BRAZIL: Everyday Superheroes Against the Mad, Bad World

  • by Fabiana Frayssinet (rio de janeiro)
  • Saturday, May 29, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Yelling in unison 'Everyday heroes, against the mad, bad world!' five strange-looking superheroes burst into a busy plaza and attract the attention of the people hurrying by. Their capes do not help them to fly, nor are their masks infrared sensors, by any stretch of the imagination.

Their only aim is to 'investigate and analyse' what it means to be an everyday hero, untainted by clichés such as the comic strip superheroes in the United States, choreographer Tania Alice, head of the theatre school at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO), told IPS.

The Everyday Heroes Collective was awarded the 2009 National Arts Foundation (FUNARTE) prize for street theatre, and its designs and proposals are acted out in performances throughout the city, and in small-scale actions of everyday heroism. These might include cleaning the statue of some historical hero, or climbing up to a 'favela' (shanty town) atop one of Rio's hills to ask the people who live there about their daily worries and concerns.

In what Alice calls 'poetic and political interference,' the Everyday Heroes collective wants society to rediscover and define its own heroes.

'What is a hero, to you? What does someone have to do to become a hero? Have you ever done anything heroic? Would you recognise a hero in your everyday life?' the superheroes ask anyone who has a minute to spare.

Just taking a moment to answer creates a pause for reflection in the midst of the daily hustle and bustle.

'A hero is someone who helps the needy,' one woman answers. 'Who helps not only with money, but with a few kind words as well,' adds a man next to her.

'Who are the villains? Corrupt politicians, obviously,' is the confident reply of another person taking his lunch break in the plaza.

'Evil is everywhere. It can only be combated with unity, which is what is missing,' says a street trader.

One of the members of the collective, Gilson Motta, explained that the idea is to raise questions so that people themselves will seek, identify and overcome social problems.

'Although we make our appearance as superheroes, we are not superior to anyone else, nor do we have special powers to solve anyone's problems,' the actor and university professor told IPS.

'We're not interested in acting out a play to see how people react. The point is to construct something positive together with them,' said the group's director, Alice, who is dressed, like the other performers, in a colourful, form-fitting leotard and an iridescent cape.

Finding the roots of social evil is part of this collective construction.

According to the group, many people respond that politicians are the personification of evil. 'But there are some good politicians,' said Motta, who argued that part of his job is to awaken people's political awareness, by showing that political activity is not evil in itself.

These days, everything is so complex that it is hard to identify the villains, Alice said. 'Are they the big multinational corporations? Or those who control agribusiness? Or people who fail to educate as they should?' she asked.

'The real world is not the way it is portrayed in comic books, where the fight is against a clearly identified villain. Evil is so diffuse that it is inside each one of us,' said Alice, who was born in France where she studied arts and literature.

The urban interventions are also aimed at refreshing people's memories of the history of the city. Armed with buckets, soap and water, the performers clean a statue of Pedro I, the emperor of Brazil from its independence in 1822 until his abdication in 1831, while they ask passersby what he did to deserve a statue.

'When a statue is made for someone it's because he did something important in his life,' says one pedestrian, attracted by the spectacle of industrious cleaning. 'But not everyone who has a statue is a hero,' says another.

The idea of washing statues is 'to play around a bit with the idea of cleaning up the image' of someone who is not exactly a hero, said Motta.

The reactions from the public are varied. Some completely ignore the superheroes, even when they lie down beside a panhandler asleep in the open, whereas others give free rein to their curiosity and come to look, ask questions and participate.

To attract attention, the street theatre performers play the roles of universally famous superheroes, running and hiding around their improvised 'stage,' leaping about, or simply getting people to sit down and meditate.

Motta says that not infrequently, someone will shout 'go and get a real job, you layabouts,' but other people will sit down and meditate or talk. An urban cleaner employed by the city once joined them, because he saw what they were doing as 'social criticism.' Through real acts of heroism and small gestures of solidarity in the middle of a city overwhelmed with problems, the group helps to raise awareness about environmental issues. And when they infiltrated a military parade for independence day, together with the people they discovered some heroes closer to home than the ones in history books. 'What they are doing is turning values around. They want to make us see something, through art,' was the spontaneous interpretation of one of the people in the street.

When the time comes for them to depart, they do so as unexpectedly as they arrived.

Alice, Motta and the other three superheroes join hands and shout their slogan again: 'Everyday heroes, against the mad, bad world!' and they go off stumbling, flapping their arms like chickens trying to fly, and tripping over the capes that fail to give them lift-off.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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