Ana Maria Bourscheid, 37, was born and has lived her entire life in Salvador,
Bahia, Brazil. Degreed in Psychology in 1994 she says, "I took a long
time in university and I worked in other places, but when I graduated I came
here. There was a group for little kids, at 4 or 5 years old, and my son Pedro
was at about that age.
"Here at Picolino
we have education, it's social and also it works with the body and I like
this. It's everything that I like, but it's not easy. It took me time to find
my place here. Picolino is a circus and in a circus nothing is exactly what
it seems. Everything changes and everybody changes. You do something in particular,
but it needs you to do another thing and another thing."
Circo Picolino was founded
in 1985 by photographer Anselmo Serrat. While working in cinema, producing
films, he met a circus and theatre group and was attracted by the more immediate
feedback the performers received for their efforts.
"It was important
for him because when he made films it took such a long time, maybe one two
years for him to see, to feel, the result. At the circus it was completely
different, it was immediately". So Anselmo took a leap of faith and enrolled
in the Academia Piolim de Artes Circenses, a circus school in São Paulo.
"It was maybe in 1982," Ana said, "long before I knew him."
After completing the program
at Piolim, Anselmo, who was from Rio, put together a group that
performed on the streets there and in other cities. They came
to Salvador and just never left. In São Paulo the group
performed "circus theatre", but today it's a school,
and strictly circus.
Ana Maria Bourscheid
Bourscheid is the circus's
pedagogical coordinator, today. "We use the other performing arts also:
theatre, music, and dance, but it's circus," Ana continued. "It's
not traditional circus. We have no animals; we just use the human body".
But Circo Picolino performances are built around a theme, which changes from
year to year.
Currently, Picolino is
offering two shows, one just for the kids. "It's a little pedagogic,"
Ana noted. "The children have the experience, but they are not really
artists yet". The children range upward from age seven.
No Social Program at
The total number of program
participants is currently around 400. Ana expects that it may grow to as many
as 450 by the end of the year. About 380 are children, and mostbut not
allof those come from economically distressed to economically desperate
"In the beginning
the school was not for these children," Ana said. "It was a school
for children whose families could afford to pay. So they were middle class.
That's how Circo Picolino began. But in a few years everything changed".
Picolino's first exposure
to underprivileged children involved juveniles in detention, kids in trouble
with the law. Anselmo encountered someone involved with juvenile justice.
Two experiences grew out of that: "They were very special, very good,
but the time was limited. It was only a short time, maybe something like three
The work with these first
poorer children was funded by the local government. "Just when it started
to get results the program was finished," said Ana. "Then in 1991
we did the first long-term partnership. That was with Project Axé.
We worked with them until maybe 1997". So, the already well established
Axé was providing some support for Circo Picolino to work with street
children from roughly 1991 through 1997.
Becoming an NGO
Near the end of the partnership
with Axé, Picolino also began to work with UNICEF, and then with project
Agatha Esmeralda, an Italian NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). Picolino
itself was not an NGO when it first came into contact with UNICEF. "We
were a private organization. But the work we were doing was already not private,
it was public. UNICEF said that they knew about our work and were interested
in working with us. But they told us that we needed to get NGO status",
which Picolino did in ,1997 with the help of Vladimir Oganouska, a Brazilian
from Salvador. At the same time, Picolino became an association.
NGO status made it possible
for Picolino to secure financial backing from UNICEF and other governmental
and private organizations. UNICEF is no longer a funding source, but, at that
time, it helped to cover some of Picolino's expenses to work with children
from public schools.
The way it works today
is that an organization, like Agatha Esmeralda for example, provides some
money to cover the cost of a specific number of children, say 100. It works
the same way with government agency sponsorships. The government will provide
some funds and for that money Picolino is able to work with a certain number
Today UNICEF's support
comes in the form of continuing to promote Circo Picolino as a worthwhile
social program. Picolino professional staffers, the `artists', put on workshops
and performances which generate some revenue. There are about 20 professionals
at the circus. Current governmental funding comes from the Salvador Departments
of Education and the Social Development.
The most recent major
sponsor of Picolino is ABC Trust in Great Britain, which helps to underwrite
the cost of the course which each Circo Picolino instructor must complete.
Each of the instructors who work now with the children studied with Circo
Picolino. There are 80 to 90 children at Picolino at any one time, along with
about a dozen of the 20 or so available instructors.
A Place for All Kids
Two groups of children
are served at the Spartan CP facility, such as it is. One group comes on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Although the
majority of the children are from very poor communities, it's a mix. "It's
for us important to have children from different realities".
Ana continued, "There
are children who come from poor communities, but where they're at home, where
they have family and go to school. There are others who are many times at
(the) streets, they work at the streets. From this group, some come from homeless
Child jugglers and fiery
baton twirlers who learned the craft at Picolino are a common site on Salvador
street corners. They perform for hand-outs from captive-audience motorists
at red lights. "And there are some children from middle class,"
said Ana, "whose families can pay. It's very important to have children
from different realities because that's the world, it's like that. In Salvador
there are places just for street kids, or just for middle class kids".
Circo Picolino doesn't make that distinction. "It's a place for all kids".
The children participating
in the program at Picolino are usually there from 2 until 5:30 or so in the
afternoon. Saturday is reserved for university students and the small group
of accomplished `artists'. "One of our instructors wanted to attend university,
but it was too expensive," said Ana.
"He couldn't pay.
So we worked out an exchange where some of the students from the university
could study with Circo Picolino in exchange for him being able to study at
the university". Circo Picolino, in fact, has conducted some classes
at the university.
The Work They Do
Ana offered some insight
as to the work they do. "The main thing with the children when they are
here is to work with them doing exercises, practicing performances, and rehearsing.
But we also do other things with them, and it's different from group to group.
On Fridays we have different activities, like capoeira for example.
And we work with them to help them learn to read. Now we're already preparing
the show they are going to perform in December. So we are going to study with
them because we always have a theme. (For this show) our subject will be Salvador".
I learned that the upcoming
program will be called "Pictures of the City." Ana continued: "We
began to study the city. So, we ask them, `where do you live?', `how is the
place you live?', `what is the difference between that place and other places
in Salvador?' We ask them to pay attention to the places they pass to come
to Picolino, just to think about themselves in the city. And we begin to work
to study Salvador history with them, and also the social differences. Pituba,
for example, is not like Pirajá and things like that. And we always
are asking the schools how the kids are doing".
Picolino and Education
Performance at (regular)
school is tracked. "The first problem is that they don't enroll, or their
family doesn't enroll them. We have to ask the family to do this. If they
don't, we talk to the school. The second problem is that they have to go to
the school. They begin and then you see that they are not going to school
"Every month we contact
the schools and we ask if the children are going to school, and how they are
doing. We don't do what the school does, and the school can't do what we do.
It has to be together". Regarding the children she added, "I think
that it makes sense to them to come here. It's not something that they are
doing for the others (parents and other authority figures)"
"When I arrived here
we didn't have an educational department," said Ana. "Now I am responsible
for that, and now we have an educator, a teacher. But the children are taught
here only indirectly because if they see it's about education they will resist.
They know the (public) school and they don't like school. Sometimes the schools
are not so good.
"Well, we tell them
it's important for their lives, and that seems simple. But their families
probably often are people that didn't go to school. So we do other things,
other ways. We work with pleasure, we play games. We will read a book with
them or something".
Picolino also works onsite
in three local public schools under the auspices of the Salvador Department
of Education, which provides some support. "Those children don't go to
Picolino, Picolino goes to them". And Circo Picolino gives 16,000 public
school students each year an opportunity to attend performances for free.
These annual "projects" are sponsored by corporations which receive
tax breaks in return.
Circo Picolino facilities
are strictly bare bones to adequate, and space is a serious problem. With
the progressive growth of enrollment, a second tent is needed. Circo Picolino
has one, but they don't have additional ground upon which to erect it.
The city owns a soccer
field adjacent to Picolino that could, theoretically, be relocated. Certainly
it would seem to be much easier to do that than to split Picolino into two
localities where logistical issues could be nightmarish.
Everything they currently
get by with is on-site, including a small library, crude kitchen and dining
facilities, Little-House-on-the-Prairie-like food and circus equipment storage
areas, small, overcrowded administrative offices and so forth. "We have
a freezer," said Ana, "but it works not very well." Picolino
makes everything they use in the way of circus equipment, excluding of course
the tents themselves.
A Chronic Problem
One of the biggest challenges
facing Picolino is how to pay the staff. Most financial sponsorships come
from organizations, including governmental entities, which stipulate that
the monies can only be used to directly support participation of children
in the program.
"It's for food, for
the transport (of children to and from the facility), for equipment, but not
for the professionals". Those funds cannot be used to pay staff, and
Picolino hasof necessitya large staff. It includes 20 instructors,
each of whom has come up through the ranks, many from the original partnership
with Axé. Picolino is no longer affiliated with Axé.
In many cases the staff
members are living under the threat of being re-relegated to the margins of
society. In order to pay for the staff Picolino needs to come up with private
funding sources willing to target that need. A short term solution was arrived
at, but the outlook for the future is tenuous. "We passed the summer.
And it was very hard, there was no money. Now it's ok for maybe six months,
less I think, maybe less," concluded Ana.
Transportation is a significant
issue. Underprivileged children in the program are issued bus passes, which
are usually more expensive than food in the case of students fed at Picolino.
Salvador and surrounding communities are expansive, accommodating approximately
three million people.
Some children as young
as 10 or 12 must, on the days they participate, travel an hour and a half
to two hours after school to arrive at Picolino and then another hour and
a half to two hours to get home. When the regular school day, which precedes
Picolino, and three to four hours of "circus school", is factored
into the equation the physical impact on these young Brazilians becomes clear.
Not all of the children
are fed. There are different programs for different children. The children
from Project Agatha Esmeralda, for example, are not subsidized sufficiently
to cover the cost of food. Picolino benefits to some extent by a government
program that expropriates food from supermarkets when it reaches its expiration
But, basically, noted
Ana, "The children come from many places. Each community has to find
a way to account for their food and transport". Sometimes that means
providing funds to Picolino to cover those costs. In other cases the children
are (hopefully) fed elsewhere.
It all depends on where
the child comes from. Everything, with respect to services rendered, other
than emergency medical, depends on which program gets the children to Picolino,
because Picolino does not have, independent of sponsorship, the resources
to effectively address those issues. That's not to say that some children
aren't being subsidized directly by Picolino.
The program did not, for
example, terminate the participation of children previously sponsored by Project
Axé when the Picolino-Axé partnership ended. It's just one more
reason why Picolino struggles to find ways to pay its professional performers
and staff members.
Emergency medical services
are currently being donated to Circo Picolino by VitalMed, a local emergency
clinic service. And it's not restricted to only treatment in case of accident.
Whenever a child in the program, or a staff member, is not feeling well they
can be seen by VitalMed. "We had some accidents, but nothing serious"
said Ana. "And some of them happened not when the children were in the
activities. Sometimes a child just runs and falls".
On the Road
At the time of the interview,
Anselmo was with the small group of Picolino professional performing artists
on tour in interior Bahia, specifically Juazeiro, not far from Senhor do Bonfim.
It's part of a project to take Picolino to six cities in the interior: Juazeiro,
Vitória da Conquista, Jequié, Camaçari, Feira de Santana
Previously Picolino had
only conducted workshops and/or provided some training in the interior for
educators who specialize in educating through art mediums. This is the first
time Picolino has toured interior Bahia putting on performances.
Circo Picolino twice toured
in Europe. The first was a four month youth circus tour, sponsored by a wealthy
individual from Switzerland, which boasted of nine circus performing groups,
including youth circuses from Brazil, China, India and two locations in Africa,
plus a musical group. That tour included stops in Switzerland, Germany, Holland,
Denmark, Belgium, England and Austria.
The second was a roughly
three-week tour around France that was organized and scheduled by a promoter.
The France tour basically paid for itself on a pay-as-you-go basis with incoming
revenues covering recent and current expenses. Picolino nearly went to Spain
this year, but was unable to complete all of the necessary arrangements.
They want to try again
next year. The anticipated Spain trip would be patterned after their successful
French tour, which relied on scheduling venues associated with festivals and
other natural opportunities to pull in audiences. The same individual who
handled the scheduling for the French tour, Alexandrine Bianco, will do likewise
When I asked about any
possible overtures from the United States, maybe for securing a "big
brother" relationship with Ringling Brothers, Ana first responded with
"Well, they're a traditional circus, and we're a school." But it
seemed clear that the idea held an attraction for her.
She added "That's
really one of our problems you see. We can't afford to have someone in a position
to do things like that, to make contacts for us and it's a problem. We don't
have a public relations person. We just don't have funding for it. That's
Circo Picolino teaches
the children tightrope walking, the flying trapeze, acrobatics, juggling,
human pyramid building, and Indian rope gymnastics. Performances are generally
an hour to an hour and a half in length. "We can put on 30 minute programs
with the children, just to show what they can do. But then we have our theme
shows, the `spectaculars', where we make a lot of research and everything
is more elaborate, more complex.
"Our themes are all
related to our culture. For example now we're making that one that represents
the day by day scenes of life here in Bahia. We did one earlier that was titled
`warrior', and it was about Glauber Rocha, a very important filmmaker".
Rocha depicted Brazilian
socio-political history in the Cinema Novo movement of the 1970s in Brazil.
"It was about him, and we had a projection during the performance. This
was not the young kids, this was our professional group. We did one show also
about (the African-Brazilian religion of) Candomblé, and the Orixás
Phillip Wagner is a frequent contributor to Brazzil magazine. His
current focus is preparing to pursue graduate studies at Indiana University
in September of 2004, with a regional focus on Brazil. He is currently in
Brazil improving his Portuguese and working with social programs. Phillip
was recently named a Campaign Associate for Oakland, California-based Nourish
the New Brazil, which supports President Lula's national Zero Hunger initiative.
He was also recently named Bahia Program Development Director for the Rio-based
Iko Poran volunteer placement organization. Phillip maintains an extensive
Brazil focused website at http://www.iei.net/~pwagner/brazilhome.htm
and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.