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Students developing new play ‘work from the heart’ with Cuban artists

Cuba’s biggest exports are sugar, coffee, and cigars—but there’s another national resource, equally vital and stimulating, that you may not have heard of: Teatro Buendía. The acclaimed theatre company made its U.S. debut in 2010 with La Visita de la Vieja (The Visit of the Old Lady), a story about the powerful ties of one’s homeland, which premiered at the Goodman Theatre’s Latino Festival.

Now Teatro Buendía is creating another show for the Goodman’s 2013 season—and a select group of School of Communication students have played a huge part in helping bring it to life.

Teatro Buendía’s founder, Flora Lauten, and its principal playwright, Raquel Carrió, are in the process of adapting the 1955 book Pedro Páramo (which Slate called “the perfect novel you’ve never heard of”) for the stage.

Earlier this spring, at the invitation of associate theatre professor Henry Godinez, an artistic associate at the Goodman, the two artists flew from Havana to Chicago (no easy feat, in light of Cuba’s many travel restrictions). For four weeks, they led an intensive experimental workshop with four acting students and four student crew members.

Their aim? To develop the Pedro Páramo script and flesh out its characters. For the acting students, the workshop was an opportunity to step into leading roles and cultivate them, as well as to explore a whole new way of approaching the dramatic process.

While Pedro Páramo will ultimately be performed at the Goodman next March with a cast of well-known Chicago actors, a 40-minute workshop production with the students was staged on May 31 at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art for a select audience in the Chicago theatre world.

Communication student Yando Lopez-Giron (C13) called the experience unreal. “It was my first performance in downtown Chicago and I’m so thankful to have been a part of it,” he said. “We reworked the story to make it more identifiable to immigrants, so my character started speaking in English and progressively ended up speaking in Spanish.”

The entire workshop leading up to the performance was conducted in Spanish, and while all the actors involved were fluent, the stage managers were not. “There were definitely a few miscommunications,” Rachel Stubblefield-Tave (C13) laughingly acknowledged, “but Henry and the cast were great about translating for us, and I don’t think you necessarily need to understand the language a show is in to grasp its meaning. Opera is famous for being seen in another language, and I think multilingual theatre is becoming more and more common.”

Student actor Shawn Morgenlander (C13) agreed. “Flora and Raquel’s artistry is totally different from what I’m used to in theatre,” she said. “It’s outwardly focused, very based in images, movements, and symbols. I had to divorce myself from the idea of psychological realism that’s so prevalent in our training and embrace a different kind of reality. But the goal remained the same: working from the heart, instead of just the mind.”

Photos: Teatro Buendía, Pedro Páramo, MCA Chicago. Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago