Cuban Theater Looks Into the Future

by David Lozano

in Global Citizenship

Members of Estudio Teatral (Santa Clara, Cuba) with members of Cara Mía Theatre Co. (Dallas, TX)

Members of Estudio Teatral (Santa Clara, Cuba) with members of Cara Mía Theatre Co. (Dallas, TX)

My North American friends and family have always insisted that Fidel’s revolution of 1959 was a disaster for Cuba. In Mexico, friends and family insisted that the revolution was one of Latin-America’s greatest victories against US imperialism. I wanted to decide for myself.

I traveled to Cuba from March 15-March 22, 2013 with the national association of theaters, Theatre Communications Group (TCG). For the first few days, I found no obvious answers. Among the people, I sometimes sensed a great pride in being Cuban. Other times, I sensed great dissatisfaction. However, the confusion began to make sense when Yoel Saez from Estudio Teatral in the town of Santa Clara spoke to our delegation. He said that he has always lived with confusion towards the revolution. He was born seven years after and he only knew about it through other people’s experiences. He said that the wealthy who lost their homes after the war said that it was a disaster. The working class, such as his parents, said that it was a triumph. Still, he could never definitively say what the revolution ultimately meant for Cubans since he didn’t experience it firsthand.

My observation is that the Cuban people live with an acute awareness of this ambivalence. Like a moving pendulum, they are able to live between two poles – solidarity with the revolution and anguish towards its shortcomings. Within a single individual, especially in artists, this opposition can exist. Cubans are then able to be both dissidents and patriots at the same time. And in an active mind, these oppositions can manifest as a poetic internal struggle and dialogue.

Havana in the morning

I was most impressed with Cuban theater when its companies confronted these oppositions in their work. However, I felt that the Cuban artists that simply produced old plays without a fresh perspective were stuck in some dusty decade in the past. And other work that was slick and modern, possibly demonstrating aesthetic virtuosity, simply appeared to me a product for North American or worldwide consumption – a betrayal. It was the gritty Cuban voice, unique to the present time and place, that impressed me.

Furthermore, the most startling work dared to look into the future. A post-Fidel world is unknown and it simultaneously triggers fear and ecstasy. For this reason, I think Cuba can be an extraordinary place to create new work. This moment in Cuba’s history can be likened to the collapsing of the Berlin Wall when a communist society closed for fifty years begins to open to modern political, economic, and aesthetic ideas. Possibilities and pitfalls abound but the imagination can run wild. New visions can take flight.

Cuban Contemporary Dance Company, Havana

The vitality of the present moment in Cuba even compelled me to wonder if we as North Americans are so comfortable and confident in our culture that we have ceased to imagine a different one. It was clear to me that Cubans have no choice. They must create a new world. I was inspired to imagine collaborations with North American artists and Cubans at this critical juncture. But could we as North Americans let go of our fixed ideas regarding our own society (and Cuba’s)? Could we in fact abandon our prejudices toward Cuba and join our neighbors in co-creating a vision for the future? If so, I believe we could pursue the first meaningful collaborations with our Cuban counterparts during these defining years of shared history. Our generation of theater artists could in fact contribute to new ways in which Cubans and North Americans relate as we move into the 21st century.

We are faced with a great opportunity to become involved in the Cuban theater movement. Artists on the island are eager to work with us. However, rather than pass the blueprints of a modern but flawed US society onto Cubans, we can challenge ourselves to envision an unknown world alongside our neighbors; to co-create something entirely new. As Ernesto Alejo, director of Danza del Alma, told our delegation, “Creation is the only thing that can save us.”

At the entrance of La Colmenita, Arts School for Children, Havana

David Lozano is the Executive Artistic Director of Cara Mía Theatre Co. in Dallas where he specializes in writing, directing, producing and acting in original bilingual plays for the Latino community. Notable productions include Crystal City 1969 (written with Raul Treviño), To DIE:GO in Leaves, by Frida Kahlo (written with Cara Mía’s artistic ensemble), and Carpa Cara Mía: A Mexican Pantomime Circus (with Jeffry Farrell and diverse artists from the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio). Lozano explores international techniques of ensemble creation and has worked with theater specialists from Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Senegal, Spain, and Venezuela.