Mud and Desire

Playwright Maria Irene Fornes, Off-Off-Broadway Vet, Owns This Year's Signature Theatre Stage

It happened? "That's how it seems when I'm writing," she says. Indeed, Fornes works—and in classes at Intar, Yale, NYU, and elsewhere, has taught a generation of playwrights to work—by clearing her mind with yoga-inspired movement, then waiting for characters to take shape in her imagination. She simply writes down what they say and do. (She becomes an exacting editor in a later rewriting process.) Fornes has devised a series of exercises to prod the imagination. She'll open a book randomly and pull a line from it. She'll find an object to suggest a scene—like the wooden chairs, ironing board, and hoe she bought at a flea market and shaped Mud around. She'll visualize a substance and see who emerges from it—Drowning's blobs of humanity oozed out of a viscous puddle of muck. No doubt it's this way of working that explains what playwright Suzan-Lori Parks finds inspiring in Fornes's work: "It seems attached to basic bodily functions."

Fornes offers her own precise bodily image: "Writing is like your fingerprints," she says. "You have no idea what they look like, but wherever you go, you are leaving your mark."

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