Teatro Los Elementos
Today Havana Cultura makes a rare excursion away from the Cuban Capital – 250 kilometres away to the island’s southern coast, into the province of Cienfuegos. On a farm about 4 kilometres outside the town of Cumanayagua we find Teatro Los Elementos, one of Cuba’s most renowned community-theatre companies.
Founded by José Oriol González in 1990, Teatro Los Elementos has momentarily halted its roving ways. This farm on the slopes of the Escambray mountain range once belonged to Oriol’s grandparents, who came to Cuba from the Canary Islands at the beginning of the 20th century. About a dozen actors and writers, including Oriol who is the troupe’s director along with being an actor and a writer, have settled here – although settled implies a permanence that’s a doubtful proposition for an avowedly itinerant theatre company like Los Elementos. Let’s just say they’ve alighted here, where they’re practicing sustainable agriculture, animal husbandry and community-based social programs, all of which they see as compatible with their theatre work. The Elementos website affirms a “new modality in which we are on the way to rediscovering man’s animal nature and the elements that gave rise to him (earth,air, fire, water).”
Los Elementos began as a “community theatre project” composed of recent graduates of Havana’s National Institute of the Performing Arts. Their first production took place in one of Havana’s poorest neighbourhoods, El Romerillo, where houses tend to be made of corrugated tin or whatever else the residents can find laying about. Three Witches, a Company and a Neighborhood Named for a Flower opened in January 1991. Oriol described it as, “a show that recreates aspects of neighbourhood conflict and its Relationship with local authorities.”
In 1992 the Elementos troupe went to live on the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) and produced Stories of Jacksonville, “a series of six shows that examine the memory of this town of immigrants.” From there they moved on to Barrancas, then to Santiago de Cuba, performing contemporary works with names like Malcolm X, Afrohistoria, and Option Zero. They spent the better part of the following decade travelling around Cuba, teaching theatre arts to children in poor urban neighbourhoods and remote rural communities, before arriving at the farm in Cienfuegos.
And now they’re ready to hit the road again. José Oriol recently announced an island-wide tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of Teatro Los Elementos.