HAVANA TIMES — Ana María Blanca de Agüero Prieto would seem an appropriate name for someone from an ancient lineage, or perhaps a character in a play. However, that’s the full name of the person I am interviewing, hoping to do honor to this young woman of 76 with an exquisite personality that denotes breeding and grace, and an incomparable sense of humor.
And if all that wasn’t enough, she indeed is involved in the theater arts: as actress, consultant, director, but above all as an excellent dramatist.
HT: When and how was your passion for the theater born?
AM: It was 1952 and I was 16 years old when a friend invited me to Havana to see the opera “La Traviata.” Later we went to the main hall of the Havana Libre Hotel where we saw the play “Mujeres” (Women) starring María de Ángeles Santana. That’s where I discovered dramatic theater and I was totally fascinated, so much so that I said to myself: I have to become an actress.
HT: Tell us about the stage in your career when you were an actress.
AM: In 1959 I went to the United States on a tourist visa and lived there for two years, working in an elastics factory in New York. By that time I was a resident of the country, but in 1962 – with the events of the October crisis – I decided to return. I did so on one of the last flights that left for the island, just before relations were definitively broken off.
Once here in Santiago, I began to study Arts and Letters in the University. I developed ties with an amateur theater group, which in a short time became professional.
I founded the first professional dramatic theater group, the group known as Mella, and later the Teatro Guiñol Santiago (Santiago Puppet Theater), the first theater group for children that the country had after the triumph of the Revolution. At the same time that I was doing puppetry, I worked as a guest on several occasions with the Conjunto Dramático del Oriente (Eastern Dramatic Group).
Those were the years of pure enthusiasm. The Revolution was like a fever that spread through the majority of the country. To go out to the mountains, to the schools, to the workplaces, was a novel experience; I threw myself into all that with love and trust, although I would later face many disappointments.
I appeared on television and on the local radio. Years later, I also did some work as a guest of the group Experimental Juvenil (Youth Experimental). In the nineties I left the puppet group and returned to the dramatic stage with the Gestus project under the direction of the unforgettable Ramiro Herrero. There I worked as a dramatist, actress, assistant director, and finally director up until the time I retired.
But even today at my age I continue to be active, collaborating with different groups and projects. I continue to act from time to time and I still write.
HT: You were involved in children’s theater for a considerable length of time, but before and after that you did a lot of dramatic theater. Which do you prefer?
AM: Children’s theater has its own magic. One feels delighted to work for them, and it’s a public that is very grateful and receptive. But at the same time, it can turn into a difficult task, because you must be very careful with the messages and the symbols. I was doing this type of theater in the years when cultural work had to be supervised by the Ministry of Education. Everything that was said and shown had to be approved by them.
They were years in which creativity was very controlled, especially this manifestation of it. Those were the years when everything had to meet certain parameters, and I was a witness to terrible things. Afterwards, with time, things became a little more flexible.
Adult theater has other characteristics, as it’s destined for another audience. I prefer the dramatic although I also like the other very much.
HT: At some point you became a dramatist. Why did you dedicate yourself to playwriting?
AM: I began to write plays for the catharsis it offered. I wanted to liberate myself through drama. In the works that I wrote then and in those that I currently write I do the same thing: I speak of people’s joys and sorrows, of their dreams and frustrations, of the everyday life of the Cubans, their hardships. I continue to talk through my characters of the material shortages, of the leaders’ lack of understanding of many aspects of our lives, of the bureaucracy. I hope to contribute in some way to finding a better path, and to counteract the suffering of the people.
HT: All of your dramatic works are written in the style of the Theater of the Absurd. Is this deliberate?
AM: No, it’s not deliberate. It’s because – impossible though it might seem – in this country almost everything is absurd. And if I was going to write about our reality, I had to utilize certain recourses, such as the complete lunacy of many of my characters. I had to do it that way because of the censorship. Unintentionally, this tactic eventually became somewhat deliberate.
HT: The characters in your plays are always based on family members, friends, acquaintances, but always with a comic touch of irrationality. Are you trying to reflect reality through this paradoxical lens?
AM: My family, as well as my circle of friends, neighbors and colleagues, includes a broad range of personalities and psychologies. In those differences lies an arsenal of natural resources for writing theater. When these elements are straightened out with a touch of comedy, for which we Cubans have a natural bent, they facilitate the creation of a style of fiction that exactly recreates reality. There are moments when it’s unclear where one leaves off and the other begins. That may well be the paradoxical lens you speak of.
HT: The difficult years of the so-called Special Period were the context in which you situated several of your more outstanding published works. Did you intend to preserve for posterity scenes from this era in Cuban life?
AM: I began to write my first plays on the eve of the Special Period and wrote many in the middle of those years that were so difficult for Cubans, as we faced so many hardships and vicissitudes. I wanted to narrate all those events, rid myself of that feeling of impotence, the pain of often not having anything to give my elderly mother to eat. The consequences of this were to have my plays judged as subversive, for telling the truths that other playwrights wouldn’t utter. And yes, I believe that it’s prudent for later generations to know well what happened in Cuba during all stages of the Revolution – the good and bad of it.
HT: How many books have you published?
AM: I have nine published works: La Panetela (“The Cigarillo”), “Vuelo circular” (Circular Flight), which is a compendium of five plays, Ana 2 tiempos (“Ana 2 times”) My works have also been published in anthologies like “Theater: Latin American Women”, a Mexican publications. The Scritura della differenza in Italy, or Pipture in Canada.
HT: Many would affirm that you are the most notable dramatist of the city and of a good part of Eastern Cuba, in addition to considering you among the best in the country. Did you ever believe that this could happen?
AM: I never thought that this could happen because it wasn’t my intention. I began to write because doing so unburdened me. I don’t see myself as the great dramatist that many say I am. I’m simply a woman who relates her experiences. I’ve written about my parents, my daughters, my grandchildren, my partners, my friends and also about my enemies – why not?
HT: You’ve received some national and foreign awards. Also, you’ve travelled to Europe, the United States and Mexico, but you’ve always returned. Is Ana María one of those who will die in Cuba because she has decided to, and not because of circumstances?
AM: I always returned for my family in the first place, initially for my parents and later for my daughters, although one of them has now lived in Spain for many years. Cuba is a place that I love very much. Many times I returned of my own volition, although this doesn’t mean that circumstances have forced me to die here. I would like to die in Cuba and I believe that I – like all Cubans – deserve to die not in the middle of economic chaos and social crises, but in peace, leaving my grandchildren in a better situation, in a more prosperous and more balanced Cuba.