Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Teatro Buendía: Performing Dissent "Dentro De la Revolución"

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Teatro Buendía: Performing Dissent "Dentro De la Revolución"

Article excerpt

In the summer of 2010, Teatro Buendía, one of Cuba's premier theater companies, performed in Chicago's Latino Theater Festival. Under the direction of Flora Lauten and the playwright Raquel Carrió, the company performed two plays, La visita de la vieja dama (The Old Lady's Visit) and Charenton. A third, based on Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, coproduced with Chicago actors, was performed in the 2013 festival, also creating an opportunity to understand the participatory processes the director and playwright use to develop their plays. These are also plays that have been performed on the island, but in Chicago, they became a way to understand how, through cultural production, artists, writers, and performers on the island contest official narratives about the nature of revolution, the revolution's aftermath, its relationship with exiles, the viability of socialism itself and the right to dissent. These are themes that since the early 1960s in Cuba have more often than not resided in the realm of the "prohibited." Yet they are themes that in certain moments have found their way into cultural productions; Buendía has been at the forefront, creating innovative, participatory, and provocative theatre since the 1980s.

In this article, I first outline the parameters in which Cuban cultural production has been expected to evolve to contextualize the work of Teatro Buendía. I then move from the text of the plays to the social context in which the play's topics unfold. By so doing, I also examine the dynamics of moments when Teatro Buendía has pushed the limits and when the state has permitted "dissent," in order to glimpse how complicated struggles between state control and the exigencies of a freer cultural production play out. This is particularly interesting in the context of the changes under way on the island, as economic realities are forcing the regime to find ways to appease multiple sectors of the Cuban population. A more open cultural arena may be the price the state pays to keep artists on the island. However, all this does raise the question, is performing dissent enough?

Revolution and Culture: Limits Are Set

As an island-based theater company, Teatro Buendía works within certain limits sets by the state. Not only are resources often dependent on state subsidies, distributed through the Ministry of Culture; directors, actors, and stagehands are all members of the Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC), the government's official union of writers and artists. And while UNEAC has often been a safe haven for many island intellectuals, it functions within the confines of other ministries that hold power over resources and, in some cases most importantly, travel which is controlled by the Ministry of the Interior. UNEAC also responds to the Communist Party's political and ideological exigencies, many of which are still rooted in declarations made during the initial years of the revolution.

In the past sixty years these limits have waxed and waned depending on multiple factors. Indeed, the state itself may have lost its capacity to broadly enforce these limits. Yet to understand the evolution of how particular groups have pushed against these limits, a note on their origins.

One of the first clashes between intellectuals and the Cuban revolutionary government occurred shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Saba Cabrera Infante shot a short documentary about nightlife. The black-and-white documentary PM follows a group of white men getting off "el barquito de Regla," the ferry that connects Regla, a municipality on the Havana Bay, to the mainland, and arriving at a small bar where there are mainly Afro-Cubans dancing and drinking. Slow, long shots of the bar and the dancing bodies allow the outsider to glimpse nightlife. In colonial times, Regla was known as a pirate's center, and during the 1900s as an important place for Santeria. It is hard to imagine why it was so offensive to some of Castro's close allies, but they objected. …

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