Scenography Commission








Cuba Meeting

Santiago de Cuba June 30th - July 9th, 2000

Day 1.  30th June 2000.

After arriving in Havana , we set out for Matanzas , which is about 1 1/2 hours journey.  There we checked into the Hotel el Louvre (tel: 4074), next to the Museo Farma Antico, just south of the Parque Libertad, which was a lovely 1830's Colonial Hotel, with only one problem; no water.  We soon discovered that this was not uncommon in Cuba .  Much of the machinery is very old and many of the water pumps do not function very well.  We left, with all of our dirt still on our bodies, to visit the Fausto Theatre in town.  It’s a theatre also built during the Colonial times, but even earlier in Empire/Neoclassical style.  It was once a very famous theatre where Pavlova danced and Caruso sang, but it is now a sleepy little theatre with a very small resident company that plays to the local audiences three to four times per year. 

Day 2.  1st July 2000.

A wonderful trip to Vadero beach with its perfect turquoise water.  Everyone was happy swimming and playing volleyball on the beach.  Later we went to " Las Palmas," an open-air nightclub.  There were four cement walls forming a square, painted with palm trees and inside the square also real palm trees to make the effect of “Las Palmas” complete.  We had lots of drinking and dancing and had our first glimpse of the wonderful natural dancing talent of the Cubans.  A young lady named Victoria showed us all the wonderful rhythmical dances: the rumba, the meringue, the samba and more.

Day 3. 2nd July 2000.

We visited the Papalote Puppet Theatre in Matanzas.  This is a famous puppet theatre company of 5 performers who perform a traveling puppet show with simple scenery.  They performed mainly Bunraku style with the puppeteers in masks, but also used some body puppets and two person costume puppets. 

The performance was followed by a trip to some large natural caves used by the Spanish for a sheltered harbor.   They are quite huge and extensive - many kilometers deep.  We saw only about two kilometers of them. 

Later we had a wonderful lobster meal in a private home.  These private restaurants are called paladars.  This is very common in Cuba now.  All of the people who run the restaurant must be residents in the house where they meal is served.  These are often the best restaurants as opposed to the state run restaurants which are larger, more expensive and the cooking isn’t as special. 

Later we boarded the night train for Santiago and discovered that it is possible to be cold in this incessantly hot climate.  Everyone was wrapped up in towels and any extra clothing that could be wrestled out of suitcases.  Quite likely it is comfortable when the hot summer sun is out, but at night it was too cold to sleep.


(Click image for more Pictures from the Fiesta del Fuego Caribbean Festival)

Day 4. 3rd July 2000.

We arrived in Santiago de Cuba and were greeted by Jose Antonio Prades Hung with large bouquets of flowers for all of the women.  It was a very charming reception.   They also arrived with some medieval looking crutches for Christa Maeckelbergh D'Ans, who has twisted her knee dancing on the beach.  We spent some time moving into our accommodations with families in the neighborhood of Jose Antonio Prades Hung.  We were treated to a welcome lunch at José Antonioís house and we were read a nice message from Maija Pekkanen expressing her regrets that she could not attend and hoping to meet with the Scenography Commission soon.  We also received the news that Serroni who was to be the keynote speaker has sent his regrets.  He has had trouble getting a visa to go to Cuba.  The scenographer from Mexico is also not coming, so we are disappointed with the lack of participation by the Latin American and South American countries.


In the evening we went to the Jocas Ceramicas Exhibition Hall for a welcome cocktail party.  After this we proceeded to the UNEAC (Union National de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba) House for a presentation by Rick Thomas from the United States , on sound design.  There was a miscommunication about the time, so we arrived one hour late for the set up. By the time the equipment was ready, there was time for only a short presentation, so we postponed the session until the next day.  We had time to test the equipment and then we had music and dancing with the Fiesta del Fuego Caribbean Festival.  This Festival is primarily about music and dancing and sound technology.  We begin to embrace the Cuban passion for loud music and dancing.

Day 5.  4th of July 2000.

We returned to UNEAC House for the presentations of Ben Tzion Munitz of Israel and Rick Thomas from the United States

Ben Tzion showed the Computer aided lighting design by Belgian designer, John Bogart, for the Israeli production of “Julius Caesar.”    He felt it was a good example of how the computer technology can help with communication between the lighting designer and the director when they need to work long distance with not much set up time.  The computer program is vector based and has lines indicating each of the light sources and where they strike the actor.  Backlight is indicated with one colored line, side light another and front light with a third.  The computer figures show a crude step-by-step effect of the light changes.  After the computer designs, Ben Tzion showed photographs of the realized production.  He projected the images onto the grey door, which seemed the lesser of two evils.  The other option was to show the work against the green walls that would have been even more disturbing to the color of the lighting design.

Rick Thomas followed with a presentation of the sound design for “The Masque of the Red Death,” by Edgar Allen Poe.  He emphasized the emotive quality of music.  Rick read the poem accompanied by the musical sound track and discussed how the music helped to point out and enhance the emotions behind the words.

In the afternoon we had a boat trip around the Industrial port of Santiago de Cuba.  It is the second largest city in Cuba and the original capital since the time of Christopher Columbus. St. Christopher is the patron saint of the island since Christopher Columbus was his namesake.  Aside from the hard working port, there is an oil refinery in Santiago.  They have some crude oil, but it is too thick to process, so it needs to be combined with imported oil.  They also have one of the largest sugar processing centers.  The July 26th Revolution with Fidel Castro had its very beginnings in this sugar plant when they tried to organize the seasonal workers who needed to earn money during the off-season. 

We had a wonderful lunch by the water and then we visited the early 17th century Spanish fortress, "El Moro," which guards the sheltered harbor of Santiago.  From there you may see the entire bay.  The fortress was later a prison and was restored in 1997 as a museum with the History of the Spanish American War at sea. 

This evening we were hosted to a reception given by the Jewish Community at the Jewish Synagogue.  There is a community of only 70 people who emigrated in the early years of this century.  There was also an art opening of 4 local Jewish artists and Jewish folk dancing to end the evening.  They have offered to donate free space for our symposiums to continue tomorrow.

Day 6. 5th of July 2000.

This morning Rick Thomas and Annette McGregor continued their presentation on sound design at the Jewish Synagogue.  They showed video footage and sound design for productions at their University in Indiana.  One was a sequel to “Frankenstein”, and the other was a Greek Drama.  Next was a presentation by Laura Crow from the United States about the use of Computers for rendering Scenic and Costume Design.  Unfortunately Jerome Maeckelbergh’s video projector would not work with the computer configuration, so the rest left for a tour of theatres while Jerome stayed behind to work out the problems.  Laura’s presentation was rescheduled for the 7th of July. 

We walked to the Teatro Marti Children’s Theatre.  The theatre use to be used for movies and is very ill equipped.  They had old-fashioned three-color strip lights from the 1950ís and some old floodlights, all of which had to be turned on with a simple switch, no dimmers.  They did have a new ‘Mackie’ computer soundboard, but there is not much hope for other system up grades.  They have a high fly loft and an old hemp counter weight system complete with old stone weights.


The next theatre that we visited was the Orient Theatre.  It was more open with no balcony and also lacking in equipment.   This is a theatre that is home to a Dance company, which specializes in ethnic dancing.  They were rehearsing an African piece for the Fiesta del Fuego Caribbean Festival, which is dedicated to Africa .  The dancing was frenetic complete with real machetes flashing through the air.  The choreographer for the piece is Ernesto Arminan who is also the director/choreographer for the Tropicana Night Club Show in Santiago

We collected Jerome who had figured out the computer glitches and all went for a drink at the beautiful Colonial hotel, Casa Grande.  We ordered Mojitos to drink as a salute to Ernest Hemingway.  We stayed on the lovely porch overlooking then Central Square until it was time for the opening parade to begin. We walked to the area where the parade was forming and got many good shots of the carnival costumes.  The parade was a salute to Africa .  There were wonderful dancers from all over Africa, plus outside groups from Argentina and Panama .   Most of the African participants were students studying in Cuba , but representing their countries in Africa .

After the parade, we returned to the house of Jose Antonio for yet another feast cooked by his wife Barbara and his mother.  This was a celebration for married couples.  The oldest couple was 47 years and the youngest was Miodrag Tabacki and his wife Angelina Atlagic of Serbia and Montenegro who have been ‘officially’ married for only one year. 

Day 7.  6th of July 2000.

We returned to UNEAC house for a presentation by Jerome Maeckelbergh on the Scenography web site project.  The technicians had brought a white sheet this time to cover the green walls, which distort the color of the images.  After the white sheet was raised, the video monitor stopped functioning.  It was discovered that the outlet had only 106 volts rather than the minimum of 117 volts of electricity required to run the machine.  We attempted to switch to the large video monitor in the room, but we didn’t have the right connection cables.  In the end Jerome was forced to deliver his presentation on his computer screen.  It is ironic since it was about communication through the web site.  The preliminary view that we had was very impressive.   It was agreed to adjourn until the next day when we could meet at the University and guaranteed to have enough power. 


(Click image for more Pictures from the Tropicana Night Club)

The afternoon was an excursion trip going first to the Tropicana Night Club.  This is an outdoor performance space built nine years ago specifically to attract a tourist crowd.  It is run by the government, Ministry of Tourism.  The show is lavish with over 200 performers and 1200 costumes.  The space has incredible production values for Cuba and is well equipped for light and sound plus a large turntable on the center stage.  We met the scenographer for the shows, Pepin,  who showed us around backstage.  There were many different rooms for various projects.  First we stopped by the wardrobe maintenance room for the current show.  There was only one young man working here, which is surprising since there are so many costumes.  There was a main room for cutting and stitching which had about 12 employees. 


There was a separate room for the hats and headdresses with another 5 employees.  There were third and forth rooms for costume prop work and trimming with 4 more people. We watched as a woman hand-cut glitter from sheets of mylar.   Lastly there was one air-conditioned room, which was the design office and storage facility for the fabrics, so they would not collect mildew from the extreme humidity.  This is also the place where another employee does all of the ordering of supplies. They have five years to create a show, so this small group of about 20 people do all of the work.  The shoes are made elsewhere in Santiago .  This same crew is currently building the Carnival Parade at Tropicana.  They build not only the float and parade costumes (about 250) for Tropicana, but they also build costumes for other groups.  This is a source of additional income, since salaries for theatre technicians are extremely low.

There scenery is also built on the premises, but there are not full-time employees who do this work.  Most of the flash is in the costumes, which are like moving pieces of scenery.  We stopped by the rehearsal, which was in a small non-air-conditioned room with lots of noise from the instruments playing the rhythmical music.  Despite the heat the director and the singers were doing a full out performance.

We left the Tropicana and continued our excursion to Bocanao Beach.  We stopped at an extraordinary Pre-Historic Dinosaur Park.  There were well over two hundred full-scale replicas of many animals that existed during the time of the Dinosaurs.  Most of the creatures made the Mammoths look small.  The park carries on for several kilometers, but we stayed only to admire the work done by prisoners.  It took over 10 years to complete.

On to the Bocanoa for our belated luncheon and OISTAT meeting.  There was a splendid buffet at the hotel where we all ate and ate, then we adjourned to the beach for our OISTAT meeting.  There was extensive discussion of the web site database that Jerome Maeckelbergh is preparing.  We continued the discussion back by the pool of the hotel where we were served coffee and cake.  Jerome proposed a plan to make the web site self-supporting.  He has applied for a grant to research this idea.  He needs 5 countries from the European Economic Union who will join in the project.   The hope is to have an OISTAT employee who would keep each country web site up to date and answer email for the members and dispense information from the central organization of OISTAT to scenograhers in each country.  It would be paid for with advertisements from various equipment producers or theatres.

We returned to Santiago and visited the Teatro Heredia, which was designed by Arturo Morell, who many of us met in Havana.  He broke with the Cuban traditional decor of red, gold and black to create an environment of cool blues.  We were treated to a gala presentation by many of the same groups who were in the parade performing various dances and songs from Africa and Cuba.  There was a token ‘Rapper,’ and there was also an African-American Gospel Choir from Chicago, Illinois.  The finale was a ‘Dance of Fire’ performed by the Folk Dance Company which we had seen in rehearsal at the Orient Theatre one day earlier.  We left here to go to the central square to see more of the festival.  We arrived in time to see the last two acts and had more Mojitos on the terrace of the Casa Grande Hotel. 

Day 8.  7th of July 2000.

At last today we had a good set up for our presentations and adequate electrical power.  We were situated at the Medical School.  The video projector worked for one hour and then we had to switch to one brought by Dirk Spillemaeckers, the former head of IATSE (the United States Stage Hands Union).  Ben Tzion Munitz repeated his presentation on the computer aided lighting design for ìJulius Caesarî in Israel

Dirk Spillemaeckers discussed his school program for stage technicians, which is in Michigan, USA.  He runs a two-year program, which trains students about stagecraft and rigging on a practical level.  His first group has graduated and he was proud to say that they are all employed.  He has offered to share his syllabus for members of OISTAT who are interested.

(Click images for more Pictures from the Robert Blackman and Marianne Custer)

Robert Blackman & Marianne Custer's work

Laura Crow showed a variety of designer's work from the USA , who are rendering on the computer.  First was Robert Blackman who designs for the "Star Trek" television show.  He finds the computer an efficient way to achieve the large number of designs required for television series work.  There were several other theatre costume designers including Marianne Custer who has been part of the OISTAT Education Commission. Laura also showed scenic renderings most notably those done by Robert Schmidt from Texas .  We had some discussion whether the medium would ever challenge paint as a form of artistic expression.  There were a variety of styles represented.  Most looked lively on the computer screen, but flat in the printed out version.  She finished with a step-by-step show of the rendering process using Adobe PhotoShop. This was very informative. 

The next presentation was from Ivo Kersmaeckers, a Belgian from the Technology Commission.  He discussed a long-range project of the Technology Commission, the Theatre Atlas, to translate theatre venues for touring companies.  The computer translates basic measurements and terms for theatres located in the countries represented by OISTAT.  There is a comprehensive list of touring theatre facilities with contact names, addresses, fax and phone numbers.  The site will link to the Theatre Words Project run by OISTAT, which has been compiling comparative theatre terms for 10 years.  He said the Technology Commission is still trying to come to an agreement about standardized drafting symbols.  Jerome Maekelbergh volunteered to be the liaison to the Scenography Commission for the standardization of symbols. 

The last presentation was a brief description of the "ShowTech" to be held in Berlin in June 2001 by Harald Reichelt of GermanyHarald asked for the Cuban representatives to encourage other Latin American countries to be involved with the exhibition.  He is planning to use "ShowTech" as a time to bring all of the scenographers from Germany together to discuss their common goals.   He asked for further presentations about scenographers and their use of computers as a point of discussion with the Germans.

We adjourned for lunch and after lunch; Jerome Maekelbergh ran a practical workshop on PhotoShop for interested students.  He tried to download Strata 3-D for them since it is free share ware, but it requires more memory than their machines can handle.  The Cubans have only limited computer equipment and limited access to the Internet.  It seems to be available only on the University Campus.  They have email services at home for some, but it is very difficult to have access to the World Wide Web.  Jerome will work with Strata Corporation to see if they will send a copy of the program to José Antonio Prades Hung in Zip Disk form. 

This night we went to the Tropicana show.  It was very much like Las Vegas with better dancing. We were impressed with the lavish costumes and the beautiful mulatto women.  We had Cuba Libre drinks (rum and coke) and danced after the show with great enthusiasm.

Day 9.  8th of July 2000.

Several of us were awakened at 6:30 A.M. to be questioned by the police.  They do routine bed checks to make sure that the homes that host tourists are recording all of the people who stay there.  They pay a tax based on their earnings, so it is important to the government that all paying tourists are recorded in the account books.  It was a little alarming, but the police were very polite and apologetic for waking people up. 

Once more we met at UNEAC and once more we had a voltage problem.  It was a second session planned for Jerome Maekelbergh since the first had been plagued with technical difficulties.  Among the audience was a journalist for the Communist party and he asked if we could talk more about digital media.  There seemed to be other Cubans there who also wished to talk about multimedia for technicians rather than about design, so the OISTAT Scenography web site was put aside in favor of a discussion of the possibilities of electronic media.

We had a formal meeting with the head of UNEAC, Rudolfo Vaillant Garcia, who greeted us and encouraged us to come back another year to attend the Carnival.

All went separate ways and rejoined for an evening farewell dinner and final meeting of OISTAT.  Jerome Maeckelbergh reiterated his interest in being a liaison between the Technology Commission and the Scenography Commission about the standardization of symbols for designers.   He will be positioned well to communicate with Ivo Kersmaeckers, who is working on the Theatre Atlas and is also a resident of Antwerp

Richard Thomas, a Sound Designer from the USA and Jochen Meyer, a Lighting Designer from Germany asked Ivo Kersmaeckers of Belgium to encourage Lighting Design and Sound Design to link with the Technology Commission as well as the Scenography Commission.  Richard Thomas and Ivo Kersmaeckers will begin a Sound and Light Working Group across commission lines about Communications. 

José Antonio Prades Hung has committed to making further communications with Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and Chile encouraging them to be more involved in OISTAT.

Harald Reichelt of Germany is organizing the 'ShowTech' in Berlin, June 2001 and wishes it to promote discussion of how Design and Technology might work together to further communications.  Laura Crow has agreed to continue her symposium on the use of computers as a design tool, research tool and communications tool for scenographers at that meeting.

We closed with greetings from the head of the Scenography Commission, In-Suk Suh of Korea and many thanks to José Antonio Prades Hung for his generosity in hosting this event and inviting us all to Cuba.

(Laura Crow stayed on and visited Carnavale Preparations in both Santiago and Havana and has a further report which is soon to be seen on the Costume Working Group Web Site to be unveiled in Bregenz, Austria in August.

In attendance:
Mr. Jerome Maeckelbergh, Belgium
Mr. Ivo Kersmaeckers, Belgium
Mr. José Antonio Prades Hung, Cuba
Mr. Pedro Marzan, Cuba
Mr. Alejandro Gomez Vale, Cuba
Mr. Harald Reichert, Germany
Mr. Jochen Meyer, Germany
Mr Ben Tzion Munitz, Israel
Mr. Marko Gorjanc, Slovenia
Mr. Arcan Matjaz, Slovenia
Mr. Richard K. Thomas, USA
Ms. Annette McGregor, USA
Ms. Laura Crow, USA
Mr. Dirk Spillemaeckers, USA
Mr. Miodrag Tabacki, Serbia and Montenegro
Ms. Angelina Atlagic, Serbia and Montenegro

International Symposium Presenters were:

Loyce Arthur – Carnival in Trinidad, West Indies

Peggy Rosefeld – Mardi Gras in New Orleans (presented by Virginia Vogel)

Miguel Romero – Puppetry Design in Street Parades

Rolando de Leon – Carnival in the Philippines (presented by Laura Crow)

Treva Reimer – Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Kazue Hatano – Japanese Kimonos and Street Festivals

Hilary Baxter – A New Carnival: Gay Pride Parades in the UK

Lon Monroe – Santeria and Its History and Meaning in Cuba

Ho-Sook Ahn – The Traditional Korean Tea Ceremony


Cuban Symposium Presenters

Maria Luisa Bernal de Figueroa – 40 years of Costume for Cuba Carnival

Jose Antonio Prades Hung – Carnival Design on Theatre Ave in Cuba

Elio Mirialles Rodriguez – Hombres Carossas

Jose Loreto Horruitiner & Ana Amelia Perez – The Masks & Poster for Carnival in Cuba

Mayo Ayra – Carnival in Camguey , Cuba

Dr. Miguel Secades Martinez – Carnival in Santa Clara , Cuba

Ileana Luna – Coordinator of Carnival Presentations in Havana , Cuba

Nieves LaFerté, Carlos Padron Montoya

Lazaro Noreigo Aguirre – Choreography for Piños Nuevos, Using the characters from the Santeria Religion.