The Cuban Director of Broadway’s Rent

By Helson Hernandez

Reinier Rodríguez (l)
Reinier Rodríguez (l)

HAVANA TIMES — With only a few years on the Cuban stage behind him, Reinier Rodriguez has been chosen to direct the musical Rent on the island, a project that brought together Cuban and US artists.

HT: Do you have formal training or are you self-taught?

Reinier Rodríguez: I didn’t go to any art academy. I studied at the University of Havana, where I completed the socio-cultural studies program. I’ve always been drawn to the world of culture. Though I started out as a theater director, I was more interested in cinema, what I truly wanted to become is a film director. But I ended up falling in love with the theater and I think it will be hard for me to renounce it.

HT: Did your university studies give you a foundation for art?

RR: It’s been like merging several careers into one, a kind of experiment. Social Communication doesn’t set you on any given course, it gives you the tools to work in many different fields, even journalism. It doesn’t prepare you for a specific field, it offers you general knowledge, but nothing in particular.

HT: Tell us about Rent and other pieces you’ve directed.

RR: Rent was the second piece I directed. I was associate director for the Cuban half of the crew that set up this Broadway musical in Cuba. I got there thanks my work in Goldfish, which premiered in 2012 and was staged until 2013. Goldfish was my first play and the experience surpassed my expectations. I was very nervous while directing it, as I worked with established and highly experienced actors from Teatro de la Luna, the theater company that staged the show, which was also directed by Raul Martin. I think that, because of my work in that play, they decided to call me to direct the Cuban actors in Rent that had been selected by the National Stage Arts Council.

HT: Do you stick to a specific style while directing?

RR: I always try to bring together a multidisciplinary team. I try to use live music, film projections, dance, several artistic expressions at once, merged into stage performance. That’s something I want to continue doing.

HT: Tell us about Rent and its impact on Cuban theater.

Reinier Rodríguez (r)
Reinier Rodríguez (r)

RR: We hadn’t staged any musicals like this in Cuba for a long time, not with the kind of production value that a musical like Rent requires. There’s plenty of talent in Cuba for all sorts of things, one need only focus on an idea and get support for it. Rent proved we are able to bring back musicals in Cuba. The most difficult part was training people who weren’t used to singing, dancing and acting at the same time. We chose singers, or dancers, or actors, it was very hard work and, even though we were exhausted by the end, we watched the results with smiles on our faces. Rent left us with a feeling of nostalgia, we miss the experience, and we need these kinds of shows on the island. I hope the American crew left with the same good taste in their mouths and that they will continue to support projects of this magnitude.

HT: Tell us about your most recent project as director, Anestesia.

RR: It’s based on a play by Adnieska Hernandez, who’s an excellent playwright. I applied my interdisciplinary approach to this work, using different artistic expressions, even a DJ. This play has to do with color, it allows us to see further, to what extent we could become more insensitive when we deal with something, or that things can pass us by without us giving them the importance they deserve. As a child, I recall being told that, in Cuba, when something happens to someone, everyone goes to their aid. I think we’ve lost that. We can’t live the way people say we do, us Cubans smiling at everything, even the bad things. I don’t know how positive that can be, I feel it can do more damage than good. Anestesia speaks of unfulfilled dreams, of the last tear. Though the story unfolds in Havana, the ideas expressed are universal. That’s why the play bears the name of that substance that keeps pain away, and I feel sensitivity is not something that serves no purpose.

HT: Tell us of your next project

RR: It’s still in the works. I can only tell you it’ll be much bigger than anything I’ve done before, bigger than all my previous plays put together. It will be something like a Theater Fair. I will stage it throughout the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center, including the surrounding parks and nearby bus stops. Everything will be turned into a stage, the idea is to bring together three works that are related. Audiences will have to attend the play several times to see all performances. The project will be called “The Extraordinary League,” and it will try and present audiences with a new voice, for we young people have much to say, eager as we are to make a mark. As philosophy teaches us, the new replaces the old.

One thought on “The Cuban Director of Broadway’s Rent

  • January 10, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Saw Rent on Broadway and would love to witness the Cuban production. Senor Rodriguez appears well suited for role as director. Nice interview.

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