My Cuban Welcome Hug

Less than a month ago, I took a night bus from Sucre to La Paz, Bolivia. The street is curvy and dangerous, the man who blessed the bus before its departure only made me feel more uneasy. Yet what disturbed me the most in that bumpy eight-hour drive was the movie selection: some violent thriller with lots of people killing each other; trying to solve some absurd money/power trap. I felt angry. How do people construct their reality in the Andean mountains while Hollywood proposes images of unrealistic ‘development’ models? In that moment I wondered what are the public spaces to create, recreate and transform culture in Bolivia.

During my first week in Cuba, I was able to experience a fascinating tool Cubans are using to socialize culture: PlayBack Theater.

At 9.00 pm what looks like at least half of the little village of Jobero, near the city of Cumanayagua, is reunited in an open air theater. One at the time, curious members of the public sit on stage to tell their stories, their ‘status updates’. Some talk about their dreams, others simply talk about funny things that happened to them during the day. 6 actors improvise a metaphor of the story. The public laughs, cries, and everything in between.

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In the last 5 days, I took part in the II International Conference on PlayBack Theater, hosted in the farm managed by Teatro de los Elementos, our local partner in Cuba. There are about 30 guests from all corners of Latin America: actors, musicians, psychologists and theatre directors of all ages.

Throughout the week, I took part in 4 PlayBack Theater functions: at an elementary school, a local theater, the small country town of Jobero, and a local high school. I heard all sorts of stories. A young girl sharing how she lost her grandfather, high school students organizing a surprise to thank their favorite professors, a story of a funny miscommunications during a class of Russian and a mom moved by seeing her 4-year-old child playing, dancing and singing.

It felt like i was watching a whole TV series on Cuba. The only difference is that I was in the same room, and the show rolled out real stories. In a small space the public was harmonized, connected by the images the actors were creating. Each story I heard and saw interpreted and colored Cuba more vividly in my head.

PlayBack Theater was my Cuban Welcome hug.

During this conference I learned about various groups all around Cuba working with PlayBack and Spontaneous Theater to create safe spaces for people to be heard, do therapy, discover each other and play. I met many interesting people in Cuba that I hope to collaborate with throughout our research. Every place we have worked in so far has been a source of new ideas and inspiration: I am looking forward to see how this Cuba experience will contribute to the evolution of Recrear’s work.

This full immersion in PlayBack Theater reminded me of the power of creativity and improvisation. I feel ready to approach the months ahead with openness and excitement for the participatory process that will give rhythm to this research. My hope is that through this process we can create inclusive spaces to share authentic cultural stories and then allow these stories to be a source of growth and regeneration.

-Gioel

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