By Paul Lefebvre
Rimini Protokollstrives to take a new look at political and social issues. Why did you choose Cuba this time?
I first went to Cuba a dozen years ago to give workshops with the Argentine director Lola Arias. The fact that she was Latin American opened a lot of doors. I returned on several occasions and each time I wanted to embark on a project, because Cuba is at a pivotal moment in its history, but each time it was impossible. For a long time Cuba represented a sort of social paradise and influenced policy in Latin America and elsewhere, including Europe. To review the history of Cuba is also to review the history of the left on an international scale. In 2016 things began to open up following visits by Obama and the Rolling Stones, and the government started to allow people to set up small independent businesses. I realized then that I could finally work on what intrigued me – contemporary Cuba.
In the Laboratorio Escénico de Experimentación Social (LEES) in Havana that year, you worked with young directors, some of whom are part of the Cuban cast in the show. How did things evolve?
We quickly realized that the sectors of Cuban society where things don’t change are rare, despite the fact that a lot of power still remains in the hands of men in their eighties who defend the existing structure and status quo. A high point occurred in February 2018 when the dramaturge Alioscha Begrich, along with me and a group of contemporary artists brought together by the theatre specialist Yohayna Hernández, conducted some fifty interviews, assisted by the young artists and researchers at LEES. We began by meeting with both elderly people who had been linked to the Revolution and with younger people, often young entrepreneurs.
I’m fascinated by generational and intergenerational connections that allow for both nostalgia and friction. Then we had the idea to meet with the grandchildren of the revolutionaries we had encountered. The grandsons and grand-daughters of those who created and supported the Revolucion made an impressive contribution to our approach, so much so that we chose four of them to be in the show in order to portray Cuba through their eyes.
Those two men and two women tapped into the hearts and souls of their grandparents, which gave us a subjective rapport with history. We also asked ourselves if the stories of these elderly people were still interesting, as we certainly had no intention of making another Buena Vista Social Club or paying tribute to ancient jerry-rigged Cadillacs. We realized that the old folks’ stories took on a different meaning when recounted by the young generation, people full of hope.
One of the four, Diana, is a musician who plays the trombone. The Castro regime has developed a lot of patriotic music, often military marches for brass instruments, pieces that are played in public parks. Diane taught the trombone to the three other performers, and during the show they play together, a form of utopia.
Can Cuba represent a utopia?
Where are we now in terms of the distribution of wealth? Where are the collective utopias? We did a show on Davos and its annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. What emerged from that is that governments have less power than major corporations. Where are the hopes that Cuba represented in the 1960s? One thing remains in Cuba, something very important, and that is sharing.
That doesn’t mean the sharing economyor collaborative consumption of multinational firms, but communal sharing on a daily basis, sharing in social and individual life. We were interested in the familias compuestas, that social model particular to Cuba that grew out of a housing shortage: families, distant cousins, lovers, ex-lovers and ex-spouses live under the same roof because they have nowhere else to go, which is a sort of metaphor for Cuba’s situation.
Why the word Granmain the title?
The old American-built boat that brought the revolutionaries to Cuba in 1956 was named – who knows why – Granmaor grandmother and was purchased by the grandfather of one of our actors. That man later became the first Minister for the Recovery of Property, charged with redistributing the riches of the wealthy. Granmais also the name that the Castro regime gave to its daily newspaper. In the paper’s archives, we see a young Cuban historian rewriting the official history of her country by scrutinizing it from the subjective viewpoint of her grandmother, thereby making her grandmother’s history her own.