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by Marilyn Bobes

Since 1990, the children’s musical theater group La Colmenita (The Little Beehive) has been passionately involving Cuban children, becoming one of the most fascinating projects to be seen on Cuban stages.

It all began when Carlos Alberto “Tin” Cremata, then a young student theater director, conceived the idea to put together a traveling theater company that would tour the most underprivileged neighborhoods in Havana and in remote locations throughout Cuba.

At first there were fourteen young people but given the situation that Tin and his mother Iraida Malberti were directing a TV program called Cuando yo sea grande (When I Grow Up), children began to join these performances and they soon created La Colmenita. Initially they had small roles in the youth productions and then they had their own performances.

And so April 1994 became a memorable date for Cuban culture: in the enormous Karl Marx Theater in Havana a group of children presented the show “Meñique”, thus being the only show with just child actors to ever have been seen in Cuba.

As of that moment, La Comenita, as it is today, was founded. Its aim is not to train professional actors but basically to contribute to the formation of human values through artistic creation.

The great interest of boys and girls wanting to join the company resulted in the past decade that other groups bearing the same name were put together in many of the country’s municipalities. These days the group has also taken over other regions in Latin America and, in general, in Third World countries.

The group also includes children with special education needs because Tin believes that art should be enjoyed by everyone, seeking unity in diversity and attaining personal growth.

The community-based nature of this enterprise has helped it to become popular with Cuban audiences everywhere on the Island and to promote the active participation of children and teenagers in society.

The influence of this group has been so overwhelming on the Cuban cultural scene that in 1998 the Ministry of Culture decided to integrate it as an atypical project in the National Theater Arts Council.

From 1996, La Colmenita has had its headquarters in a grand old mansion in the heart of Havana’s El Vedado district. In November of that same year, the Taller Colmenero (the beehive workshop), or the La Colmenita de Plaza, was born; this has been doing the most sustainable work after that of La Colmenita Central.

Cremata’s kids went on their first international tour to Haiti in 1998 and since then they have followed up with highly successful tours to Venezuela, Belgium, Spain, Mexico, Panama, Japan, the United States and other countries where they have been acclaimed by audiences who marvel at these young artists and their powers of communication and talent, capable of interpreting everything from Beatles’ music to songs originated by the famous Cuban band, Los Van Van.

Perhaps that is why UNESCO has made them Goodwill Ambassadors, thereby becoming the first theater group in the world bearing that title.

But all has not been easy for the company. In 2001, after doing a show for one million people in Havana’s Revolution Square, a devastating fire at their headquarters destroyed three quarters of the company’s costumes, adding up to losses of over $40,000. By 2004, they had rebuilt their headquarters.

This children’s company has performed in schools, hospitals and some very remote locations. They have worked with the famous clown Patch Adams and they have also served as a bridge for exchanges between Cuba and the United States.

Their first visit to the United States took place in 2003, sponsored by Global Exchange, giving this very unique theater group yet another resounding success. A second visit took place in 2011 with performances in New York at the UN headquarters, Washington, D.C. and California.

All of us who have seen these children perform have been touched by the magic that surpasses their talent and goes straight to the heart. La Colmenita is not just another theater group, it constitutes a reservoir of the best human values, tempered by the touch of art.

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