The Colmenita Cuban Children on the World Stage
By Pedro Quiroga Jiménez Photos: Cubaplus
La Colmenita (the little beehive) emerged from a dream and hobby of Carlos "Tin" Cremata when he was still a student at the Cuban Theatrical Art Institute directing aquatic and judo performances with young people. The nucleus of La Colmenita was formed from some of these youngsters and children of three, four and five years from the popular television series "Cuando yo sea Grande" that he also directed.
"If I had been a carpenter, I would have built a wooden beehive", says Cremata. "Theatre is just a pretext. It is a gift of my mentor, actress and director Berta Martinez (2000 National Theatre Award), who saw it as a group of bees who create their own home." That was the seed of a team that gathers for the good of the individual and the collective, as Cuban National Hero José Martí wished it.
The 90 actors in La Colmenita range from three to fourteen years of age. It is the first theatre group, and one of very few groups of any kind, to become a Goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund. Accepting the award in October in defence of the rights of children, director Cremata said "it is the children who are the true maestros. We only give them the tricks and instruments."
To Tin, as his closest friends call Cremata, goodness is something spiritually very elevated and is seen in his work with the performances of handicapped children at the Solidaridad con Panama School in Havana. The same with the happy days spent with the AMICA association (Association of professionals and relatives of people with disabilities) in Spain or the exchange with the Small Theatre of the People in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to cite just a few examples of altruism.
Many times Cremata has included children with motor, visual and hearing disabilities, Down syndrome, cancer, mental handicaps and cerebral palsy, among other problems, in La Colmenita's shows. The Cuban Health Ministry awarded the company with the title Health Promotion Centre in 2006 for its outstanding work. La Colmenita is about forming human values through artistic creation, personal growth, unity from diversity, community work, discipline and fun; it is not about privilege.
"There are extremely talented people In Cuba and thousands of them have knocked at our door. I tell them their place Is In Art Schools. I rather like working with those with difficulties, a critical problem", says Cremata.
The Colmenita Is an oasis where one can find friends and it is also a vehicle to tour the whole of Cuba and the world with unforgettable experiences. Everyone has a place In the group. A kid multiplies himself on stage, but when he Is offstage he Is still the same. If one starts thinking he or she Is more Important than the rest, they suffer the punishment most feared by all, the so called "vacations", a forced temporary retirement from the stag and the group.
According to Cremata, the biggest challenge is the communication between himself and his little artists. Discipline demanded by theatre Is greater than school's. h en though he does not "know the meaning of the word patience: with children he can reach an unspoken agreement to create. "There is a strange chemistry between them and me to understand the game", Cremata says.
"No one better than a kid comprehends that a broomstick Is his horse. It Is what Stanislavski asked for the super actor. That Is found In kids and it is something absolutely authentic and coherent".
La Colmenita's most recent popular performance, Cinderella according to the Beatles, embodies another old dream: the right to the full participation of children as promoted by UNICEF. It is theatre performed by children for children with equal conditions for all.
The company has had three successful international tours: to Spain, Japan and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. This year Cremata is taking La Colmenita on tour from the Bravo River to the Patagonia, to honour Latin American music on the southern continent, which will include staging a short version of the most famous children's story of each of the countries they visit, with a structure similar to the successful Ajiaco de los Sueños (Dreams' stew). The latter included three pieces of classic children 's literature: Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Puss in Boots, scoring triumphs in and out of Cuba since its release in 2003.
Besides the multiple tours of the provinces and abroad, La Colmenita has its own theatre, Teatro de la Orden Tercera, in the west wing of the San Francisco de Asis Convent, an imposing seventeenth-century building in the heart of Old Havana.
"I never wanted to have a space of our own for fear of losing our freedom of movement. We are a group of adventurous sportsmen who like touring, mainly all around the country. I was afraid of macro-shows that have nothing to do with theatre. Now, when I see the room full of children, main characters of all that happens in there, I have come to accept it."
Also this year, the unique children's theatre company will stage a show based on the songs of famous Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez that will include music from the former Cuban band, ICAIC's Sound Experimentation Group - ICAIC is the Cuban Institute of Cinema Art and Industry. Some important Cuban musicians, such as Leo Brouwer, Pablo Milanés, Sara González and Eduardo Ramos, participated in this group.
"MeanwhiIe, we have lots of tools to live better and to elevate our quality of life, and there is a noteworthy arsenal of songs and texts waiting to go up on the stage," Cremata says.
The little beehive also has a website with all their information updated at: www.lacolmenitacuba.cult.cu