Groundbreaking Cuban theater group, “Without a Cane,” woos crowds and critics alike by showing that talent and will can overcome any challenge.
All members of the theater troupe are blind, mostly since birth, and are registered members of the National Association for the Blind (ANCI).
Though every performance offers its own tests for these actors, there has never been an obstacle they could not overcome.
Julio Cisneros, 50, a Cuban actor and playwright who is unable to see with his right eye, founded the group in 1993 with an intention to open the door to blind actors.
“The first play we performed was called ‘The Blind Man and the Virgin.’ It was based on a true story I read in a magazine in which a person pretended to be blind in order to swindle people,” said Cisneros.
The play’s success propelled the trainee director to study theater more keenly, approaching the work of the greats of Cuban theater, including Nicolas Dorr, and propelling him to write more.
The second play, a version of “Two By Two” by famous Cuban playwright Freddy Artiles, saw further acclaim and helped “Without a Cane” receive recognition by the ANCI.
The ANCI also bestowed its highest honor upon them, giving the group the Crystal Cane Award.
“This troupe had incredible results since its founding,” said Carlos Ramirez, head of the ANCI’s Department of Education, Culture and Public Relations.
“The theater company is now an emblem of possibility and social reintegration for the blind in Cuba, helping them to discover their individual potential and offering emotional support,” said Ramirez.
Maria Isabel Ruiz, a member of “Without a Cane,” lost her vision 15 years ago.
While she works at the ANCI Cultural Recreation Center in Havana, making a living as a librarian in the Braille section, her greatest passion is performing with the group.
“Since I joined the troupe, I’ve achieved more in my personal life,” said the actress, who recently played the leading role in the comedy play “Happy Birthday Aunt.”
The piece was written by Cisneros, who uses daily Cuban life as inspiration for his work.
For the playwright, it can be difficult to find themes to write about that are easily interpreted by the blind actors.
“The most challenging part for them is to learn and perform the chains of actions, because most of them have been blind from birth, they do not know what each gesture looks like. So I teach them every stage movement, from shaking their heads to moving around the stage,” explained the director.
The process of learning these actions and physical clues is important, Cisneros said, because his actors have to represent people who are not blind and therefore need to express themselves with natural gestures, just as those with sight do.
“It is very difficult for them, but we study and rehearse a lot,” said the director.
“Without a Cane” is currently preparing for a performance at the Unicorn Theatre Festival. Last year, it won the festival’s Special Prize.
“The success of ‘Without a Cane’ proves that the will of people is limitless,” said Cisneros, with pride.