The U.S. premiere of Ludi Teatro has been canceled after the Cuban theatre group faced difficulties in visa approvals.
The company’s performance piece El Espejo (The Mirror), written by Abelardo Estorino and directed by María de Los Ángeles Montero Tamayo, was to play Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre October 19–22 as part of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA)’s Destinos, the first international Latino theatre festival in the city.
Nine members of Ludi Teatro had applied for P-3 visas, given to “culturally unique” artists. According to CLATA’s attorney Bill Martinez, the artists had been in the process of supplying U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with additional information to supplement their I-129 petitions for nonimmigrant workers. Upon approval, the group would proceed to interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Problems arose after the immediate downsizing of the embassy, prompted by the Trump administration's decision in the wake of the sudden illness of two dozen diplomats in recent months. The cause is still unconfirmed, though initial speculation pointed to an attack involving a sonic weapon.
As of October 3, the embassy, which is also recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma, was no longer processing visas for performing artists and many other Cuban citizens. Those intending to enter the U.S. were directed to apply at an embassy or consulate in another country—a timely and costly, and therefore ineffective, alternative for Ludi Teatro.
“I am confident that we would have succeeded in Havana and Ludi Teatro would have arrived in Chicago prior to the State Department’s surprising decision to shut operations down,” Martinez said.
Martinez and CLATA had been working with Illinois Congressman Dick Durbin to still bring the Cuban artists to the state, and though Martinez credits his office for their promptness, the attempts have thus far proven unsuccessful.
“Because CLATA strives to engage in a global artistic exchange to break down barriers that separate our cultures and communities, it is with great regret that we must cancel the performances by Ludi Teatro,” said CLATA Co-Founder and Executive Director Myrna Salazar in a statement.
The dismissal of nonessential personnel in Cuba further signifies a continued departure from President Obama’s attempts at a restoration of diplomacy between the U.S. and Cuba. The Trump administration has reversed several Obama-era policies, and has set restrictions discouraging U.S. travel to Cuba.
“This has caused many performing arts presenters and collaborating agencies much pain—not just economically, though the financial losses are huge,” Martinez told Playbill. “What this says about our nation’s role in shaping a positive future for future generations through engagement and dialogue is profoundly hurtful. Culture is communication. Building yet one more wall, one more barrier, to stop the communication that comes from our cultural exchanges does not reflect any value we can be proud of. This does not make America great.”
The Destinos Chicago International Latino Theater Festival began September 29 and continues through October 29. Ticketholders for The Mirror will be refunded.