The Favela Painting Project was a collaboration between the local community and artists Joroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhan to transform the community into a landmark, a tourist attraction but most importantly it elevates the image of the favela as an essential part of Rio and a place where its people take pride in their surroundings.
For The Only Story I Can Tell Is My Own, Billy Mullaney recruited 11 women. Each woman was given a long questionnaire listing various actions ranging from the mundane (“wear pajamas”) to the suggestive (“kiss or make out”) to the outrageous (“hiding an object larger than two inches in your vagina”) to the outright sexual (“give [or receive] a blowjob”). For each action, each woman was asked to assign a rating from 0 (“would be completely unwilling”) to 7 (“would do outside rehearsal,” meaning she’d be happy to do it even if not as part of a show).
This led to further discussions. One thing that became clear was that the continuum was too simplistic: there were some actions that some of the women would willingly do in private, but not as part of a show. In the end, the show developed into three parts, all of which took place from 10 p.m. to 12:50 a.m. on the night of July 16.
In Part 1, the women appeared onstage with Billy and performed acts they were uncomfortable with, to varying degrees, but that they had agreed they would do as part of a show. Knuckles were cracked, one woman hung from the rafters, the women donned costumes and did faux battle with Billy. Part 2 was much more loosely structured, and involved only actions the women had ranked six and seven. Billy and the women made ice cream cones, swapped clothing, and simulated a prom dance.
Part 2 sounds like it would be less intense than Part 1, but in fact, the atmosphere in the Southern became increasingly uncomfortable as Billy and the women explored their mutual degrees of freedom. One woman broke down in tears as she told Billy, onstage and in full view of the audience, that she was upset with how things were developing and felt like her voice wasn’t being heard. In the final scene, Billy attended his own funeral—in, for some reason, the character of Bruce Wayne—while several black-clad women (some, by this point, had stopped performing) spoke freely to the audience about their experiences.
Part 3 was a talkback, for which perhaps a dozen audience members stayed to form a circle onstage with the performers. Each person in turn then shared his or her thoughts.
Most audience members expressed conflicting thoughts and emotions. One man said that “on the surface,” his reaction was strongly negative towards Billy, but that the entire experience was causing him to think productively about questions that he rarely was given cause to think about in a theatrical context. Another man actually apologized to the women for his part in the production’s “dehumanizing” of them. “What if Billy had decided to explore another aspect of his privilege?” he asked rhetorically. “Would we all be sitting here talking about what ‘the blacks’ did onstage instead of what ‘the women’ did?”
One of the performers, though, sharply rebuked that man. “Being told I’m dehumanizing myself by my willing participation in this show,” she said, “is more offensive to me than anything that happened onstage tonight.”