Cuban Theater Digital Archive

Nelda Castillo

Director, artistic/general director, actor, musical selection, design (general), light designer, set designer, sound/soundtrack designer, choreographer, costume designer, producer, author / playwright, adapter

Nelda Castillo has had an intense career as actress, director and teacher since 1984. She has incorporated and pursued a rigorous investigation that deals with the modes of expression of the actor. Her work marks a milestone in contemporary Cuban theatre. She has developed a poetics that employs a stage language capable of integrating and renovating several performance traditions. Starting from her investigations with respect to training, and the notion of trance as a psycho-physical state, favorable for the act of creating, Castillo has had an intense pedagogic career in the Instituto Superior de Arte in Cuba. She has also led many workshops based on the training she utilizes in her group's performances. These workshops have taken place in England, Russia, México, Colombia, Ecuador, among others. "El Ciervo Encantado," a theatre group which she founded and has directed since 1996, came out of her Havana's "pedagogical laboratory", as she likes to refer to it. (More information available in Spanish.)

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    Selected questions from an interview conducted May 2004 by Joanne Pol.

    C. I understand the precedents of the rupture of traditional theatre such as Artaud and Growtowsky. What were your most notable influences in the adaptation of Sarduy’s literary work to the theatre space?

    P. The question is very interesting. Think about it, Sarduy would be completely in the nude and on occasions would dance before he would sit down and write. Everything he would write needed to pass in its entirety through his body, which is of course a state very close to a trance. He also did this to paint. With this he initiated a type of convocation, where his body as vehicle, the conductor of an ancestral memory where he does not invoke the intellect but those genes, the naturalistic aspect of the human being. Our training follows the lines of psycho-physical work, were the actor reaches a state close to the trance or semi-trance, where s/he can achieve multiple metamorphoses, disconnecting from his “I” and personality. The agony, the fever, the transgression and the memory carves out several positions/possibilities in each body, multiple mutations that permit the dismantling of the fiction in pursuit of the concrete act in the here and now.

    P. That desire to be original in each performance to not repeat, duplicate, to create an unrepeatable work, implies the practice that the Marxist theory, in some form, which condemns work in factories and searches more for a creative artistic production (Walter Benjamin). If this is so, does it express an ideology and is it a political theatre?

    C. The theatrical representation, is different from the movies or TV, because the theatre, each day, is a unique unrepeatable act, the actor is a live entity and not machinery. His organism or psyche is not the same every day and if he wanted to repeat what the day before came out very well; s/he would only achieve killing the life with which he would have had today. That is what differentiates film theatre from film. In movies, once it is filmed, it stays that way, forever, there isn’t a change. This is because it is machinery and not a live human being who is forever changing. In my understanding, this has nothing to do wit Marx’s politics, the artistic always has more value, even in the market it is worth more because of the energy and time invested by the human being in that creation.

    P. I have read that as time has passed Growtowsky and Artaud’s theatre have lost importance/force. They have limited themselves to student experimentations. Pájaros de la playa does not “narrate” in the traditional sense, instead it goes directly to the audience’s emotions who are not prepared for a creative “shock” of this magnitude. What future do you see in commercial theatre? Is it necessary to “educate” the audience at the end of the actor’s reciprocal trance?

    C. Yes, everyday the world is going at a much faster pace and without sense as Lipovetsky states in his text La Era del Vació, (I recommend it), “the experimental things without investigation, the quick and easy”. Man is everyday more divided, with the mind on one side and the body on the other. Grotowsky and Artaud reached their goals in their time, breaking with realism's cheap rationality, returning to the essence of theatre: the ritual, where the actor’s body is the most truthful and fastest means of communication. It has been scientifically proven that in human communication, the body is valued at 54%, sound at 39% and what is said at 7%. This demonstrates that we can forge the great importance of the body and sound, which is also body. We cannot let ourselves be dragged under because of what the majority of the public wants in their eagerness and desire of what is entertainment and cheap, superficial pleasure. That would lead us to an alley without an exit, which does not lead to enrichment for anyone, the artist nor the public. The most convincing and long lasting works have their origins in the high-tension proposals which lead to direct growth and learning for the spectator. These works are vehicles for man to grab on to life when his foundations falter.

    P. Actors’ Studio has been criticized because of the way in which they exhaust their students via Stanislavsky’s “memory of emotions”. Is it worse to expect the actor to reach that deep trance, the release of their psyche? Have you had actors that could not or have “broken down” during a performance?  

    C. I do not know why they do not criticize musicians who study and train with their instrument 8 to 12 hours daily, or dancers who make an incredible physical effort, with postures and balance against the body’s natural inclination. They even stand on their big toe (putting all of their weight on it) for hours and get to the point where they enjoy it even if they bleed. And then, to question that an actor should deeply train with his instrument, which is his body, emotions and 5 senses? The actor should have a rigorous training. He has the difficult mission of revitalizing, recreating, transforming and renovating the stereotypes, which are part of his daily or non-daily behaviors and presenting it as something new and fascinating. The actor needs to make the spectator rediscover an unusual/rare meaning of their own identity. In this sense, the actor needs to be very alive and awake; if he can accomplish this, he is deeply grateful and of course he does not have a “breakdown.”

    P. Who are the playwright(s) of the group? How do you write a work? A. I write the script at the end of each process but the works themselves are written on stage, starting from the investigation of the source materials and the actor’s training.

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Author: Joanne Pol, Lillian Manzor (2004, 2014)





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