Fatima Patterson, National Award for Theatre: Theatre is always open to the spirit

One by one the members of the jury congratulated her: Carlos Celdran the president, Corina Mestre, Nieves Lafferte, Rene Fernandez and Gerardo Fulleda. The decision to award her the National Theatre Prize had been unanimous. Her, this woman with slave ancestors, this daughter of a musician and a laundry worker, who signed up to an acting course in 1969, this mother at 18 years of age, this woman who could never be stopped from reaching great heights.

Fatima: "One does such things that sometimes you don't agree with, and you surprise yourself when you hear what other people say about you. To be an actress is more than getting up on a stage: it is a responsibility, it is my responsibility. It is to take account of the problems of my people, it is to help people be better, and for that battle and I will battle from the stage. It is normal for me. And if for that they give you a prize..it is as if they gave me a prize for being a good daughter or good mother.

"Of course, that means that the people like you, that they recognise your work, and that never leaves you indifferent; but I am not more than a Santiagueran who loves her city, a Cuban who loves her country."

Fatima began in provincial radio. She acted in and directed programmes with great masters at her side. Already Tele Rebelde had been formed, the first TV channel of the revolutionary era. Those were the 1970s. However, in a multicolour country like ours, the characters for her on the screen just appeared. She always had an urge to speak up, with a pounding heart. Raul Pomares saw her and pushed her.

In 1977 she started her journey with the already mythical Cabildo Teatral Santiago with the work ‘El 23 se rompe el corojo'. There she discovered the magic of giving to the public, to touch them. She found the keys to decipher for herself; she began a journey within the neighbourhood which, in truth, has never finished.

"My discovery of a photo of Gladys Linares ("Mafifa"), the bellplayer for the conga group Los Hoyos, in reality was a finding on another level. I had heard her legend, it was the first time that the conga went out behind a coffin. And when I saw that picture of Mafifa it was as if she was speaking to me.

"I went home and I wrote in a flash ‘Repique por Mafifa' or ‘The last bellplayer', on a little portable typewriter. I finished it that night and the next day I sent it to Joel James (writer and head of the Casa del Caribe). He sent it back to me, approving what I had written. Imagine! I even keep the original papers with the note that he wrote on the paper.

"I wanted someone to show to the public that person, that transition from life to death. Death has always been an obsession of mine. I proposed it to two actors, but it didn't interest them, and someone told me: You must do it yourself. It is a work that sometimes makes me afraid. After that I had no other option..I had to found Estudio Macuba."

Madre Cuba (Macuba)

Formed 7 May 1992, Estudio Teatral Macuba explores the universe of Caribbean poetry, its pain and its colours; the magical-religious systems, the oral narration, the storytelling, the music; and challenged by the constant search for feminine meaning. Pieces like the prizewinning ‘Aye N' Fumbi' (World of the dead), ‘Iniciacion en blanco y Negro para mujeres sin color' (Initiation in white and black for women without colour) or ‘Ropa de plancha', all written by Fatima herself.

"In what I write and what I do, I assume that I am a woman, that I am poor, that I am black, that I am an artist. If my skin had been another colour, if it had been of the type preferred by the media, my path would have been different, and my challenges, different. That should offend nobody."

"The most recent work of Macuba is ‘Si se te olvida, te quemas' (if you forget you will burn). It tells of the arrival of extraterrestrials to our world. The people receive them with a lot of anxiety and tinsel, without realising from the beginning that they are the new colonizers. The resistance depends on what the people create. Culture is the only thing that can reverse this process, that can sustain, that can avoid being absorbed. It is a show which hides moments, which passes through Santiago and our culture, where you can find anything from poems by Nicolas Guillen to traditional Cuban music.

"This prize has arrived at the moment Macuba is reaching its 25th anniversary. When I am in the wings, I am always analysing and studying the performance of the musicians, the technicians, the actors. It is inevitable… I always get nervous that moment before going out to the stage, always I have to go to the bathroom. But once I have begun, to be honest, from then on the stage is mine."

Actor, writer and director, she was lauded by the Liverpool press. She was applauded in Europe and the Caribbean. I have seen her filling the stage with her stories and her gestures. I have seen her in the workshops of the Bienial of Orality in Santiago de Cuba. I have seen her covered in cement during the construction of the current site of her collective, the Café Teatro Macuba. I have seen her in rehearsals, in the streets I think that I have seen her forever. And right now, I have her in front of me, just for me, while a huge photo shows her playing the piano with her daughter.

"I have dedicated more time to the theatre than to the home. It is a debt that in my years now I am trying to repay, but theatre insists, theatre comes home with me. My daughter, Consuelo Duany Patterson, also is an actor, I am her mother and I am her boss. Sometimes, I recognise it, I am very strict; but she has found a way of helping me to organise myself, a way of leading with me. My granddaughter Firoella Franco Duany, is a journalism student, and is the peacekeeper. And this is a home only with women, for good or bad.

"Now…what is left is work and more work. I feel that my life commitment is with the future. It is to awaken in the youngest people the sense of an ethic and participation, because theatre does that, because the theatre also is that. Without ethics, without commitment, without responsibility, you cannot make theatre. Theatre is always open to the spirit."

One time someone said to me that things don't happen by chance. Fatima de la Caridad Patterson is a fighter. She has something that shakes you, that picks you up and carries you. Cuban culture, by awarding her the National Theatre prize, has more than one reason for giving her recognition.

Link to full interview in Spanish by Renaldo Cedeno Pineda in La Jirilbilla

English translation by Cuba50