April 9, 2018

Lewis Center for the Arts presents I Am in Fifth Grade, You Are in Kindergarten


FNU LNU by Mac Wellman and premiere of Princeton-commissioned The Book of Miaou-Wow-Wow: Don’t Drink Everything Your Mother Pours You by Migdalia Cruz
Coincides with Princeton’s hosting of national Latinx Theatre Commons María Irene Fornés Institute Symposium
Playwrights visit Princeton for a conversation moderated by Anne García-Romano

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present I Am in Fifth Grade, You Are in Kindergarten, an evening of two short plays with music in honor of playwright María Irene Fornés. The evening includes FNU LNU by Mac Wellman, a fellow avant garde playwright of Fornés, and the world premiere of The Book of Miaou-Wow-Wow: Don’t Drink Everything Your Mother Pours You by Migdalia Cruz, a longtime friend and student of Fornés. Both plays are directed by faculty member Elena Araoz. Performances will be presented April 13, 14, 19, 20, and 21 at 8:00 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center with the audience seated on stage.

fornes headshot

Photo of María Irene Fornés by James M. Kent

Fornés, born in Havana, Cuba, in 1930, is regarded as among the most influential American theater-makers of the 20th century, however one of the least widely known. A defining force within the off-off-Broadway movement of the 1960s and 1970s and nine-time Obie Award winner, Fornés — as playwright, director, designer and teacher — became a guiding presence for emerging theater artists of the 1980s and 1990s, especially those invested in staging feminist, queer and latinx aesthetics and experiences. Fornés’ experiments in theatrical form and her transformative teaching techniques continue to challenge and inspire new generations of theater-makers today. Even so, the living legacy of Fornés remains remarkably under-acknowledged among contemporary theater artists, students and scholars. Currently 87 years old, Fornés resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Due to late stage Alzheimer’s disease, she is no longer writing or teaching.

The Latinx Theatre Commons’ María Irene Fornés Institute Symposium is being hosted at Princeton by Assistant Professor of Theater Brian Herrera and is designed to activate broader awareness about Fornés’ multifaceted legacy. In conjunction with the symposium the Program in Theater decided to dedicate its spring production, the centerpiece of its season, to an examination of Fornés’ influence. The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Roger S. Berlind Playwright in Residence program commissioned Migdalia Cruz to write a new play and the Program paired this world premiere with Wellman’s FNU LNU for an evening of theater honoring Fornés’ legacy. The title of the evening of short plays, I Am in Fifth Grade, You Are in Kindergarten, is a quote by Fornés made to a student in one of her playwriting classes, indicating the student may be at the beginning of their journey as a playwright akin to being in kindergarten, and while Fornés as the teacher may be ahead of them, she is still learning herself.

“The Program in Theater is thrilled to have commissioned the work of brilliant playwright Migdalia Cruz to highlight the power of mentorship and education for theater makers,” said Jane Cox, director of the Program. “Just as María Irene Fornés was Cruz’s mentor and teacher, so is Cruz a mentor and inspiration to our current Princeton students as she works on her play with them and teaches intermediate playwriting. We’re also excited to inject the brilliant work of wordsmith Mac Wellman, introducing our students through all three playwrights — Fornés, Cruz and Wellman — to less traditional ways of thinking about making theater.”


Princeton students in rehearsal for FNU LNU, one of two short plays that make up an evening of theater in honor of playwright María Irene Fornés, I Am in Fifth Grade, You Are in Kindergarten. Photo by Justin Goldberg

FNU LNU had its premiere in 1997 at Soho Rep and follows Charlie Wall, king of the numbers racket in 1940s Tampa who is mysteriously “rubbed out,” and his could-be killer, a small-time criminal named Deezo. A dizzying reconstruction of the fictional deed is told complete with anarchists, talking reptiles and a stop at the county morgue. The play will include original music by Vince di Mura, the Lewis Center’s resident music director and composer, who serves as music director for both plays.

The new play the Lewis Center commissioned from Cruz, The Book of Miaou-Wow-Wow: Don’t Drink Everything Your Mother Pours You, is inspired by Colette’s short story “Gribiche” and Fornés’ play Promenade about an unconventional family of cabaret performers who unite to help one of their own who collapses on stage. It is also the story of people who tell such stories and the ones who listen, and a cabaret about women, reproductive rights, and memory. Original music inspired by the worlds of cabaret and burlesque is also being written for the play by di Mura.

Cruz, a longtime friend and pupil of Fornés, has taught playwriting in the Lewis Center’s Program in Theater. The playwright has attended a number of rehearsals and involved the students in the development of this new work.

Elena Araoz, director of the production, is a member of the theater faculty at Princeton, teaching courses in acting, directing and theater making. As a director and actor she works internationally, Off-Broadway and across the country. The Latinx Theatre Commons named her creation of Two Arms and a Noise, a physical theater piece about the life of an indigenous Peruvian woman, as one of “thirty-six plays and writers that everyone should know;” it most recently played in Bucharest, Romania. Her latest productions include Mac Wellman’s A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds at New York Theatre Workshop Next Door, María Irene Fornés’s Mud with Boundless Theatre Company, Dipika Guha’s Azaan with Oregon Symphony, Catherine Filloux’s Kidnap Road with La MaMa, Octavio Solis’ Prospect with Boundless Theatre Company, and Virginia Grise’s She-She-She with The New Ohio. Her international credits include the world premiere of Li Tong Chen’s The Power in Beijing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Prague Shakespeare Festival. Opera productions include La traviata (New York City Opera at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House), Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera North), Falstaff (Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House), choreography for Latin Lovers (Glimmerglass Opera), and choreography for Sir Jonathan Miller’s La traviata (Vancouver Opera). Araoz is a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect, a Time Warner Foundation Fellow Alum of the Director’s Lab at Women’s Project Theatre, a New Georges’ Affiliated Artist and Audrey Resident, a recipient of the Dr. David Farrar Opera Stage Director Grant, and the Drama League’s inaugural Beatrice Terry Artist-In-Residence. She is also a founding member of The Sol Project. Upcoming, she will direct Romeo and Juliet for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and Ibrahim Miari’s In Between for The Walnut Street Theatre.

Both Wellman and Cruz will be featured in a conversation, “The Playwright’s Pedagogic Legacy: A Conversation with Migdalia Cruz & Mac Wellman,” on April 13 at 4:30 pm in the Wallace Theater at the Lewis Arts complex. The conversation will be moderated by Anne García-Romero, award-winning playwright, educator and theater scholar. García-Romero is a founding member of the Latinx Theatre Commons where she contributes to The Fornés Institute, and she is coordinator of the Fornés Playwriting Workshop in Chicago. She is an associate professor in the Department of Film, Television and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame. This event is free and open to the public.

Araoz has assembled a team of professional designers who she has worked with frequently for the production: set design by Justin Townsend, lighting design by Kate McGee, costume design by Sarita Fellows, sound design by Nathan Leigh, and choreography by Carlos Armando Cruz Velázqez.

The production is part of a spring semester theater course that provides students with a rigorous and challenging experience of creating theater under near-professional circumstances. Students work with a professional director, a majority professional design team and stage manager, and may be cast in a role or may take on major production roles such as designer, stage manager, assistant stage manager, assistant designer or assistant director. The show that is the focus of this annual course is the Program in Theater’s main production of its season, which this year includes 14 thesis productions in which seniors directed, performed a major role, wrote, or designed a classic, contemporary or new play or musical.

The all-student cast includes juniors Siddarth Anand, Tamia Goodman, and Julia Yu; sophomores Milan Eldridge, E Jeremijenko-Conley, Nick Judt, and Abby Spare; and first-year students Miranda Allegar, Paige Allen, Jacy Duan, Haydon John, Katharine Matthias, Juliana Pulsinelli, and Harry Seabrook. Students taking on production roles include sophomore Katja Stroke-Adolphe as stage manager with junior Raina Seyd and sophomores Chamari White-Mink and Hannah Chomiczewski as assistant stage managers. Student musicians joining di Mura on piano include senior Lachlan Kermode on guitar, cajon, and accordion, and senior Solene Le Van and first-year student Emiri Morita on violin.

The production contains adult themes and language and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Other events surrounding the María Irene Fornés Institute Symposium, in addition to I Am in Fifth Grade, You Are in Kindergarten and the playwrights’ conversation, include:

  • On April 12 at 4:30 p.m. Assistant Professor of Theater Brian Herrera delivers the Department of African American Studies’ annual James Baldwin Lecture on “The Dramatist’s Call to Action: Realizing the Provocative Prescience of James Baldwin and María Irene Fornés” at 101 McCormick Hall; the lecture is free and open to the public.
  • On April 14 from 9 a.m. through the evening the symposium will convene an intergenerational “community gathering” of artists, academics, students, and others for a day of vigorous, Fornés-inspired creativity, conversation, and conviviality. Plenary sessions, hosted conversations and workshops, a book exhibit, a living legacy installation, screenings of the recent documentary film about Fornés, The Rest I Make Up, and performances. Most of these events will be free and open to the public without reservations; spaces for those interested in some of the sessions requiring pre-registration may be available. The day’s events are part of the Princeton University Art Museum Migrations Project.
  • On April 12-15 the Program in Theater will also be presenting Fefu and Her Friends, Fornés funny, mysterious, and provocative landmark play that explores the relationships of a group of women who gather at Fefu’s country house to plan an event. Set in pre-feminist America, the eccentric Fefu, the haunted Julia, and these old college friends and former lovers struggle to figure out who they are and what it means to be a woman in a male dominated world. This site-specific production will be performed in the historic Maclean House on the Princeton campus.
  • On April 15, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts will present a colloquium on Fornés, which will feature a panel of experts on the playwright, a roundtable of women directors discussing the influence of Fornés’ directorial work, and a concert reading of her musical Promenade.

The Latinx Theater Commons María Irene Fornés Institute Symposium is presented by Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts in partnership with the Latinx Theater Commons and is made possible with support from the Stephen Trask Lecture Series Fund, the Vice President for Campus Life, the Humanities Council and the Programs in American Studies, Latino Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Latin American Studies.

Seating for I am in 5th Grade, You Are in Kindergarten is all on stage with close proximity to the actors and therefore tickets are limited and advance reservations are recommended. Tickets are $12 general public, $8 for students, and $12 for seniors when purchased in advance, and $17 general public purchased the day of performances at the box office. Tickets are available through the McCarter box office online, by phone at 609.258.2787, or stop by the Frist Campus Center or Lewis Arts complex ticket offices or the McCarter box office. Tickets remaining will be available at the door prior to performances.

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