Community theatre Cuban style


By Penny Glass

BRISBANE — Teatro de los Elementos (Theatre of the Elements), founded in 1991, is a community theatre company that works in central Cuba at Cumanayagua in Cienfuegos province. Through its work, communities isolated from urban centres, and even some forgotten within cities, are given the possibility of rescuing their collective memory.

After years of itinerant work, the company was given land by the government and now engages in subsistence farming and tending animals while also proposing a creative relationship with its surroundings.

The community combines theatre and nature as the components of a new form in which to journey towards the rediscovery of our animality, right in the midst of the elements from which we evolved.

Cuban theatre has grown and developed in many ways since the 1959 revolution. The creation of theatre collectives, the broad development of an amateur movement and the setting up of cultural centres in all regions increased the possibilities of publishing and producing Cuban plays. The establishment of theatre training and regular analytical seminars provided some of the elements that have created a strong and original Cuban theatre.

Cut off from the opportunity to witness regularly and/or read about developments in other countries by the 30-year US embargo, Cuban theatre workers, like workers in many other fields in Cuba, have been forced to rely on their ingenuity, creativity and innovation.

As an added incentive, the creation of a large theatre audience since 1959 has demanded plays that are relevant and topical.

The Cuban "new theatre" movement, of which the best known exponent is Teatro del Escambray {founded in the 1960s, also based in Cumanayagua}, has explored work very similiar to the Australian community theatre movement. Community members participate in the development of content, and sometimes in the performance, working alongside professional actors and musicans.

The companies themselves work in a non-hierarchical manner, devising all productions as a group.

Teotro de los Elementos continues the work of this movement, incorporating greater use of visual images as opposed to text.

Its latest show, Immigrants, produced in 1996, portrays the tearing apart that a person undergoes when, for whatever reason, they feel compelled to move away from their home. The company's work with Haitian refugees has been a major inspiration in this production.

Immigrants has received several cultural awards in Cuba and has toured Brazil.

Unfortunately , most of the company's crops and many of its houses were destroyed by the hurricane that passed through Cuba in October 1996.

An event here on August 29 raised money for rebuilding and replanting on Teatro de los Elementos land in Cumanayagua. As part of the Ethnic Music and Arts Centre Open Space Program, there was storytelling in Spanish and English, Cuban Nueva Trova music by Jumping Fences and local band Breathe, plus an open platform for readings or music in Spanish and English.