Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba

Article excerpt

Laurie Frederik. Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. xxii + 336 pp.

Trumpets in the Mountains is a comprehensive ethnography of rural teatro comunitario (community theater) in Cuba. Bringing together the disciplines of theater and anthropology, Laurie Frederik interweaves the history of Cuban theater with the development of conceptualizations of cubanidad, or Cubanness. She contributes to the scholarship of the Special Period (the post1990s socioeconomic crisis) by analyzing its impact on artistic production, revolutionary ideology, and cultural state policy. Furthermore, her work on rural Cuba is a much-needed addition to a literature that is overwhelmingly focused on the urban areas, especially Havana.

Frederik illuminates the creative process of three rural teatro comunitario groups working in the most isolated communities of the island: Teatro de los Elementos, working close to the Escambray Mountains, and La Cruzada Teatral and El Laboratorio, both working around rural Guantánamo. She articulates the relationship between the effects of the Special Period, the emergence of teatro comunitario, and the formation of a new revolutionary identity. By the late 1990s, the model of what constituted a revolutionary man grounded in the progressive and modern ideal of the hombre nuevo had become obsolete. Times of crisis asked for an "even-newer-man," or what Frederik calls the hombre novísimo, who could withstand the hardships of the Special Period with "humble austerity and cosmopolitan refinement" (273). Searching for meaning in past national symbols, many cultural policy makers, urban intellectuals, and artists alike turned to the symbol of the campesino, a long-standing "character" in the Cuban national "cast," as a depository of cultural and moral purity for rebuilding revolutionary consciousness.

Teatro comunitario's grassroots process of creation was pivotal for the appropriation and reconfiguration of campesino identity by artists and state cultural agents alike. It emerged in the late 1990s as a continuation of teatro nuevo, a type of theater that began in the early years of the Cuban Revolution. The purpose of teatro nuevo was to bring culture and revolutionary consciousness to the "uncultivated" rural communities in order to enfranchise them into the revolutionary nation-building process. Differently than teatro nuevo, however, the teatro comunitario of the Special Period functioned under conditions of extreme material hardship. Cleverly borrowing from government discourse, Frederik calls teatro comunitario "opción cero" theater: "performed without resources, without any extras, at the point of total scarcity" (32). Defying adversity, opción cero theater artists went into the most remote parts of Cuba to perform their revolutionary cultural mission. This time, ironically, the purpose was to "rescue a dying past, the same past the revolution had once struggle to transcend" (273).

Frederik's greatest achievement is her in-depth analysis of the creative process of these theater troupes. She explores opción cero theater as a type of performed ethnography: the artists lived in the communities for a period of time, collected information directly from the residents about their worldviews, and translated them into artistic re-creations that were later performed for the communities. …

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