“Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 3:1b). How wise was the prophet Joel! Well, I was once a young man with a vision. Now I am an older man, and the vision has become a dream, a dream that I hope will become realized and not just “what could have been.” Since my seminary days, I have had the vision of using theater arts in the service of the Gospel. I have utilized theater among youth in the Philippines, and now here in Brazil, in an effort to both create self-esteem in those living in communities on the periphery of society, and to deepen awareness in audiences of social injustices.
Fr. Colin McLean lives and works in Brazil.
In Brazil one such injustice is the racial discrimination towards indigenous and Afro-Brazilians that is still strong in many areas, despite the government’s much touted image as a multi-racial democracy.
More recently, with encouragement, suggestions, and financial help from friends, I helped to form and register a non-government organization (NGO), Espaço Cultural Cena Um, (A Cultural Scene) whose two
principal aims are to strengthen self-esteem and to raise awareness of social injustices. For almost five years we operated from the second floor of a warehouse that we rented.
Eventually, we applied for an international grant to help us buy a small property on the periphery of the city of Salvador, not far from the parish where most of our young participants and I live. Its location should help us attract more youth from neighboring peripheral communities to participate in one of our three performance companies: Scene One Theatre Company; Dance Company Levante dos Malês (named after a strong urban slave uprising in Salvador in 1835); and Scene One Acrobatic Quartet. The name “Scene One” refers to the theater as our medium of expression (Scene) and the first step in raising social awareness—provoking a questioning of our reality (One).
In 2005, two young men from our dance company went to Australia, where they participated for two months in classes at the NAISDA Aboriginal and Islander Dance School. People working in justice education with the Columban Fathers in Australia were impressed by their Afro-Brazilian dance performances. As a result, they invited seven members of our dance company to participate in World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia. Five young men and two young women from Brazil participated in an event titled “Columban Youth Theatre of the Oppressed,” with the group AKBAY (from the Columban founded and run PREDA
foundation in the Philippines) and youth from St. Peter’s College in Tuggerah, New South Wales.
After returning from that enriching and enjoyable experience, we applied for the deed to the property we purchased, endured months of waiting and now are in the happy position of preparing the plans to get the necessary permit for the construction of a modest theater that will seat an audience of 80 people. Hopefully, construction will begin by March 2011. We are not yet certain we have sufficient funds left from the grant, after the property’s purchase, to cover the total cost of construction, but we will jump that hurdle as we come to it. We are blessed with a variety of instructors skilled in drama, Afro dance, and more recently, circus arts. Our theater administrator, Marcelo Batista dos Santos, a married deacon from our parish of Santo Antônio das Malvinas, brings administrative experience to his job.
However, we are still hoping to find someone with a theatre background who could assist in publicity and marketing. So the vision is now a dream on the verge of becoming a reality. If we can really get up and running, I believe we can attract a lot of young people from impoverished communities in the vicinity of our soon-to-be-constructed theater, help them grow as people, and hopefully, become catalysts for change in our society. I see the talent in the youth with whom I am in immediate contact, and I believe that is only the tip of the iceberg of talent that lies hidden in these marginalized communities, just waiting for the right opportunity to be able to show it. Our Scene One Theatre has begun to give them this opportunity.
I was happy to learn that Cirque d’ Soleil began with a staff of eight and now has 800 people working around the world. The vision has now become the dream. It is my hope that both the vision and the dream become a reality.
The article originally appears in the December 2010 issue of Columban Mission.