- A Dream of Making
If the position of women in theatre seems healthy in the United States in the early twenty-first century, it is due in part to the assiduous efforts and hard work of trailblazing women who came before. While up-and-coming female dramatists today can readily look up to Suzan-Lori Parks, Theresa Rebeck, Lynn Nottage, Sarah Ruhl, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Sheila Callaghan, Lucy Thurber, Julia Cho, Young Jean Lee, Karen Zacarias, Katori Hall, Lisa Schlesinger, Chiori Miyagawa, and many others, it is important to remember that the steps taken by these and other women in the theatre are not singular, but rather part of a complex trajectory of labyrinthian paths in which women have had to engage for many years. When I started writing for the theatre, Wendy Wasserstein was one of the few women who regularly had plays produced at major US theatres; in many a theatre season, she was the lone woman in a roster of five to six plays otherwise written by men. When I went to the public library and browsed through the stacks of plays on the shelves, the only ones written by women that I could find were those by either Lillian Hellman or the estimable and seemingly ageless Caryl Churchill. Occasionally, if I visited a library that was particularly well stocked, plays by Ntozake Shange, Susan Glaspell, Sophie Treadwell, and Mae West also materialized. The rest of the burgeoning stacks overflowing with scripts were populated by men, with central roles written for men. Imagine how I felt at the thought of even considering writing for the theatre. It seemed a dour enterprise and definitely one very much uphill. There was not a Latina playwright in sight on the library shelves at my high school or college.
It was not until graduate school at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) that I encountered the works of Adrienne Kennedy, Adele Edling Shank (who was my professor), and Maria Irene Fornes, and also, along the way, plays and librettos by Gertrude Stein, Paula Vogel, Milcha Sanchez-Scott, Cherríe Moraga, Lynne Alvarez, and Dolores Prida. I remember being a bit confused by the "strange" texts that were suddenly on my syllabus: plays that behaved quite differently in terms of form and content from countless others I had read (and seen) as a young adult. The confusion was offset by a somewhat secretive sense of pleasure. In these dramatists' works, there was theatrical "misbehavior" of all kinds, including an unusual attention to poetic language, the examination of women's roles in the public and domestic sphere, and a formal fearlessness I had not quite encountered before, except maybe in the radical plays of Euripides! What I felt more than anything was that I was not so alone in the world of writing plays. Certainly the fact that the head of playwriting at UCSD at [End Page 511] the time was a woman was a key part of that discovery, and although as a professor Shank was mindful to honor our voices as student writers, the fact that she exposed us to plays in print that many of us in the classroom had never heard of before was crucial to her instilling in her students an expansive grasp of what was and is possible onstage.
Although Shank was a fine, sensitive teacher, I remember being drawn more and more to the work of Maria Irene Fornes. Perhaps the fact that, in a class of three playwrights, I was the only woman and also the only Latina in the graduate program had something to do with this. But I think it had more to do with Fornes's vision of theatre. Here was an author born and raised in Cuba who was writing stark, emotionally resonant plays in English—and not only English, but an acquired American English. I was taken with Fornes's work, because the themes she was exploring in her plays Mud, The Conduct of Life, and Sarita (the first three of her plays that I read) were similar to those I was already exploring in my own early works. Again, the feeling of solidarity was central...