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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Rachel Pereda Puñales -

Women's presence in Cuban theatre

by: Cuba50

The play begins. Two women on stage, one black and one white, discuss and reflect on the prejudices and issues regarding the female gender, such as violence, abuse and discrimination; and women's struggle to obtain their rightful place in society. It is a dispute between the role that has been attributed to women over the centuries and their continuous struggle to achieve gender equality.
This play, Iniciación en blanco y negro para mujeres sin color (Initiation in Black and White for Women without Color), by playwright Fátima Patterson, is one of many that have been presented in recent years on the subject of women and their constant subjugation as an object within society. This dramatic text, written by a woman, shows that although times have changed, there still exist those who are prisoners of the past who try to stop the development of the female gender as a social being capable of doing, saying and feeling, equal to or more than any man.
The theater, given its great social influence, can be an instrument for denouncing these evils that still affect Cuban society and the entire world. Within this context, women have broken through to reflect in plays the existing contradictions, or to simply participate and develop as a great intellectual individual.
Since the nineteenth century, when a theatrical movement with its own identity began to develop in Cuba, women, despite the prejudices of the time, managed to assert themselves and challenge the limits of censorship. They became an active part of Cuban theater and directly influenced the construction of nationality.
Great drama figures such as Adela Robreño, Luisa Martínez Casado and Eloísa Agüero de Osorio stand out in this period. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, who wrote about women and their discrimination within society, has to be mentioned. Some consider her the best playwright in the Spanish language.
The plays of La Peregrina, Avellaneda's pseudonym under which she wrote, have been staged in different moments, not only as a way to rescue the classics, but also because of the importance and validity of her theatrical texts. And because of her continuous struggle to achieve women's rightful place within their historical context.
After the establishment of a neocolonial republic in Cuba, Cuban theater seemed like it was going to disappear. A period of crisis began that threatened dramatic expression and its development. The number of places and performers decreased. Only the Alhambra remained open during this difficult time promoting what was known as "popular" theater and offering twenty-three shows weekly. But despite its heyday, it did not survive and disappeared in 1935.

When mentioning Cuban theater, people simply referred to "Alhambra." Amalia Sorg was among the women who performed on that stage. The testimonial novel Canción de Rachel (Rachel's Song) by Miguel Barnet, and the subsequent film adaptation under the title La bella del Alhambra directed by Enrique Pineda Barnet were both based on her life.
Drama actress Enriqueta Sierra, born in Santa Clara, stands out among the few women who managed to shine outside the Alhambra, in this period of hardship for Cuban theater. She worked with the Cuban Theatre Company, founded in 1915.
Then there seems to be a gap in the dramatic tradition. Women almost disappear from the Cuban stage. Some of the plays by José Antonio Ramos, who represents the first generation of playwrights in the period of the Republic, reflect the theme of gender equality and female discrimination. Among his works are Nanda, written in 1908, and Liberta, in 1911.
But after this major crisis, Cuban theater does not die; it evolves and brings back with it the creative work of women in this area. With the Revolution, the theater environment obtains its own identity. The theme of the social problems of the female gender solidifies in plays and, little by little, women gain ground in theater.
When talking about women in Cuban theater, there are still various criteria and conflicts. Unquestionably, they are most visible in acting since throughout history, women have participated in this medium. However, they have not participated much in dramaturgy and direction, to the point that some question whether or not there exists female dramaturgy.
But yes, women exist who write plays for the theater, although it is not the most abundant. But of course there is female dramaturgy. To doubt this is to deny the evolution and integration of women in this highly complex medium.
Simply the truth will out. Women are found in all facets of the theater and their number is increasingly growing from different perspectives, not only in acting or makeup.
It is true that there are not many women playwrights or stage directors, but their importance and contributions to Cuban theater over the years should not be denied. That is why it is essential to legitimize the presence of women in the theater, to address the theme of gender equality onstage, to give them the space they deserve and to show their problems. In short, to achieve the enhancement of women on the stage.
Currently, events such as Magdalena sin Fronteras, Escena con Aroma de Mujer or La Escritura de la Diferencia stimulate and exalt the artistic work of women in Cuba and the world; and gradually insert them in the space they truly deserve. Referring to the new boom that is developing in Cuban theater regarding the creation of special projects involving women, critic and playwright Esther Suárez once said, "It's like a volcano, it begins to boil by itself."
Today, women's footprints can be found throughout Cuban theater. Some work on costume and makeup, while others dominate the stage with the best performances. There are also women directors, assistant directors, playwrights, graphic designers and those in charge of music. In short, the whole theater is pervaded by the scent of women, flooded with females who make the theatrical world a totally authentic place.
The play ends and the rounds of applause fill the room. The women there, in the audience, feel identified. They like the fact that gender equality has been addressed in the theatrical text. "I wish there were more plays like this," someone says as he leaves the room. Lights out and everything goes back to normal. But the scent of the female sex remains in the theater, and on the Cuban stage it is impossible to erase the traces of women. "Certainly more plays like this will be written," the stage whispers.

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