The group was created in 2017 by performers and artists who met during public-school occupations in São Paulo. Its activities include theatre performances, residencies, activities in schools, and workshops. With these initiatives they are narrowing the divide between school and theatre, providing new centralities, and fighting against precarity.
When It Breaks It Burns, Festival Mexe, Porto (PT), 2019. Foto: Danilo Galvão.
When It Breaks It Burns, Feverestival (Campinas), 2022. Photo: Dalton Yatabe.
In times of increasing precarity, schools and their potential for transformation are the torch taken up by the young people of ColetivA Ocupação. The group was formed in 2017, out of the historic high school student movement in Brazil that, in 2015 and 2016, paralyzed government officials and their attempts to shut down approximately 100 public schools in the state of São Paulo, which would have resulted in staff lay-offs, classroom overcrowding, and weakening of instruction. School occupations spread like wildfire and within weeks around 200 school spaces were overtaken. Images of barricades made from stacked chairs and desks, banners hung from school windows, occupied recess yards, and the fierce solidarity between students and the community became new symbols of the student protest movement. It was a defining experience, and, after the two-month occupation, students kept the struggle going as a channel for seeking change.
Alvim Silva, a resident of city of Itapevi, in greater São Paulo, and one of ColetivA Ocupação’s first members, was an active participant in the 2015 occupations, both in initiatives he’d already been carrying out and what came later. Silva began his work as an activist in 2014, participating in collectives and student protest groups. In 2016, he participated in the occupation of Fábrica de Cultura do Capão Redondo and Casa das Rosas, two initiatives by the art movement against budget cuts to arts and culture. Silva also attended theatre workshops at the Casa de Cultura do Butantã, where he learned about the active body politic. In 2016, just after his high school graduation, he joined the other members of ColetivA. According to Silva, initially the group’s main concern was generating memories: “in the beginning, it was more about reclaiming memories of the 2015 occupations and the history of high school student protests in Brazil. We assembled a large collection of footage of grievances and records from the movement. Over time, however, it became apparent that we had to question the inside and the outside, the territory occupied by these activities and the people connected with the collective”.
We also spoke with Matheus Maciel, a member of ColetivA since 2017. After participating in an initiative held by the collective at the Oswald de Andrade Cultural Workshop, Maciel identified with the struggle for emancipatory education and the search for a more just place to live in the world. It had such a big impact on him that he decided to pursue a degree in theatre, where he seeks to foster the development of pathways for transformation. For him, “every dream, pathway, stumbling block, encounter, means something,” and thanks to this generosity with life, he sees ColetivA as a process of “going and learning together”.
The turning point in ColetivA’s formation was the 2017 performance of Só me convidem para uma revolução onde eu possa dançar (“Just invite me to a revolution I can dance in”), held in partnership with director Martha Kiss Perrone and performed at Performando Oposições and MIT (São Paulo International Theatre Festival). That was when they were invited to occupy the Casa do Povo, an institution known for its work in promoting well-being and social struggles through culture and the arts. It went on to become of the group’s main partners, hosting their meetings and rehearsals.
Since then, the group has carried out several initiatives, including theatre performances, residencies, presentations in schools, workshops, and more. One important highlight was the play Quando Quebra Queima (When it Breaks it Burns), created in 2018 and performed in several cities and festivals, both in Brazil and abroad. Portugal, France and England have already hosted the group, which was in-residence at London’s Battersea Arts Centre, and where it received the award for best direction for the work of Martha Kiss Perrone. The play was also nominated for an Offies Award in the “IDEA Performance” category. The group’s impressive drive creates an impact wherever it goes. In the past five years, ColetivA has been the stage for a body that is learning and teaching in motion, that moves, gestures, and organizes itself with raised fists.
In 2019, the group was awarded one of Brazil’s most important prizes in the arts, the Zé Renato Prize, given by the São Paulo Municipal Department of Culture for a project that sought to expand Quando Quebra Queima’s reach, taking it to schools and cultural spaces on the city’s outskirts, narrowing the divide between school and theatre, centralities, and precarity. Due to the pandemic, however, the format of the initiative had to be adapted, with some parts being performed online. The Pausa para Existir (“Pause to Exist”) project held workshops that proposed virtuality as a means for creating, receiving, and acting. There’s no denying, however, that the results weren’t the same as occupying the physical space of a school and promoting encounters. For ColetivA Ocupação, schools are more than just spaces for teaching; they are disputed territories for humanized socio-artistic and cultural training, for feelings and encounters. Unfortunately, with social distancing, this supposition has changed. Thousands of students and teachers had to forge ahead using screens that didn’t always work, in modularized voices, with imbalances and emotional upheavals that included the absence of these spaces in their lives.
Without that kind of sharing and socializing at school, not only did student performance drop, but the actions of the student body did, too. With fewer bodies participating and empty spaces, for many, the school environment has become a “non-place”. And like all bodies that get sick, these places are withdrawn, quiet. For Alvim Silva, “an encounter means the possibility of an explosion”. That’s why he believes the return to school will gradually bring back the liveliness and energy for change for students. According to him, “many students have no desire to go back, they don’t see any attraction there anymore. They don’t see the school’s fighting power, and so they believe it’s better to stay at home. A lot of them had to go to work, and now they can’t stop.” It’s unfortunate that this is the current reality of education in Brazil, but that reality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s symptomatic of the country as a whole, encompassing political negligence and the historic scrapping of public education.
Alvim Silva believes that although this is a difficult time for students, there’s still a lot of fighting energy left in them. “Like in 2015, students are thirsty for transformation and change, for transgression. There’s a live bomb, ready to blow. A few movements are bubbling away, just waiting for the right moment. And if something explodes, we have to be the way we are, crazy, dreamers, making mistakes and then getting it right”. The contained explosion referenced by Alvim Silva is an image that seems to extend to Brazilian society, living like a ticking time bomb. And, for sure, when it blows, ColetivA Ocupação will be there with active bodies to harness the anger and the struggle.
Luciara Ribeiro is an educator, researcher, and curator. She holds a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Salamanca (USAL, Spain, 2018) and the Postgraduate Program in Art History at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP, 2019). She is a content contributor for the Diaspora Galeria and a lecturer in the Department of Visual Arts at Faculdade Santa Marcelina.
Translation: Zoë Perry