It has been a journey, a challenge, a road that has taken us where we never imagined we would go. Fifteen years have passed since Fénix was born in the Colina 1 prison, Ilusiones was born in 2005, and together the groups have created 14 plays, 3 radio plays and have performed 65 times outside the prison. The work has been continuous and ever-developing in response to the group’s needs and proposals. This is how we arrived at the direct work with young detainees, which is now a central focus of both Fénix e Ilusiones and Colectivo Sustento.
The celebration in the Colina 1 prison brings together three theatre groups directed by Colectivo Sustento: Fénix e Ilusiones (extract from their new play about truncated childhood), Classroom 2 (theatre group from the prison high school) and Fénix e Ilusiones en Libertad (men who were members of Fénix e Ilusiones and are now in freedom, with their remount of the 2012 play “Chronicles of a Foretold Ignorance”). We have received greetings from around the world, and to finish off the celebration, there will be the iconic open forum that is a part of all our public events, where we share experiences and reflections about community theatre in prison and beyond, and the social role of theatre in general.
A big thank you to all Fénix e Ilusiones past and present, to members of Teatro Pasmi and Colectivo Sustento, and to all the collaborators and supporters that have made this experience what it is today.
“The struggle for hope is permanent… and it is not a solitary struggle.” (Paulo Freire)
After a break of three years, Fénix e Ilusiones and Colectivo Sustento return to the massive Entepola stage, the Pudahuel amphitheatre, with an audience of nearly 2,000 people. On the 26th January 2017, we performed “Lysistrata”, our group-devised satire about gender violence, to the Pudahuel audience as part of the programme of the 31st International Community Theatre Festival-Entepola. This presentation ended 14 months of performances, for a variety of audiences in: juvenile detention centres, community programmes for young offenders, the San Miguel women’s prison, a special performance for Latin American theatre workers at Entepola 2016, and at the “Arte Libre (Free Art)” festival organised by Gendarmería Chile in the central Santiago square, la Plaza de la Constitución, with the famous Moneda Presidential Palace as backdrop.
In the audience were many family members, colleagues and ex-Fénix e Ilusiones who had performed on that very same stage. It was the eighth time we have performed at Entepola, a festival that receives us with open arms, and ethically presents us simply as a theatre company from Chile, without mentioning the prison. It is only after the show, after the applause has died down, that the audience is told the group is from the Colina 1 prison. Our theatre is received for its theatrical strength, without sensationalism nor exoticism. Not all members of Fénix e Ilusiones were given permission to perform at Entepola, but from the stage we remembered them and sent them a huge round of applause.
Thank you to everyone who made possible this new achievement in our story.
Between March and July 2016, our group-devised play about gender violence “Lysistrata” (premiered at the end of 2015) went on tour to juvenile justice programs. In March and April we ran “Theatre and Reflection Days” in the 4 houses of SENAME’s San Bernardo Juvenile Detention Centre, this time accompanied by “Hijos del Rigor” (Sons of Severity) the youth theatre group we were directing in the centre’s House 3. Interestingly, the boys had also chosen the theme of violence (in the family) for their short physical piece, performed to a background of techno music chosen by them.
Although there were many new members in Fénix e Ilusiones who had not participated in the “Modecate” Tour in 2014, the impact of the Theatre and Reflection Days was the same. The men who had been on the previous tour passed on the meaning of this work to the new men, who enthusiastically rose to the task, provoking reflection and saying very clearly to the young people “don’t come here (to prison)”, nothing is gained, much is lost. As one of the Fénix e Ilusiones men said: “I want to show them that the prison that’s ahead of them is hard, for those who aren’t prepared. And the idea is that they don’t prepare for that…”
We continued with the format we had devised in 2014: theatre performance (of both plays in the San Bernardo centre), followed by theatre games and ending with an intimate forum with the boys and house staff. Throughout the 5 hours we spent with each group, through the laughter and play, the adult prisoners were able to build a rapport with the young people so that when it came time for the forum, bonds had already been formed and a real dialogue was possible.
In July we took the Theatre and Reflection Day to a YMCA youth program in Estación Central, where young offenders were completing sanctions in the community rather than being locked up. Young people from various YMCA programs came together for the day. The dialogue was different, somehow more open, the kids were living day to day the difficulties that would mark their decisions and future lives. We hope that through the “voice of experience” and the pretext of theatre, we had perhaps influenced these decisions.
We thank Javier Aguirre from the Chilean Youth Service SENAME yet again for supporting the coordination of this tour.
From June to August 2014, Colectivo Sustento with Fénix & Ilusiones went on tour, and ran 7 theatre and reflection days in 3 juvenile prisons in Santiago. Each day we performed “Modecate“, ran theatre games and ended with an open forum-debate with the young people. Emotive, provocative, deeply reflective and FUN, these 7 days filled us with hope for the future of our work with young people.
“Juvenile prisons should not exist” was the feeling that was reinforced by our experience of seeing young people locked up, their energy curtailed, hearing their stories and understanding their experiences. Most of the men in Fénix & Ilusiones have been in the same situation, so their words rang true with the young people. And their message was clear: “You decide what you want to do with your life, but if you continue down this road, this is what will happen”. The cold facts of prison life in Chile are real and disturbing. We are disturbed by the “school to prison pipeline”… through theatre, and the voice of experience, we can do something to stop it.More / Más…
Modecate has been touring Santiago since its premiere in January 2013. It is the production that spearheads our work with young people. The play is both vehicle and pretext for reflection; born from a long process of discussion and improvisation with Fénix & Ilusiones about the nature of human relations in a dehumanised and controlled society.
During 2013, we performed twice directly for young people in juvenile justice settings, firstly in Recoleta for a group from a program in Maipú, and later in the National Minor’s Service juvenile facility in Til Til. Two opportunities to interact with these young people
On 5th September we performed in the Recoleta Cultural Centre to young people and workers of “Jóven en Red Maipú”, a Special Intervention Program of the Carlos Casanueva Corporation on the city’s periphery. After the performance of “Modecate”, we all took part in a theatre games workshop run by Fénix & Ilusiones, followed by an informal discussion. The interaction was emotive and powerful. More / Más…
“What happens after the lights are turned off, and the applause dies down, depends on you. So that when someone speaks… someone also listens… truly listens…”
“Modecate” is a group-devised show, developed from improvisations and a long process of group reflection. The play presents a particular view of human relationships and social control, from the standpoint of people who have been separated from society, institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital; people who despite their perverse living conditions, support and care for each other. Using the metaphor of madness, “Modecate” asks: who is crazy? who is sane? and, why don’t we listen to each other, truly listen?”
In November 2012, we celebrated 10 years of theatre in the Colina 1 prison. Letters and videos came from the many people from Chile and around the world who have collaborated with this experience.
We acknowledge the ground-breaking work of Teatro Pasmi who initiated the experience, also the strength and commitment of those who have participated over the years, as well as those who continue to participate in and coordinate the work.