The highlight of my summer was participating in the first ever Fornes Playwriting Workshop. It was taught by the amazing Migdalia Cruz, Puerto Rican Playwright. She was mentored by Fornes. Cruz shared some of her techniques and experiences she had while learning under the legend. Cruz is a legend in her own right so being in the same room with her was always an adventure. She had us laughing, thinking and feeling all the feels. The workshop ended with a presentation of the scenes that we had written while in workshop and they were performed at the Chicago Dramatist building by some of Chicago’s finest actors.
Maria Irene Fornes (the workshop’s namesake) is a master playwright who was a leader in the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the sixties. She has received nine Obie Awards and is hailed as the “Mother of Latin@ Theatre” But what makes her such a boss is not that she is “distinguished”, but it’s that she treats writing a grand adventure. I think that is something that we tend to forget when we are grinding on this journey. Migdalia Cruz is a writer of plays, musical theatre and opera. Her pieces have been produced in London, New York, Oregon, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Houston among other places. She is a leader in the field crafting honest stories that resonate with audiences world wide.
Here are a few takeaways from the Fornes workshop:
1.What a brilliant artist Maria Irene Fornes is.
I knew who Maria Irene Fornes was, but I didn’t know her methods writing plays. Her methods of making the work that we do communal, fun and opening up our minds to recognize how serious of a gift this is really put into perspective the significance of writing. Learning her techniques really put the PLAY back in playwrighting for me.
2. Let your characters speak.
We wrote for hours every day during the workshop and one of the goals was for us NOT to put the pen down. Not to censor our characters. There were times when I really wanted to censor the words because I was thinking about what can be produced or what an audience would like, but Migdalia Cruz challenged us to see beyond that. Just tell the stories!
3. Writer’s communities are imperative.
The playwrights in the space made the experience lively and wonderful They were gracious, kind, honest, hilarious and wonderful bunch to be around for 9 days. We were so diverse in professional experience, language, culture, sexuality, race, ethnicity and age, but we were all there for one reason, to learn and to write. And write we did. Many of us came away with a full notebook of scripts inspired by our workshop.
4. Use Paper.
When writing, use paper. I had gotten away from that. The laptop had received one too many clicks on my end. There is something about writing in a tablet that frees you. That was a requirement of the workshop, that we come with paper and pen/pencil ready to write.
5. Writing starts in the body.
We would go through physical activity before we sat down to write. I will admit it wore me out a bit for the first few days, but that was the point. To get us worn out so that we have no choice but to be honest on the page. It really worked, because we got some of the most honest writing out that week.
6. Chicago actors rock.
The presentation of our scenes was a dream come true and each actor really grasped on to our stories. The actors were cast across gender, race, ethnic lines by the super talented director Sandra Marquez. My scene titled Pop-Buelo, featured the creativity of actors Penelope Walker (as Pop-Buelo) and Avi Roque (as Emita). From the first read, I knew the chemistry would shine through these vessels. I am grateful for them lending their voices to my piece. But what would you expect when Sandra Marquez, a superstar director, get her hands on your script?
This workshop will go down in history as one of the turning points in my life. I want to give a sincere shout out to the writer’s group that became family in such a short time. I am grateful to have met a group of such gifted, skillful and hysterical writers. Check out their work!
Thank you Migdalia Cruz for your honesty, talent and blessing in this process. Thank you to Lucas and Anne for the tremendous job you did organizing the program. Most importantly, thank you Maria Irene Fornes for gracing the world with your dynamic presence. You are a light that will continue to shine.