Teatre-Se: Young Women in Theater and Leadership in the PPG Favelas [PROFILE] #SustainableFavelaNetwork

Sustainable Favela Network* Profile

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Initiative: Teatre-se: Theater and Young Women’s Leadership in Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho
Contact: Facebook | Email
Year Founded: 2014
Community: Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho (known collectively as PPG) (South Zone)
Mission: Teatre-se is a group that advances conversation and action around issues facing young women in the favelas of Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho through theater and art.
Public Events: The group regularly presents theatrical productions and organizes community impact projects for the youth of Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho and throughout the city of Rio de Janeiro. Check out their Facebook page for more information.
How to Contribute: Teatre-se is seeking funding to maintain instructors (who currently work as volunteers), provide transportation to cultural events in the city, and support the group’s theatrical productions.

Teatre-se was founded in the favelas of Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho, in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone, in early 2014 by Tatiana Bastos de Sousa. After working in the community for nearly three years as part of a government program that placed public servants working in the area of human rights in favelas with active Pacifying Police Units (UPPs), Bastos had become acutely aware of the significant shortcomings with regard to recreational activities and access to cultural opportunities in Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho—specifically, opportunities for young women.

Stemming from her interactions with youth through her human rights work, it was clear to Bastos that young women in the community were in dire need of a space in which they could process everyday adversities—from socioeconomic disparities and police violence to racism and sexism. Through her training in drama and prior participation in the theater group Nós do Morro in the favela of Vidigal, and through conversations with youth in the community, Bastos recognized that she had one possible solution in her hands: theater. “I realized that I had this tool capable of mobilizing these girls and bringing them into a safe space, in which they could participate in dialogue and elaborate on these issues.” Within weeks, Bastos began hosting acting lessons and conversation circles in an abandoned classroom in Cantagalo.

From the beginning, the initiative’s trajectory has been driven by its young female participants. While Bastos served as the initial organizer, the objective was always for students to be responsible for deciding on discussion circle topics and scriptwriting. These types of open conversations and creative opportunities provided a structure for group members to begin to trust one another and open up in new ways. The process was one that required patience, Bastos recalls. “In a racist and patriarchal society, youth unable to express themselves easily. You have to win their trust. It took time, but in the end, we succeeded at stimulating debate.”

Facilitating discussions focused on women’s issues in the favela and experimenting with acting proved to be transformative for many of the girls—but Teatre-se’s vision extended beyond the walls of the classroom. Bastos felt that there was potential for the group’s work to impact a much larger audience. “We work with issues that are pertinent to the world of young women from the periphery, but we knew that this project had to reverberate throughout the entire favela.” Teatre-se’s debut piece was a history and celebration of the favelas of Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho and of women who have been critical to building and advocating on behalf of their communities.

For the girls, recognizing the incredible amount of drive and depth of leadership embodied by these women was a huge inspiration. After hosting conversations with these female community leaders, Teatre-se recreated the scenes in which these women had responded to the favela’s needs. Despite being their first piece as a group, the performance was a tremendous success.

Starting in 2015 the need to grow actions that would have territory-wide impacts, and of a transformation in communicating with local youth, emerged from within the group. It was then that Teatre-se started to organize community-based events relevant to youth from the peripheries. Since then, the group has hosted “Get Serious: An Event to Debate School Truancy” and in 2017, the festival “Favela Woman: Feminism and Black Favela Culture.”

The one-day festival was dedicated to the following themes: women in politics, women in religion, and successful feminists on the Internet. The group held a series of discussions with female politicians from various favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Afro-Brazilian and evangelical religious leaders, and feminists who are well-known on the Internet. Between these dialogues, the group continued coordinating theater and passinho dance performances to entertain festival attendees.

Following the festival’s success, Teatre-se went on a short hiatus. Beyond needing to take a break after more than three months of organizing and promoting the festival, the group was awaiting classroom renovations. Construction of the new classroom was completed in early March 2018, but before the group was able to reconvene, the harsh reality of violence hit close to home when one of the girls’ classmates was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Today, Bastos and the young women of Teatre-se remain committed to the project. Addressing the everyday physical and moral constraints and forms of harassment suffered by women and girls, the group performed an evocative and empowering piece titled “Us, Seed” at the Virada Sustentável (“Sustainable Turn”) festival in June 2018. Following the performance, the group published the following note on Facebook: “Stay tuned for our schedule of upcoming performances. ‘Us, Seed’ is coming back bigger and stronger with a new cast member, more poetry, more music, more reflection, and a lot more emotion.”

For many, Teatre-se is the only place where they can process their experiences and fully express themselves. For Bastos, theater is a tool to defend these girls and prepare them for the future. “The weapon that we have to fight this ideology—of youth as the enemy of society—is art. And this is the weapon that we are going to use.”

*Teatre-se is one of over 100 community projects mapped by Catalytic Communities (CatComm), the organization that publishes RioOnWatch, as part of our parallel ‘Sustainable Favela Network‘ program launched in 2017 to recognize, support, strengthen, and expand on the sustainable qualities and community movements inherent to Rio de Janeiro’s favela communities. Check out all the profiles of mapped projects here.