BirthLa Havane, Cuba (1927)
DeathNew York, United States (2012)
Cuban puppeteers. The sister and brother partnership of Caridad and José Camejo, known respectively as Carucha and Pepe, were pioneers of Cuban puppetry. They began their careers in puppetry at a very young age, forming their first travelling puppet theatre group in 1949 with cloth puppets which later incorporated papier-mâché. They began performing at children’s parties in private homes and schools, usually charging just enough to cover transportation costs. In 1950, they were hired by the Misiones Culturales (Cultural Missions) and toured with their puppets throughout Cuba. Back in Havana they rented a space, mounted shows on weekends and in time found themselves performing on Cuban television.
By 1952, interest in puppetry had improved, especially in Havana. In Mayari (Oriente), another puppeteer, Pepe Carril, founded the Teatro de Muñecos. In 1956, the Camejos and Pepe Carril joined forces, giving birth to the Guiñol Nacional de Cuba (National Puppet Theatre of Cuba). Their stated objective was to bring all puppeteers together and consolidate a movement that would promote the dissemination of Cuban culture and traditions. They viewed puppets not only as a means of entertaining children but also as an art form of infinite possibilities capable of interesting everyone. Also during those years, Pepe Camejo and Pepe Carill created and published the magazine Titeretada (1952-1957, 1959, 1965-1966).
In 1959, the Cuban revolution prompted huge changes in the country’s cultural and political perspectives. This period witnessed the creation of both the Consejo Nacional de Cultura (National Council for Culture) and the Departamento Nacional del Teatro para la Infancia y la Juventud (National Department of Theatre for Children and Youth). With the generation of the motto, “Puppets in Parks and Schools”, puppets spread throughout Cuba. Given their expertise, the Camejos were summoned to organize workshops and seminars which would prepare teachers, cultural workers and other candidates capable of forming groups across the country.
Throughout their careers the Camejos performed all of the creative tasks involved in their productions. They adapted existing texts for puppet theatre (Federico García Lorca, Javier Villafañe), and explored other sources, such as Afro-Cuban folklore, to create new plays for children and adults. Some of their more important productions are: Pelusín y los pájaros (Pelusín and the Birds, 1956), La Cenicienta (Cinderella, 1965), and Ibeyi aña (1969) for children; and Don Juan Tenorio (1965), Shango de Ima (1965), La Celestina (1967), and Yo, o Vladimiro Maiakovski (I, or Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1970) for adults. They designed all aspects of their productions, including the puppets, then made, manipulated and voiced their creations.
In 1971, after the 1st National Congress of Education and Culture sessions in Havana, they were removed as artistic directors of the Teatro Nacional de Guiñol (TNG, National Puppet Theatre, founded in 1963), victims of moral and political prejudices, under a process that has been called “parametración”. In the 1980s, Carucha and Pepe went into exile, both dying in the United States: Pepe Camejo in 1988 and Carucha in 2012. Their legacy, and the memory of their work in TNG with Pepe Carril, is currently being revisited by a new generation of theatre artists in an effort to rehabilitate their names, talents and legacy.
Pepe Camejo (Havana, Cuba, 1929 – New York, United States, 1988)