By Alain Castillo
Despite equipment challenges and political oppression, Cuban theatre artists are producing great work and showing their solid commitment to the craft by staging productions using the most basic of equipment and shining an even brighter spotlight on themselves and their plays by criticizing their own society, says David Lozano, theatre director for the Cara Mia Theatre Company in Dallas, Texas after a recent trip to Cuba with 34 other theatre professionals as members of a US delegation.
“This was an important trip to open up relationships because of minimal contacts,” said Lozano.
Organized by American composer Sage Lewis and coordinated by the Theatre Communications Group, the trip, US-Cuba Exploratorium, took place March 15-22.
Lozano said that the delegation traveled to research and document Cuban theatre practices and to explore possibilities for future collaborations.
According to the Theatre Communications Group’s website, “Cuba boasts one of the most vibrant theatre communities in Latin America, despite its history of political, economic, and cultural challenge, as well as distancing from the United States and other countries.”
The theatre professionals spoke with different Cuban artists and theatre companies from Santa Clara, Cumanayagua, Cienfuegos and Havana.
They visited a variety of Cuban theatre communities that included puppetry, children’s theatre, dance, LGBT theatre and performance art, as well as, with companies such as Estudio Teatral, Danza del Alma, Danza Abierta, Teatro de la Luna and Argos Teatro.
Lozano said he gained insight into many things.
“The [Cuban] artists benefit from the communist government because they are guaranteed a salary and a job if they graduate from their colleges and choose this work,” said Lozano, noting that their salary is very small.
Lozano said that despite their low pay, most Cuban artists are passionate about their work.
“In general, their work is extraordinary and they show extreme commitment to what they do,” he said.
In contrast, Lozano, a theatre actor himself, said that aspiring theatre actors in the U.S., though they have a diverse set of schools they can attend, opportunities to travel and have access to books, music and visual arts, they aren't always so committed.
Because of costs, such as traveling to rehearsals and performances, American artists can easily spend more on their craft than any money they may make which can lead to abandoning acting altogether, Lozano said.
Lozano said Cuban artists are more advanced than Americans in their commitment to the craft. Cuban artists have more time to explore ideas and they convey extraordinary statements with their works, even with just the basics, despite their economic challenges.
For instance, Lozano recalled artists who wore clothes from their own home closets and had only a dining table and pieces of wood to create an imagery of a boat in water.
Lozano attributed the Cubans' “high intensity” to the love of the craft and their personal reflections of current political and social struggles on the island.
Lozano also felt that artists in Cuba produce more productions with substance because they spend more time on their works and have fewer distractions than some US artists, who may view theatre as just a hobby.
“In the US, we live comfortably and take our problems for granted,” he said, noting that some American theatre directors do create productions that critique modern political and social issues.
“In general, we don’t have the same social problems like they do.”
Even so, modern Cuban theatre is focusing on the gradual changes happening to society, as one director told the delegation. The director told the group that he and his company were working on a play concerning the island’s past, present and future, explicitly and implicitly criticizing the government.
“The Cuban artists are able to criticize their society in a way that makes you wonder if they are actually criticizing the government,” Lozano said.
“In fact, if they are implicitly criticizing their government, they’re being artful about it. They are able to do it so well.”
Current Cara Mia Theatre actress Frida Espinosa Muller, a member since 2005, traveled with the delegation and said she felt at home.
“The people there are very warm and they received us with open arms,” she said in Spanish.
She agreed that despite their economic challenges, they still strive for a great performance.
“They have economic difficulties to raise their quality of art, but they do it anyway.”
Alain Castillo is a freelance contributor to Latina Lista based in Dallas, Texas.