By Holli Harms
Títeres en el Caribe Hispano: Cuba, República Dominicana y Puerto Rico is a three-part documentary on the history of puppets in the Caribbean Islands of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I watched the wonderful film on the Cuban history of puppets, the art of puppeteers, and how the Cuban revolution and government affected the theater of puppetry. A fascinating look into the impact of the two worlds and the artists who create the puppets and their stories.
One of the masters of the art says in the opening line of the doc about puppets, “A puppet is not a human being, it’s an instrument.” Another says that they are, “Too human at times and sometimes not human at all.” One says that puppets, “are metaphors.” This art of paradoxes and metaphors has a long history in the cultures of the world and was introduced to the Cubans in colonial times by the Spaniards who brought with them street puppets. However, it wasn’t until centuries later that the art form really took off when in 1949 Carucha and Pepe Camejo founded the Camejo Siblings Puppet Theater which became nationalized, The National Puppet Theatre of Cuba, in March 1963.
The choice of many of the puppeteers is the hand puppet as it is truly bound to the puppeteer, while the marionettes hang on threads that separate puppet and manipulator. The energy of the hand of the manipulator is directly placed in the puppet producing a deeper performance, a soul you might say.
The Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the overthrow of President and military dictator, Fulgencio Batista put Fidel Castro in charge, and once in command, Castro made sure that puppet theaters existed throughout the country in each key province. He recognized the importance of the theater and the joy and pride it brought to the people of Cuba. This recognition allowed the world of puppetry to thrive. The Camejos siblings started to venture further outside of the usual children’s shows, creating puppet shows based on the classics like Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot. “ The triumph of the revolution saw an explosion in the arts …everything became new at that time.”
Then in 1971, the “parametration” came into law. “Its premises were to expel from the sector, workers who lacked the “moral and ideological qualifications” necessary in a new society,” i.e. homosexuality and any different way of thinking. Artists and intellectuals were the main targets. It was a time of censorship and gag laws in Cuba. A great number of Cuban intellectuals and artists were accused of improper conduct. Artists were removed from their homes and put to work in areas that were not related to their prior lives. The parameters of living were determined by an evaluating committee and they did not explain what they were trying to achieve or how the artists were not living up to proper standards, just that they weren’t. Carucha and Pepe Camejo were part of those affected by the parametration. Their theatre shut down and they were not able to create for some time. Then came in the 90’s the “special period” which was a long period of economic crisis as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the flair up in the North American blockade. During this time in the ’90s, puppet theatre had a resurgence, and Cuba created an international puppet festival.
This is a passionate tale of country, pride, and art told from the perspective of some of the most prominent artists in Cuba. The puppet creators speak of their use of color with the puppets and the richness of it because they “…live in a country where light and color are everywhere.”
Renowned artist and puppeteer Rubén Darío Salazar says in the end, “I would say the words for puppetry In Cuba are: Onward, to infinity, go where you can’t go no more.” Good words for all of us.
The Documentary, Episode 1, Cuba, runs 40 minutes, costs $5, and can be viewed separately from the other two episodes, or you can watch all three for $15. Find out more about this Documentary and everything else related to the International Puppet Fringe Festival HERE
Filmed in Havana and Matanzas during the tenth International Puppetry workshop 2012