João Junior is a professional theatre maker who works both at the community-level (out of passion) and in more mainstream settings (to earn a living). His roots lie in the Sertão, the impoverished and drought-ridden northeastern part of Brazil from where, for decades now, people have been migrating to the south in search of a better life. Many residents in the favelas of cities like Rio and São Paulo have their roots in the Northeast. It is for that reason that six years ago João established a community arts organization in the Jardim Romano [‘Roman Garden’] district in the eastern suburbs of São Paulo. It is one of the poorest areas of this enormous metropolis with lots of improvised housing, particularly close to the Tietê River, which frequently floods and then destroys everything in its path.
João calls his group Estopô Balaio, which is a slang term from Northeastern Brazil and means ‘an unstoppable urge to express’. One of their more recent productions was a promenade performance entitled The City of Invisible Rivers. It was based on authentic experiences of neighbourhood residents. It is the result of a beautiful, reciprocal collaboration with locals and a small nucleus of professional artists, including theatre makers, musicians and visual artists who themselves have roots in the Northeast. They have succeeded in establishing a very strong rapport with the community. They offer all manner of arts courses and organize block parties once a month. The result is a stunning performative journey through this amazing area, giving colour and poetry to the environment and bringing out the beauty, the talent, and indeed the magic of what well-to-do outsiders perceive as a no-go area. The sheer love, commitment, creativity and high-level participatory art that Estopô Balaio brings to this place is a testimony to the incredible power of community art that is integrated fully in the daily life of a community.
You can read about our visit to Estopô Balaio here.