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Puerto Rican artists are healing the spirits that Hurricane Maria broke

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There’s a deep darkness to Puerto Rico’s nights, five months after Hurricane Maria knocked out the power. It has drained some of the color and joy from a vibrant island.

The daylight also seemed odd, as if perpetually filtered, and there was a heaviness that local artists felt in themselves and others. So they have been using performance as catharsis, to help ease the pain of their fellow citizens.

In this spontaneous new movement, actors and musicians and circus artists draw from their own grief and loss to connect with audiences all across the island.

Impromptu and infectious, the gatherings lift everybody’s spirits and help restore Puerto Ricans’ exuberance and resilience.

A thriving collective of street and circus artists meet and train at El Bastion, a cultural center in Old San Juan. They’ll later perform in areas upended by Maria and in the city’s annual CircoFest.

A different group of performers, some of whom lost their regular gigs when Maria hit, took their art on the road. They travel the island in a camper, putting on a play they wrote about the storm’s physical and psychic damage.

They are modern troubadours, collecting from each audience a new set of real stories and raw feelings that they blend into the play and carry to the next town. It’s a way to reconnect those whom Maria split apart.

Take a road trip around the island with these performers and get to know them.

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The actors have their own losses and lessons from the hurricane, and they share their hard-won insights.

This is a deeply Caribbean culture, a mélange of descendants of native Taíno, African slaves, Spanish conquistadors. Along came the Americans, who have enriched and complicated Puerto Rican identity.

For many street artists, the color black has become a medium to protest problems they consider derived from a colonial relationship with the United States. Late at night, they steal away through empty streets, and in the morning, huge murals show up where they were.

About this story

Footage from this project was captured in November 2017.

Power has since been restored to most of the San Juan area, according to an Energy Department report. But as of February 21 — five months after the hurricane hit — an estimated 211,000 Puerto Ricans remain without power.

Credits

A project by Samuel Granados and Kevin Schaul

Edited by Kat Downs, Ann Gerhart and Reem Akkad

Filter effect provided by Prisma

Featuring the play “¡Ay, María!” by producer Mariana Carbonell and director Maritza Pérez

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