Shakespeare in the slums of Rio de Janeiro

April 2008 -

In La Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Romeo and Juliet's love story is impossible because they live on hills controlled by rival gangs of drug traffickers. Shakespeare no morro vivo (Shakespeare Live on the Hill) is put on in the heights of the favelas (shantytowns) every time the author and director of this theatrical adaptation, Joana Medeiros, obtains a donation to finance at least the costs of transportation and food for the cast. The sponsorship barely pays for the basic expenses of the actors, most of whom are from La Rocinha. She knowingly chose however one of the toughest challenges in theatre: putting on Shakespeare with next to no resources.

"Theatre, to me, is about the everyday issues, the issues of identity", says Medeiros. She refers to the kind of social theatre she took her first steps in when she lived in France for 10 years, doing theatre in prisons. "It means reconstructing a sense of belonging in poor communities, in order to reinforce self-esteem and identity." Medeiros does this through the participation of actors from the community itself. Juliet is played by Nicole Feliciun, who says that "everything Shakespeare wrote so long ago is real for me today."

"It's very common for young people to be unable to maintain a relationship because they're from different gang territories in the hills", says Feliciun. She adds that her involvement in theatre has renewed her interest in studying again. "Theatre has an important function in promoting social inclusion. It opens doors", says Renato Correia, the young man who plays Romeo and divides his time between acting and working as a waiter.

Social inclusion does not only mean recruiting actors from the favelas, who work with professional actors, which gives them training and experience. It also means putting on the plays in these communities in mobile tents. Medeiros and her actors build, carry and set up the scenery, create the costumes, make themselves up and change during the play. During the breaks they eat sandwiches made for them by the director "The problems of La Rocinha are so enormous that only Shakespeare could tackle them", muses Medeiros.

Source: IPS