Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cigar Rolling in Cuba

The cast and crew of Anna in the Tropics have been steeped in culture and history in preparation for the opening of this Pulitzer Prize winning show. Nilo Cruz, the playwright, was born in Cuba but fled with his parents in the sixties to America. With his cultural background, Cruz was inspired to write a play celebrating the traditions involved with cigar making, many of which continue today.

In order to explore the world of the play – set in in a cigar factory in Ybor City in 1929 – the cast and crew, led by production dramaturgs whose function in the production is to contextualize the play historically, took a trip to Ybor City to tour the town, the old cigar factory, and the casitas where workers used to live. They learned about the history of cigar making in Cuba and the U.S. and spent time learning how cigars were hand rolled before machines took over the job. As they discovered the unique world of Ybor City, inhabited by immigrant cigar makers from Cuba, Spain, Italy and Germany, they also learned about the tradition of lectors – professional readers paid to read aloud to the workers while they made cigars, in order to break up the monotony of the job. As a result of the lector’s selection of literature, many of the workers -called listeners or oidores- could quote Shakespeare, Brontë, and Cervantes, despite the inability to read.

With the unique mixture of cultures in this play, it is no surprise that the cast is as diverse as the subject matter.

Anna in the Tropics imagines the ramifications that occur when a new lector arrives to read to a close-knit community of cigar workers. This new lector decides to read Anna Karenina, and the play traces how the lector’s presence and Tolstoy’s words inspire and create conflict as each character discovers the world of Russian aristocracy, as well as the poetry and romance of the novel. With the unique mixture of cultures in this play, it is no surprise that the cast is as diverse as the subject matter. Starting with the director, David Charles from New Zealand, the show has been cast and staffed with students from Greece to Costa Rica, Puerto Rico to Thailand, Brazil to The Caribbean. More information on the cast and crew, as well as the show, can be found as a link to the Annie Russell Webpage at
The show opens on Feb. 8 and runs through the 17. There will be  a post-show discussion panel, “Snapshots of the Cuban American Experience” at 5:50 p.m.


Listen to two members of The Sandspur team Greg Golden and Amir Sadeh interview the director, Dr. David Charles, about the show Anna in the Tropics on The Sandspur Hour, their weekly WPRK radio show:

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *