NEW YORK (AP) – Only a child’s imagination could connect storybook characters like Tom Sawyer, the Little Prince, Peter Pan, Mafalda or Pippi Longstocking, with five Cubans who are imprisoned in the United States for supposed espionage.
This is exactly the story that the Cuban children’s theatre group “La Colmenita” [The Little Beehive] will bring to the United States this month on a three city tour. Twenty-two children between 6 and 15 years of age will perform a play where these characters from adventure stories come together in order to free the five Cubans who are considered heroes at home.
“They wrote it themselves. They wrote practically the entire script. We never wanted to impose on a child our own adult view of what these five heroes are,” explained the founder and director of “La Colmenita,” Carlos Alberto Cremata, in a telephone interview from Cuba with The Associated Press.
The five Cubans were convicted in 2001 of belonging to an espionage conspiracy called the “Wasp Network,” which sought to infiltrate military bases in South Florida, Cuban exile groups and anti-Castro politicians in order to report to authorities in Cuba.
One of them, Rene González, was freed on Friday after having spent 13 years in a prison in that state.
“You can’t imagine the happiness today in Cuba, and especially at La Colmenita,” said Cremata, known in Cuba as “Tim.”
The well-known theatre group will arrive in the United States on October 13 in order to perform in New York, Washington and San Francisco. “Abracadabra” is the name of the play in which a literature teacher changes the children’s names into those from the children’s adventure tales, and they go on to invent ways to get “The Five” back to Cuba.
“We wanted to see how they, the children, really saw it from their perspective, in their own childish language,” explained Cremata. “In the play, they talk about how wonderful it would be if Peter Pan could use his magic to make them return. Or if Tom Sawyer were to reach them via the Mississippi.”
La Colmenita was founded in February of 1990 in Cuba and today has 21 distinct “colmenitas” located throughout the country. These are groups of between 40 and 80 children of all ages who participate in theatre, dance, visual arts or music after the school day is over.
Cremata estimates that there are 14,000 children taking part in the project in Cuba, while other groups have started in Spain, Colombia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, among others. The 22 children who are coming to the United States perform in the “Central Colmenita,” the first to be established on the island.
Named a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the theatre company will give a private performance at U.N. headquarters on October 24th. Shortly thereafter it is expected that the international organization will carry out its annual vote condemning the embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States.
William Ostick, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said that cultural exchanges between both countries have increased since President Barack Obama came to power. A greater number of face to face meetings between Cuban and U.S. citizens helps “with greater understanding” on both sides, he said.
For Cremata, the tour is also another step toward bringing both countries together through culture.
“If we could, we’d come every year to the United States,” he explained. “We bring messages of peace, love, and friendship. We want to share knowledge. This is one of the loveliest ways to continue moving closer together.”
La Colmenita will also present the musical “La cucarachita Martina” [Martina, the Little Cockroach] as part of its tour. The work includes sounds from bolero, cha cha cha, merengue, son and even Spanish musical theatre, explained the director.
The children will perform at American University and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington on October 15 and 19, and go on to New York on the 21st where they will perform at the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture and at the Harriet Tubman Learning Center in Harlem on the 22nd. The last stop on the tour will be San Francisco.
“They’re very excited,” said Cremata, describing the children’s emotions before their arrival. “The dress rehearsals are plenty euphoric.”