beautiful. They actually did it, and did it well, but most importantly, the heart they gave it at the end really touched the crowd.
Saturday is the big Anniversary day, and another full show. Clouds are still out there, rain still in the forecast. Let's see if we can pull off another one.
MACHINE GUN ENDING - jules Corriere, May 13
Nothing Says Congratulations like a machine gun to the back of the head.
We arrived in Gamboa at the Instituto around lunch time. After filling up on the usual fare of beans and rice, we headed off to make sure the various locations were set up. The skies looked friendlier – there were still clouds in the air, so we reminded people of our alternate rain plan, but we made some deals with St. Peter. In Brazil, St. Peter is in charge of the weather. I smiled at Marion when he told me. I said St. Pete has a prominent part in my next play with the Anglin brothers, and that we’d have a little chat. Marion said “Tell him you won’t let him be in your next show if he doesn’t behave today.”
A throng of people began to arrive, old ICP (Insitituto Central do Povo) folks, going back as far as 50 years. It was a big homecoming and celebration. Anita looked very pleased. I was happy for her.
The cast arrived in good time again, although today, getting them settled into their places was a bit harder. They had a success last night, were feeling confident, and that’s the very thing that could throw a show the next day with amateurs—they’ll forget their props, costumes, forget to reset their stages, things like that, and instead, bask in the good feelings. They did deserve to bask, they’d worked hard, but the crowd today was bigger, and probably more appreciative, as it was THEIR Instituto’s stories being told. Some from the favela were there, too, people who have been working with or for them for many years.
One interesting point happened. During a scene in which old vs. new voices talk about the Institute and its history vs. its future, and its successes vs. its failures, the audience, those coming from the favela, erupted in applause during this part of the speech:
And we still have poverty. What did these programs do about that? We still have violence. More violence than ever before. Look above you. Do you see the sky peeking through the holes up there? This Pavilion roof was new, just a few years ago. Rust did not create these holes. Helicopters, with huge guns, they tore through this roof, into the walls – over there, over there, into the floor over there.
They applauded not for the violence brought to them and on them by the military, but that someone was noticing it, giving voice to it I think the people of the favela found themselves, finally, in that part of the show. Reality, not sugary coatings of all the good the Institute has done, but also looking at where the needs in the community are that have still not been met. Only when we face where we haven’t succeeded, can we begin to assume responsibility for those things and try to make change. Maybe.
I don’t know how any Institute or government could possibly solve the problems in Gamboa, and Rio at large. Poverty is ignored. Corruption has been so integrated, that it is not a shock to anyone there that it happens, it is expected behavior, it is normal operating procedure. Once any behavior has been adopted, and practiced like this, it’s like a very hard habit to break. You might want to break it, but it’s very difficult, sometimes takes a support group, and may require heavy medication. I recommend heavy medication for anyone visiting Gamboa, via glasses of wine or bottles of beer. It helps take the edge off. Not just the edge of the fear of the constant fighting and killings, but the edge of the hopelessness. You honestly do have to pick the places you will work, and not get discouraged about not working on the brazilian (our version of many millions) other things around. Like the beggars in the street. Richard and I went on a few walks. He had some change. He gave some change to some beggars, some change to others, but then ran out. He asked me if I wanted to give some change out. No. I don’t do. How do I choose which human being I will help, and which I won't while others watch? It's a terrible feeling.
So I go to the place where I decided I’m going to work, and that’s where I focus my work. Going back to that analogy of staring at the sun. You can’t look at the whole thing, or it hurts you. So I find one area, one place, one reflection, And I give my all. I spend all I have there, and do the most I can, and at the end of the day, I’m almost physically and emotionally broke, and often find my hand out with an empty cup, pleading, in need of a little strength, a little hope. And I get my donations. I get it from Hugo, Everton, Meriam, Tias, Thalita, Thamiris, Katia, Anna, Sergio, Cosme, Adonieldo. Their songs, serenades, smiles, hugs, fill my cup and give me enough to wake up the next day and start again.
They also gave this strength and hope to the audience. The honest truth is that the cast performed at about a minimal level of quality, not just tonight, but last night, too. The interesting thing about these shows when they perform the first time, is if they are done right – if they are done from the heart, if there are sufficient enough stories, and stories with guts, then other things, like missed cues and lights that don’t go when they’re supposed to – those things can be overlooked the first time. We build on the momentum created from that heart, and create stronger performances in subsequent years.
At the end of the show tonight, the audience roared to their feet. It was a strong, powerful show in one way, and it was a show, in many ways, that only a mother could love. But this audience was the mother. The people who are here now, the participants of today, not of the Institute’s past, are the only ones who will be able to say “this is important, let’s keep doing it”. And that was meaningful to everyone there to hear. And the other important thing this show did was to served as a platform to say “Thank You” to all those who have served and worked for this community for one hundred years. It is a really good, wonderful place to start. And in that, they did a great, terrific job.
During our good-byes, the kids tried to talk with me, and I them, and found ourselves so frustrated with the language barrier. There was so much more we wanted to say than the very few words we knew of each other’s languages. Then Everton, he hugs me, then stands back. He takes his two fingers, and draws a circle, then touches his heart, and points to me. Some things transcend words. There was no mistaking that symbol, and I felt the same way.
On the way home, we shared a ride with Ronaldo and his mother. Our taxi driver accidentally drove through a military barricade on the side of the road – he didn’t see it. We get chased down. The taxi driver gets out and has a pistol drawn on him, he pulls his shirt off to show he isn’t packing but the policia’s gun is never eased from our taxi driver’s face. The other policia has his machine gun aimed at our heads, and it doesn’t get eased, either. They’re very edgy and nervous, and we have our bags in the boot of the taxi, visible through the window. The policia asks us what’s in the bags. Machine gun still at our heads. This was the day we were bringing the rest of our things back from Gamboa. We leave tomorrow and cleared out our belongings, put them in bags, and it looks very suspicious. We run a barricade, have bags full of stuff, which is what “O Traffico” often does when they carry contraband. Military Policia go through the bags, then talk with the cab driver more. Finally, the machine gun gets eased, and he holds it up instead of at us, but still drawn. Ronaldo tells us how lucky we are. Usually when that happens, they start shooting, but the cab driver pulled over immediately after he realized what he did. It made me get a stomach ache from the fear. The whole incident hit me in my guts. Then I cracked a joke with Richard. “I want my VA Beach Bicycle cops! On their 10 speed bikes and little shorts and bike helmets. I won’t make fun of them any more! I promise!”
It’s time to go home. We did what we came to do, and I’m happy, and we’re going home. And I’m very happy. There is still one more performance tomorrow, but Richard and I will not be there for that one. We’ll be tourists for a couple of hours and then head back to the States in the evening.
We begin work on our new play three days from now. I’m sure there will be many stories there, too, but probably without a machine gun ending.
A DAY OFF! - Celebrating at Corcovado!
EPILOGUE - My New Son
Fast forward 6 months. Cosme, whom I've written about, and who was one of my "little angels" when I was searching for whether or not my visit would make a difference. phoned me on the night his mother died of cancer. Years earlier, his father and brother were both killed in the drug trade. He is an orphan now. Cosme is a committed young man, committed to education and to church, both traits he learned from his mother. i knew, before I woke up the next morning, what I wanted to do. Though getting him to the US would be difficult and will probably take years, I have adopted him as my own, providing financial help and love. My own kids call him their "brother from another mother". He has just received a partial scholarship to Bota Fogo University in Rio, and I will help handle the rest. I love him. He was my sign. Then, he was my reason. My life is so much more full, with him in it.
Great Stuff on Amazon
I'd love to hear your feedback. If you've worked somewhere hard, here in the US or somewhere else in the world, do you think it has made a difference? I'd lvoe to hear about your own experiences. Please share them.