- Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba by Laurie A. Frederik, and: Cuba Inside Out: Revolution and Contemporary Theatre by Yael Prizant
Despite ongoing difficulties of conducting research in Cuba, US scholars Laurie A. Frederik and Yael Prizant have recently produced much-needed works on Cuban theatre of the post-Soviet era. Most significantly, these are the first book-length projects in English on theatre and performance during Cuba’s el período especial en tiempos de paz (Special Period in Times of Peace)—the official name given by Fidel Castro in August 1990 to mark the beginning of the economic crisis that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The direst years were from 1990 to 1995 although it was still in “full force” in 1997 when Frederik began her ethnographic research. She describes the “daily blackouts and lengthy queues to buy bread, milk, and cooking oil, and the endless waits for buses impossibly stuffed with sweaty bodies” (3). By the mid-2000s, when Frederik concluded the bulk of her research in the isolated, rural zonas de silencio (zones of silence) and Prizant began fieldwork in Havana, the Special Period had entered what some call its “late” phase (see Berg 2004; Babb 2011). While today there is an argument to be made that the national crisis is largely over in light of economic reforms put in place by Raúl Castro, the Cuban government has not yet officially declared an end to el período especial.1
Trumpets in the Mountains and Cuba Inside Out are part of a growing body of work on the Special Period, most of which employs anthropological and ethnographic methods.2 Other recent publications on Cuban performance are written from broadly historical and diasporic perspectives and do not concern Special Period Cuba as do the works under review.3 Indeed, what Trumpets in the Mountains and Cuba Inside Out share is a refusal to produce a generic “Cuban” or “Afro-Cuban” culture that spans large timeframes and distances. Instead, they each look closely at smaller samples of contemporary material in order to question the production of a homogenous Cubanía within the context of changing national politics in post-Soviet Cuba.
While Frederik and Prizant both investigate contemporary Cuban theatre and its role in changing national culture, they do so in strikingly different ways. Frederik’s project is a [End Page 170] “meta-ethnography” of the ethnographic performance practices of rural Teatro Comunitario (Communitarian Theatre) groups while Prizant focuses on the dramatic literature of select playwrights in major urban centers (Havana, Los Angeles, New York); Prizant’s primary sources are predominantly textual while Frederik’s are rehearsals, performances, the creative process, and audience uptake.
Trumpets in the Mountains is a theoretically savvy study of the ways that Teatro Comunitario groups of the Special Period have navigated economic crisis and the shifting terrain of revolutionary nationalism while making collaborative theatre in isolated, rural areas of Cuba. The first chapter provides background on the Cuban Revolution, the concept of el Nuevo Hombre (New Man), and early revolutionary theatre known as Teatro Nuevo (1968 to mid-1980s). From this, Frederik develops the concept of el Hombre Novísimo (Even Newer Man) of the Special Period and documents the role of rural community theatre in conversations about Cuban national identity in the context of crisis. Chapters 3 and 4 detail the lengthy creative process used by Teatro de los Elementos to develop the play Ten mi nombre como un sueño (Remember my name, as if it were a dream; 1999)4 with community members in Cumanayagua, Cienfuegos Province. These chapters are a tour de force that tell a compelling story of erased history (the flooding of the town of Siguanea) and describe in detail various phases of the creative process in an...