LA PEÑA MESINER DE LA HABANA

During the last 9 years, approximately 80 Cuban actors and directors have participated in workshops given by British director Stephen Bayly and his collaborators Maria Gowland, Ernesto del Cañal and Idalmis Garcia, which take place regularly at the Cuban International School of Film and Television. The workshops are largely based on the teachings of the late Sanford Meisner.

 

For actors, these techniques require constant practice, in order to internalize them and make them a habit. For directors, these skills need to be applied to practical work. In January 2012 a number of  actors and directors headed by actress Idalmis Garcia, formed La Peña Meisner de La Habana, with the desire to develop their skills and work together creatively as a group .

 

The vision of La Peña is fundamentally to create a new type of actor in Cuba, with skills in the art of realistic performance, as well as directors who understand how to extract truth and brilliance from their actors. It also proposed a constant process of research and experimentation, both practical and theoretical. The application of these techniques could, in the future, revolutionize the Cuban performance in the theater and in film and TV.

 

In 2012 Peña mounted its first theatrical production Las Tumbas Olvidadas, an adaptation of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. The show, directed by Stephen Bayly, premiered in Havana in the Sótano Theater and then in the Sala Adolfo Llauradó, under the umbrella of the Week of British Culture in Havana. The work, consisting of 20 poems, or monologues, was commended for the strength of the performances -- direct and true.

 

In June 2013 La Peña premiered the multi award-winning Blue/Orange, by English playwright Joe Penhall, in the Bertolt Brecht Theater of Havana. There were two casts -- one female and one male. It played to full houses and critics celebrated the production and performances as among the best of the year.  The play was directed by Stephen Bayly and produced by Indira Magaz. The set and costume design was made by Alain Ortiz. La Peña had the support of generous sponsors: The International School of Film and TV (EICTV), The National Council of Performing Arts (CNAE), The British Embassy, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Havana.  The performances of Idalmis Garcia, in the role of Crystal, and Hector Noas, in the role of Dr. Smith, garnered nominations for the Caricato Award, a distinction that recognizes Cuba's best performances in theater, film and television.

 

On August 1, 2014 La Peña presented Martin Sherman’s globally celebrated play, Bent, again in the Bertolt Brecht Theater. Bent had been previously presented in more than 50 countries, but never on the island. Bent is a love story between two men in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, and is an plea for tolerance and freedom.

 

The show was co-directed by Stephen Bayly and Luis Ernesto Doñas, EICTV graduate film director and member of La Peña.  It was produced by EICTV and the CNAE, with support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Havana.  Indira Magaz was executive producer, and scenic and costume design was by Vivian del Valle. The original music was composed by Ariannys Mariño.

It was a sell-out season.  The staging shocked the Cuban audience by the realism of the performances.  Actors Yasel Rivero and Yoseph Puentes, alternating in the role of Horst, jointly received the Adolfo Llauradó Award, a distinction that recognizes the best performances of young actors in theater.

 

Sean Mathias, the original director of the London production and the film adaptation, visited Havana to see the play.  He enjoyed interacting with the cast, and praised the production highly.  This year Sir Ian McKellen, the original actor playing the protagonist Max, visited Havana and met members of the cast, and La Peña.

 

Since its inception in 2012 La Peña’s main objective is to continue the training of its members in Meisner/Mamet techniques.  Under the direction of founder Idalmis Garcia until 2013, and Ernesto del Cañal from that date, the group meets routinely in Havana.  In February 2015 a “Battery Recharge” workshop, exclusive to Peña members, was given by Jazz Martinez Gamboa, a graduate of the Actor's Temple in London, currently completing his Masters in Direction at LAMDA.  La Peña aims to mount during the current year at least two advanced workshops and various demonstrations of work for the public.

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