“Being involved with the community” may sound like something scraped out of a beauty pageant rehearsed speech (at best) or a politician’s empty promise to get more votes (at worst), but in the real world there are people who understand, live and feel this somewhat cliched concept under their skin. Pedro is one of them and, together with Matilde, they walk the walk with SoPA.
When we arrived in London we knew that a simple “let’s catch up” with friends could lead us anywhere. Honestly, how can you live in a city with 10 million people and not make something happen? (Or let something happen to you). In the middle of traveling back and forth between Portugal and the UK, Pedro Vaz, an old College friend, had shared with me a Facebook page called SoPA — the acronym stands for Social Performing Arts and the word it spells means soup in Portuguese. I immediately thought of “comfort food”.
In a city where something is always happening, not being familiar with a place, or project, or event, is not unusual. But when we arranged to meet in Brixton that name rang a bell, and not for the best of reasons. A couple of months ago when we were house hunting, people had advised us that Brixton was not a good spot. They didn’t provide much detail, apart from the stories they had heard about that area in the city not being safe. And yet, when we stepped outside the tube station that day, all we saw was a normal, busy neighborhood on a sunny Saturday morning (the odd thing here being “sunny”). Pretty much the same feeling I had had the day before when I visited a friend in Stockwell, nearby. So, what was wrong with this picture? According to my gut feeling, absolutely nothing. Every neighborhood has its baggage of unfortunate events, of course, but at that particular time and space, I didn’t find any reason to raise flags.
We believe that performing arts tools can change lives in general and people in particular. Someone that experiences theater gets to know his/herself much better and that helps people to develop themselves as human beings and as part of the community where they live.
– SoPA (Social Performing Arts)
With a familiar smile and never ending energy (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him just “chill”…), Pedro welcomed us to his neighborhood. “This used to be a small village outside the city, but after London grew it eventually became a part of it.” He pointed to the arches to the right of the tube station, “right there is the market”. His eyes sparkled and I knew he felt at home here. At his improvised rooftop patio, we caught up on family, old friends, life, and work. Two years ago I would have never talked about creative work as being a “real job”; nowadays, we speak the same language.
“So, SoPA as in the Portuguese word for soup?”, I asked. “Yes! Because it’s warm, and nutritious, and comforting, and soulful!” Pedro and Matilde (the other half of SoPA) know each other from Portugal, reconnected recently in London, realized that both were working on similar projects, and decided to work together (maybe, just maybe, there are no coincidences and everything happens for a reason). Both of them see theater as a form of expression. Forget stages, performers, audience, backstage last minute dramas; shed the skin, let go of everything you think you know and take for granted, and get to know yourself. In a nutshell, that is what they want to help you to do. They are here for the community and hope the community will be there for them. There is not a better place where I could see this happening than in Brixton. How exactly are they doing this? With theater workshops every Saturday morning that started on October 17th and will end on December 19th, with a Christmas show as the cherry on top of the cake (dates to be confirmed. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter updates, because obviously we’ll keep you posted).
As we were approaching the venue where these workshops happen, Pedro told us that this would soon be the site of a new housing development. I understand housing needs; I don’t understand why you always have to tear everything down to start fresh (I certainly don’t understand the need to build a high tower of apartments that doesn’t quite fit the surroundings…). The old Thrayle House, a former social housing block and now the temporary home of the Brixton Bloc, might look like that abandoned place by the skate park on Stockwell Road to some, but all we saw was potential.
At the courtyard, it looked like a block party was about to start – the bar on the left, some stands being prepared on the right, and a tent in the middle. Inside the tent, mismatched chairs, sofas, coffee tables and bookshelves found in the apartments. Pedro explained that when the residents moved out of their houses, they left some of the furniture behind; eventually, people using the Brixton Bloc for their activities found a use for them. Most of the houses still have curtains on the windows – it’s almost hard to tell there’s no one living there. A tent in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by abandoned apartments – you’d think it’s creepy and distressing (it was Halloween that day after all…), but we felt at home.
We managed to convince Pedro to play the part of behind the scenes characters and the workshop unfolded with us as spectators, during an unusually warm and sunny Saturday morning (the sunshine in London is a rarity, so we soak it up for as long as we can). This could probably happen anywhere else in London, but I don’t think it would feel as right as it did in Brixton.
You can follow this project by Pedro (the Director and Projects Coordinator) and Matilde (the Creative Director and Main Teacher) on SoPA Facebook page. If you’d like to participate in one of their next workshops or know someone who would, check all the information and share the event by clicking here. The workshops happen every Saturday (until December 19th) between 10h30 a.m. and 12h30 p.m. at Brixton Bloc (145 Stockwell Rd London, SW9 9TP). Tube station: Brixton (Zone 2), Victoria Line.