- Expanding the Chair:A Conversation on Fornés's Pedagogy in Action
María Irene Fornés, award-winning playwright, director, and teacher, did not wait for a seat at the proverbial table. She created her own table and her own chair. She invited many to sit at her table of artistic and theatrical creation. In this note we ask: Who continues to sit in her chair? Can her chair expand as her legacy continues to grow? Fornés taught a generation of playwrights through her work at INTAR, as well as at workshops, universities, and arts organizations. She mentored the authors of this essay, Elaine Romero and Anne García-Romero, and both continue to be inspired by her pedagogy as they teach playwriting to new generations of students. What follows is a dialogue between these playwrights as they consider Fornés's mentorship and legacy, their experiences of her pedagogy, and Fornés's continued influence on Latinx and non-Latinx writers.
In recent national meetings, through the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC), you and I have taken part in a conversation among Latinx playwrights about María Irene Fornés. In a world where fellow Latinx mentors were few, Irene stepped forward to guide a generation or two of US playwrights. Her creative teaching methods have inspired us both in our work as playwrights and educators.
Many of Irene's longtime students who teach are Latinx. How does this inform the legacy of handing down her methods to the next generation? Irene's relationship with her Cuban upbringing broadly informs her work. Navigating English and Spanish, US and Latin American worlds influenced Irene's teaching. Her methods navigate multiple physical, linguistic, and visual realities to access deep play material. Irene's students whose origin and language are rooted in Latinx culture might have a particular affinity for accessing her methods. Perhaps we can more fully comprehend how negotiating a bilingual, bicultural, Latinx identity informs Irene's teaching techniques.
In reviewing Irene's influence, it's easy to focus solely on her vast impact on Latinx writers. Her legendary workshops at INTAR in New York and her truncated workshops, which she took on the road, gave her a resonant reach into our community like no other Latinx mentor before or since. Without her, would we exist as a community? Would we know one another? Would we care? Would we know we were artistic siblings if we had not known a common parent? Perhaps we will never know the answer to these questions.
However, as more time transpires between source and transmission, Irene's methods are in danger of dilution. Irene never wrote a book about her teaching, and she gave her final workshop in 2001. How are Irene's students passing on her legacy? How does the creative energy of Irene's teaching resist temporal drift? Many of us teach her methods in universities, colleges, and arts organizations. However, not all have tenured positions where they can consistently teach Irene's methods to the next generation.
We do believe that Irene's pedagogy models the practice of radical inclusion. Tony Kushner once said of Irene, "her oeuvre is one of American drama's most important achievements." Paula [End Page 83] Vogel has called Irene one of her three gods. She places Irene in the company of Caryl Churchill and John Guare. Nilo Cruz proudly declares he comes "from the Irene Fornés school." In conversations with national playwrights of varied ethnic backgrounds over the years, such as Julie Hébert, Karen Hartman, and Rebecca Gilman, I've discovered that Irene focused on instilling her subconscious-excavating techniques, not only in Latinx playwrights, but in an entire generation or two of American playwrights. Hébert wrote her first play under Irene at Padua Hills Playwrights Festival. Hartman studied with Irene at Yale. When I told Gilman that I had studied with Irene, she said, "We all did."
In the same conversation Gilman described an exercise of Irene's where the writers would draw the face of the...