HAVANA TIMES — He has preserved his thin body and tender face of twenty years ago. We met each other at the Movement of Amateur Theatre Artists, where it took me little time to realize my lack of talent for acting. For Andres Enrique Perez Viciedo, though, it seems he still hasn’t given up on his dream.
From the Arroyo Naranjo neighborhood Cultural Center, in 1997 he went on to join the “Chispa Project” of the distinguished theater director Vicente Revuelta. During that same decade he worked on the telenovela El eco de las piedras (The Echo of the Stones).
It seemed his career as an actor had taken off, but when I saw him again in 2003, he was performing as a clown with the stilt walkers, acrobats and dancers of the Giganteria street artist group in Old Havana.
I thought he couldn’t be further from achieving recognition as an actor – but I was wrong. In 2012 he wasn’t even part of an artistic group or in a recognized work collective licensed to work legally in the streets. Now he’s a motionless figure, whether outside the Hotel Ambos Mundos or on some corner of Obispo Street, ignored by some people who at first take him for a statue and others who are too much in a rush to stop.
Yet some people stand around viewing him, photographing him or taking photographs with him, but then leave. They don’t notice the money plate placed at his feet for donations.
HT: How did you get to this point?
Andres: When the Chispa Project fell apart, some of those who were part of it decided to experiment with street art and they created Giganteria. Later I was invited and I joined, but I had a lot of prejudices against street art at first.
At that time, I also worked with the Argos Theatre group, directed by Carlos Zeldran. In 2001, I left Giganteria. I then worked cleaning streets, took care of crazy people, and worked in cafes. I also did some performing. I returned in 2003, when they were about to go on tour. A member of the group, a Uruguayan friend of mine, told me that the only thing lacking in Havana were the living statues that existed worldwide. I told him that on his return he would have a surprise.
I already practiced Buddhist Za-Zen (seated meditation) and sometimes I would introduce movements. I started learning about living statues on my own. Like now, I didn’t have Internet access, so I created my personal training plan with a lot of will and daily practice. I reached the point where I could remain immobile for long stretches at a time. Then I worked at a festival in the Alamar community, where I saw a Cuban group that was doing living statues. After that I knew I was ready.
When the Giganteria returned, I started performing as a statue within the group. But there came a time when I needed to get out and begin experimenting with this way of working.
HT: Are you licensed?
Andres: At first I was told by city officials that they could give me the license for this job, but it wound up taking too long and I had to start working. Giganteria decided to take me in, therefore I’m legally protected, though I work alone. I feel bad because I don’t pay taxes.
HT: But you’re not in a theater or on television. At 46, you haven’t been approved to work as an actor?
Andres: I’ll tell you something: When I was in the Chispa Project, I brought in an actress friend who hadn’t been approved either. It was very interesting what we did, but she told me that there was no chance to getting approved. Then I found out that the paper didn’t matter to me, though I don’t deny its importance.
Later I had a chance for getting approval through the Center for Theatre and Dance, but that too took too long. When that started, I was already working with Giganteria and I was more interested in that than wasting my time in some class once a month where no one learned much of anything just to get some piece of paper, though I don’t deny its importance.
Experience in the street is very powerful. It’s an experience of life and liberty. It blurs indoor theater a little. In the street I interact with people. I find readings but the words are silent because they have no mouths. Words are like a cane for blind people; these instruments don’t see but they help those people along their way.
HT: I always see you giving simple gifts to people, but today someone refused and you read them a writing that I liked.
Andres: I said, “Woe to those who don’t receive because they are tired. Woe to those who don’t receive because they’re afraid. Because of that they don’t receive because they’re full. Woe to those who doesn’t receive because they are suspicious. Woe to those who don’t receive because they don’t understand.”
This work requires training that is as complete as that for playing a character by a famous playwright. I know I paid the price for not being approved to be an actor, and therefore I’m looked upon as a hustler. If that’s what they think I am, then I’m that too.
HT: Do you make a living?
Andres: In the low tourist season I make about 5 CUCs (about $5 USD) a day, when I come out. In the high season I bring in about 10 CUCs. But I don’t ask for money, unlike many who refuse to be photographed if they’re not paid. Recently some tourists photographed me and when they tried to pay me, the guide who was accompanying them told them they didn’t have to pay. A friend of mine chewed him out, because he had done me wrong.
HT: But today I saw a guide telling the tourists to give you 1 CUC each.
Andres: That helped.
HT: Do you come every day?
Andres: No. I don’t want to become obsessed with the money. I also dedicate time to other things. I work from 11 am to 3 pm at the House of Comedy, where I leave my stuff and buy some lunch. In the afternoon I return to work. But I have to be in the right mood, financial need isn’t enough.
The Andres of 2012 depends on what the tourists want to give him for his work. It’s hard to believe that at one time he had plenty of money. He had a private business when nobody had a one in Cuba.
Andres: That was in the eighties. My life consisted of spending money on hotels, cabarets, restaurants and drinks. But I started to need something else. When I was fifteen, on the radio I had heard a call for amateur actors, and I thought I’d be good at that. Years later, when I had so much money but was spiritually empty, I heard that same announcement and decided to audition. I saw that I could do it, I enjoyed performing things for other people and they told me I had talent. A friend who owned the business didn’t understand my ceasing to make money so that I could do theater, which didn’t bring me anything materially.
Then, in an epiphany, I discovered that acting could go beyond indoor theater, television and awards. I discovered community work and I also discovered Za-Zen
I tried to deconstruct myself and break from what the system tries to sell us; that one has to attain glory. I try to pull back the curtains of that illusion. Reality is lived in the everyday. Glory is a fiction of the media. It’s there for those who want it.
Andres didn’t have time to prepare for this interview. He couldn’t take off the cork that he uses to paint his face because he has to go back to work, nor could he talk for a long time.
HT: Doesn’t the paint damage your skin?
Andres: Cork isn’t harmful, but a friend told me not to use gold paint anymore because it’s very crude. She said she would look for real makeup for me. I asked a doctor if keeping it on for so long could hurt me, but he said it wouldn’t.
HT: Staying still for so long doesn’t cause you any problems?
Andres: Not so far. When I finish working, I lift me legs up for circulation. I play round with being immobile a little. I usually change my position when I’m given some money.
Sometimes I’ll see a couple of girls who look very nice, refined. When they toss some money in my plate I’ll remain motionless, but then they’ll began to insult me and reveal their true natures.
Some people who recognized him would turn around and ask him when he was going to go back out into the street. One of them called to him yelling the Cuban compliment: “You’re tremendous.”
Andres and I have mutual acquaintances. My colleague Yenisel is his nephew.
Andres: I recently published an essay about begging, which gave me an idea for a performance. I went out dressed up like a beggar to begin asking for money, along Obispo Street, but the police stopped me. In the end, what I did was to divide up the money among the real beggars. I didn’t want it for me.
This year I want to go to Santiago de las Vegas for the December 17 pilgrimage, but dressed up as San Lazaro. If I get any money I’ll buy candles for those who aren’t able to make it there.
HT: What about acting? (I guess I’m still obsessed with him becoming an actor on stage or the big or small screen)
Andres: I recently did a character in the film Venecia, by Kiki Alvarez.
He has also worked in film shorts for the National School of Cinema and Television of San Antonio de los Baños.
HT: I saw you interpreting several characters at first, but lately only Havana’s most famous street person, “El Caballero de Paris” (the Gentleman from Paris).
Andres: I’ve stayed with him. I want to do some research into his life, I want to talk with the psychiatrist who treated him. I also do a character who plays the flute and doesn’t have any legs. People don’t realize that I’m the same actor.
HT: Your future plans?
Andres: I want to continue devoting myself to this, concretizing a theatrical idea based on the work of living statues. I’m not married, but I have a child of my heart and I want to find out if it’s also my biological child.
He bid me farewell with a quotation:
Andres: “Poetry is better than money, because it doesn’t abandon you, you have to go out and look for money.”