Dozens of requests were sent to the town hall, asking for permission to build houses to the south of the city, within a tolerance zone where black and white people used to hold celebrations and orgies. This area had also interesting urban perspectives since the bridge over the river availed commercial contact with the coast region.
It is said that it was the idea of some local lovers of the arts, who used to gather for night talks in front of an old pharmacy on the Calle Real (Real Street), to promote the construction of a theatre. Thus, the municipal board set up for the purpose selected a piece of land on the left of the river, exactly the same place where the theatre is still located.
All this happened in 1838, and just one year after, on July 15th, 1839, the coliseum was inaugurated with the committed cooperation of neighbours. It was constructed by skilful master builder Blas Cabrera, who had already taken part in outstanding engineering works such as the local bridge. Cabrera needed only eleven months to build the theatre.
The building had a neoclassic look. Its façade tried to be an imitation of that of Havana’s Teatro Tacón. Nevertheless, it became a small-scale architectural jewel, with nice colonial features, an excellent proscenium and outstanding acoustics.
As time went on, the “Principal” (as it’s best known in the territory), was hit by several calamities. In 1868, it was used as a barrack, and part of its stage was dismantled and sent to the kitchen. During the 1890s, it was successively used as hospital, shelter for troops and reconcentrated people, and again kitchen. In 1899, it began to be demolished to build an asylum for war widows.
Thanks to the stoicism of local residents, the theatre was always rescued from its own ashes, thus being repaired in 1878, 1890, 1901, 1940, and 1973. Unfortunately, a pitiful decision was later on adopted and the theatre was turned into a cinema on November 12th, 1974. Just by chance (or maybe because destiny made fun of this fact), the film La última bala (The last bullet) was shown that day.
According to existing record on the foundation of the country’s first theatres, the Teatro Principal is the oldest still in use today. Outstanding world personalities performed at this theater’s stage such as Juventino Rosas and Brindis de Salas. Local Sancti Spiritus residents also enjoyed shows by vernacular theatre companies like that run by late Enrique Arredondo, as well as ballet, opera and symphonic orchestra presentations.
After many years, agreement was reached about the need of getting the theatre back. Thus, the place was submitted to an expensive capital restoration carried out in only one year and three months. The theatre was provided with air-conditioning, state-of-the-art technology, and a modern new stage that allows the presentation of plays, small and medium sized ballet companies, and chamber music groups, among other cultural manifestations.
The theatre was reopened last July 15th, 2013, on occasion of its 174 foundation anniversary.
(Photos: Vicente Brito, GARAL, and courtesy of the City Historian María Antonieta Jiménez Margolles)