Making Political Theater in Cuba

Revolutions don’t aspire to crush certain parts of a whole,
to make society uniform or to establish the preeminence of a single group, class
or caste: “They aspire to become the labor of love, to link all of a country’s real factors in mutual tolerance and productive action.”
– Jose Marti

By Lynn Cruz

Pig’s Appeal Theater Carlos A. Aguilera, Lynn Cruz and Nadine Geyersbach

HAVANA TIMES — After my furious state in front of the police and State security forces, when they tried to prevent my play “Enemies of the People” from making its debut (I say “tried” because, in spite of the pain it caused to have to bid farewell to all my guests, the play was performed for the only two people who had managed to enter), everyone is advising me to calm down; and in order to do this, they console me with this overused phrase: “You can’t fix the world.”

It’s not that I don’t think they’re right, I just refuse to uphold such a conformist way of thinking, I’m “anti-conformist by genetical design.”

I’m also not trying to do something as ambitious as “fixing this world.” My dreams are simple. I aspire to live in a new Cuba where, one day, sooner rather than later, a multi-party system is accepted as well as freedom of expression, precisely so everyone has the right to publicly manifest their individuality without becoming a dissident in doing so.

In 2009, I traveled to Germany to work with the independent theater group Pig’s Appeal, directed by Petra Lammers, in Dusseldorf. It was a political play by Heiner Muller, which had been adapted by the young playwright Fiona Ebner. It was the first time I experienced what it meant to make theater within a democracy. Before, the directors I had worked with usually ended up being dictators, as things in theater often operate just as they do in politics.

As part of this play, a discussion was created which sought to find parallels and connections between a German actress, Nadine Geyersbach, and myself, relating to our experiences within Socialism; a text from the monologue “Discurso de la madre muerta” by the Cuban author Carlos A. Aguilera was also used.

I remember that when Lammers gave me that monologue written by Aguilera to read during those first few days of the panel discussion, I became afraid. I had just seen the light of day like a prisoner in Plato’s cave and in finding myself standing on quicksand, full of labels and ideologies which quite a few culture shocks caused, I was afraid of the words that Aguilera had written. With a way of thinking that had been institutionalized in me, I also thought that: “I was being used.”

Obra Zement, Christoph Müller, Lynn Cruz, Idalmis García

Full of fear, I thought that state security would be waiting to interrogate me when I returned to Cuba and that my career as an actress would be over forever. Actors always need a director, so I would be gone.

Not too long ago, I got in touch with Carlos A. Aguilera again by email, accidentally, thanks to writer Orlando Luis Pardo giving me his contact. It had been a long time since the last time. At that time, I considered him to be on the side of “the enemies”, judging by his work.

I don’t need to tell you that I lost his contact details, even when we ended up working “together but separately” like we say here in Cuba.

I remember that the first time we spoke in Germany, I told him that this book was very aggressive and that I thought it was very easy to do this from abroad, that Cuban theater needs to be done in Cuba. He asked me if I was from the provinces and I responded: “I grew up in Matanzas. My father was a lieutenant colonel and member of the Communist Party.” Thanks to this recollection in our recent correspondence, this line today figures in “Enemies of the People.”

Of course, I recognize that there was a dose of naivety in my words, who said you could make theater like his in Cuba? But, there’s nothing more frustrating for political theater than performing it outside of its context. 

A short while after writing to one another, I didn’t even know who he was in the beginning, I was only talking to Pardo’s friend, until he spoke to me about his monologue and I finally realized that this was the same person I once feared.

I was embarrassed and told him I was sorry, he kindly forgave me.

Everyone has to live their own experience. Cuban reality is very complex and contradictory. You can spend your whole life living in a completely anarchist society, like Aguilera explains well in his writings, but it’s only when you decide to make political theater that you feel the real weight of oppression.

I am talking from an arts perspective, although I was recently moved a great deal by how the used booksellers were ousted from the Plaza de Armas. I imagine that these people have felt this same helplessness that I am now feeling in the face of not being able to perform my work. They have also been victims of the greed of those who hold absolute power on our island: the Castro family.

As an artist, I have greater freedom of expression than most people and this implies being responsible with my time. Even when I know the real weight of my words and the danger I am in for challenging those in power with my actions and my work.

I am maybe afraid of physical pain, of my kidneys failing after a hunger strike or several days without drinking water in a prison, which is what I will do if they lock me up.

But my greatest fear, the one that eats away at every fiber of my being and really paralyzes me, is feeling like an accomplice of a government that betrays the principles of social justice, all the time, within a country that is becoming more and more unjust and divided every day.

Christoph Müller, Idalmis García, Carlos A.Aguilera, Nadine Geyersbach, Lynn Cruz, Rafael Banasik and Bianca Künzel

My words would lack any meaning if they weren’t supported by facts. Excessive police and state security deployment to silence us is a public display of the Cuban government’s guilt.

Repeating Fidel Castro’s slogans in the official Granma newspaper, replacing those of Jose Marti. Proclaiming that “Cuba is ours”, when in reality we need to rescue it from the government itself. Changing the meanings of things so as to confuse us, with the new “autonomy of state-run companies” which is nothing other that privatization in reality, the State’s capitalism.

Stripping the population of its rights within this segregated “private sector”, in exchange for corrupt education and healthcare services, which is the only thing poor Cubans really have.

But, once the dormant Cuban people wake up, they will recognize their real power, of strikes and protests.

However, destroying is a lot easier than building. How do you rebuild something that is broken? What will the price be in losses? It seems that our journey as a young nation needed this dose of pain, as nothing sustains itself, just like it’s a fact that everything will fall under its own weight.

The word “weight” reminds me of a collection of poems by Virgilio Pinera. Among his poems, there are some verses which every time I read them I get shivers down my spine: “This world is in a tough spot and if only it thaws us, because if it doesn’t, it will kill us with its hardness.”

Lynn Cruz

It's not art that imitates life, its life that imitates art," said Oscar Wilde. And art always goes a step further. I am an actress and writer. For me, art, especially writing, is a way of exorcising demons. It is something intimate. However, I decided to write journalism because I realized that I did not exist. In Cuba, only the people authorized by the government have the right to express themselves publicly. Havana Times is an example of coexistence within a democracy and since I consider myself a democrat, my dream is to integrate this publication’s philosophy into the reality of my country.