Paul S. Flores draws a clear delineation between the stories of Cuban exiles and those of Cuban immigrants.
An exile story has themes such as Fidel Castro and the city of Miami, stories often found in plenty of American theatre narratives about Cuba. But an immigrant story is extremely different, one that thrives beautifully in the Afro-Cuban diaspora of the Bay Area.
Flores, originally from Chula Vista and co-founder of Youth Speaks, is a tireless theatre artist who is thrilled and ready to bring forth his latest piece that celebrates the Afro-Cuban immigrant. “We Have Iré,” comes to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco for three performances this weekend, May 10th – 12th.
Speak to Flores at any length about Cuba and his passion for the island is palpable. It’s a place he has traveled to about a dozen times by his own estimation. After tireless research, travel and connecting with some of the most decorated Cuban artists in the Bay, he is thrilled to be on the cusp of sharing such a personal piece, informed by the land he first visited in 1995 just after his grandmother’s passing in Havana.
“There’s no other place I’ve traveled to that many times and there’s something special about it,” said Flores. “It’s amazing to be working inside a place you long to be. That type of passion is put inside the piece from my perspective.”
The production is commissioned by Yerba Buena and co-produced by New York City’s Pregones Theater. It already has multiple cities booked after its San Francisco world premiere, including an extra Bay Area stop in San Jose as well as New York City, Miami, Houston, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, among others.
While there are plenty of stories that deal with a Cuban’s conflicted history with their native land, a story that’s not told nearly as often is a story of celebration. For Flores, who has seen countless Cuban stories of all shapes and sizes, his show is a story that celebrates Cuban jazz, traditional Yoruba songs and dance, Latinx hip-hop and spoken word. His multidisciplinary approach to the show gets to the heart of so many Cuban existences in the Bay Area, especially the rich community that occupies the East Bay.
“We are not nostalgic for Cuba, and artists who came out of the Special Period in Cuba in the 1990s have a different relationship to Cuba,” said Flores. “That’s the story that’s engrained in our theatre piece. The exile experience is not the same as the experience of the Cuban immigrant, they are two very different communities.
“We are not into politics but into art and the art hustles. The Cuban artist community are real folks who go through the whole process of trying to acclimate and be awesome artists.”
“We Have Iré” is a who’s who of these Cuban artists coming together, a talent feast for the senses. The show is directed by Pregones founder and artistic director Rosalba Rolón and features Grammy-nominated jazz musician and composer Yosvany Terry, Oakland-based hip-hop artist DJ Leydis, who DJ’d for President Barack Obama in 2016 and Ramón Ramos Alayo, artistic director of both Alayo Dance Company and Cuba Caribe. Adding to the spectacle is videographer Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi who will bring to the show footage of the artists in their native land, in addition to his photographed documentation of Flores’ Cuba travels and research.
The term “iré” is rooted in Lucumí, derived from the Afro-Cuban language of Yoruba. It is defined as “blessed with positive energy,” according to Flores. In addition, celebrating achievements and finding purpose has much to do with what iré is all about.
Pulling together all these elements is no small feat. Flores started to realize that once he started building the rehearsal schedule. Epically long rehearsals that are commonplace for theatre-trained artists and creative team members didn’t necessarily fly with other disciplines.
“When we are trying to organize a company of multidisciplinary artists in a play, you have to figure out rules for everyone’s artistic culture,” said Flores. “The rigor is different, not to mention the aesthetics in creating a song or creating a scene.”
While there are certainly no musicians or dancers trying to participate in a 12-hour staging rehearsal, what Flores is inspired by is how all the disciplines have come together for the love of their art and the love of the Bay Area’s rich Afro-Cuban culture. Audiences will certainly walk away with great backstories of some phenomenal trumpet players, timbaleros and congueros that keep sus raíces en Cuba but ply their trade in the Bay.
“The show feels like a documentary on stage, and it’s really cool that we are going to learn about the real lives of these well-known, highly accomplished Cuban artists who live here.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents “We Have Iré”
Written by Paul S. Flores
Directed by Rosalba Rolón
May 10th – 12th
701 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $25 – $30
For tickets, call (415) 978-2787 or visit www.ybca.org