Teatro Miramar: a dream to be realised

Summer 2006

This year the Music Fund for Cuba will launch it’s most ambitious project to date, the restoration of the Miramar Theatre in Havana

Steve Wilkinson visited the theatre and talked to representatives of Cuban arts and music organisations on what this will mean to the local community.

The Miramar theatre on 5th Avenue and 94th Street in Miramar, Havana, is just a short walk from the CNEArt (National Centre of Art and Music Schools) office. It belongs to the National School of Art also nearby, but is in such a poor state of repair that for years it has only been used as a rehearsal space by students at the school. However, the theatre has a potential and importance, not only for the school, but also for the surrounding community: it is a dream of the CNEArt team to renovate it and make it a functioning community arts resource.

The project to restore the theatre is being led by Sara Gonzalez, the Head of International Relations at CNEArt, Mayle Benitez, CNEArt’s Deputy Director, and Clara Gonzalez, the Deputy Director of the National School of Art.

Sara Gonzalez started by telling me about the theatre itself:

“The Miramar theatre was built in the 1950s before the revolution and was a centre of entertainment in what was then a wealthy area of the city. It was a musical theatre at first and then was used as a cinema. After the revolution, when the middle classes left and the area became occupied by ordinary people, it continued to be an important cultural centre because it is the only one of its kind in the area, unfortunately about 15 years ago it had to be closed down.”

The closure coincided with the beginning of what was known as the ‘Special Period’ in Cuba, when the economy suffered a dramatic downturn after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mayle Benitez explains:

“The theatre had deteriorated so much and because of the Special Period there was no possibility of repairing it. The air conditioning for example required imported spare parts to keep it working and so couldn’t be repaired. The roof got damaged by a hurricane and began to let in water, the audio system broke down and could not be repaired, and the seats are worn out as they are now so old, but we could not afford replacements. In short, the theatre became so dilapidated and unsuitable for public use that we had stop performances there.”

The theatre is still used as a rehearsal space by bands, circus and dance groups but its role could be so much more important. Mayle continues:

“The theatre is very important to the Playa municipality. There are a lot of disadvantaged communities in the district who lack a proper functioning cultural centre of their own. This area is a long way from the centre of Havana and people have to travel far to get to the theatre or the cinema. It is particularly difficult for young people because there is little to do in the evenings for them in this area. In addition, the community does not have a large venue as a meeting place for public events and meetings, so the renovation of this building is extremely important for the local community.”

This theme is taken up by Clara Gonzalez, the deputy chief of the National School of Art:

“The National School needs a public performance space and this theatre is the only one we have. We dream of being able to stage productions here to which the local public will be able come and enjoy. All the schools - dance, theatre, circus and music will use it to stage productions and shows. The theatre will therefore be a beautiful link between the schools and the local community. In addition, each of the schools carries out projects in the local community in which children can participate and learn skills. If this theatre could be reopened, it will be simply wonderful.”

The team estimate that the renovation project will take about 18 months to two years to complete, once the financial question is resolved. That is where the Music Fund for Cuba comes in, says Mayle:

“For us it is a dream to have this theatre working again. If the Music Fund can help us do this it will be simply a dream come true.”

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