Bridging the Florida Straits & Beyond: U.S.-Cuba Theatre-Making

Article excerpt

Meditations on the complex historical relationship between U.S. and Cuba have been fuel for a wealth of novels, short stories, plays, performance pieces, musical collaborations, and films before and since the Cuban revolution. In the last fifty years this rich, fertile dialogue has been made problematic due to the strained political and economic relationship between the U.S. and the island. In mainstream media, Ry Cooder's successful and highly visible 1996 interventionist collaboration with the musicians and singers of the Buena Vista Social Club reanimated a resurgence of interest in the possibilities that could exist for cross-cultural collaborations between the neighboring countries. In theatre, where the practical logistics of joint rehearsals and time-intensive dialogue are central to the process, collaborations have been limited in recent years.

In 1997 the late Gilberto Zaldivar, cofounder and executive director of Repertorio Espanol, initiated the first cultural exchange between the two countries that involved theatre with the program Cubateatro, which began with the presentation of Teatro Estudio's production of Abelardo Estorino's Vagos Rumores (Obscure Rumors) in New York City. Cubateatro's significance as a program is not to be underestimated historically since it was enacted at a time when the U.S. had an economic embargo against Cuba through the Helms-Burton law, officially called the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996. However, it's useful to bear in mind that since the 1992 passage of the Cuba Democracy Act, the U.S. State Department has promoted "people-to-people" exchanges. In 1999 and 2000, an experimental exchange entitled the U.S.-Cuba Writers Conference facilitated the bilingual, bicultural pedagogical exchange among U.S. and Cuban writers in theatre, poetry, fiction, travel writing, and memoir genres. The exchange was short-lived for any number of practical and financial reasons but the impetus to sustain an independent, non-institutionally based dialogue amongst artists was part of a desire for not only collaboration but also for the documentation of work that bridged the cultures.

Ohio State University, University of Alabama, and other universities have been engaged in one-off exchanges to encourage cultural conversations. Of course, there is the parallel legacy of Cuban-American artists creating a vivid body of work here in the U.S. in response and reflection to their own heritage, ancestry, and inherited memories of the island. For many years playwrights such as Maria Irene Fornes, Eduardo Machado, Nilo Cruz, Rogelio Martinez, Jorge Ignacio Cortinas, Alejandro Morales, and many more have sought to encounter the island from realistic, mythic, and pluralistic political, emotional, and imagined perspectives. They have created an exciting, vital counter-narrative to an existing and ongoing narrative of Cubanismo in arts and letters.

On International World Theater Day in March 2010, The University of Miami Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) and Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute presented a conference that brought together for the first time in over forty years Cuba's most important living playwrights from the 1960s-Anton Arrufat, Carucha Carnejo, Abelardo Estorino, Eduardo Manet, and Matias Montes Huidobro. Their conversation examined the history of post-Castro revolution Cuban dramatists but also their impact and collaborations with visual artists and theatre designers. The conference was organized by Dr. Lillian Manzor, Director of University of Miami's Latin American Studies Program and the Cuban Theater Digital Archive; Dr. Uva de Aragon, Associate Director of FIU's Cuban Research Institute; Alberto Sarrain, theatre director of La Ma Teodora; and Dinorah Perez Rementeria, art critic and UM graduate student.

The conference is part of an extraordinary multimedia archive initiated by Dr. Lillian Manzor, one of the U. …

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