Media Arts Program

Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 8:00 p.m.

$8 general, $6 students/seniors, $5 members

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The Rest I Make Up

Irene with Michelle Memran (photo by Michael Smith).
Middle photo courtesy of Chris Bennion ©1987

(Michelle Memran, 2018, 79 minutes)

Director Michelle Memran presents, in person, her new documentary film about playwright María Irene Fornés

"Every time I listen to Fornés, or read or see one of her plays, I feel this: she breathes, has always breathed, a finer, purer, sharper air."

~ Tony Kushner

María Irene Fornés (May 14, 1930–October 30, 2018) has been called the greatest and least known dramatist of our time. She's written over 40 plays, won nine OBIE awards, and mentored thousands of playwrights across the globe. Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre devoted its entire 1999–2000 season to her work, and her epic What of the Night? was a finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize. Theater luminaries like Tony Kushner, Caryl Churchill, Paula Vogel, Lanford Wilson, and Edward Albee have credited Irene as an inspiration and influence. "Her work has no precedents; it isn't derived from anything," Lanford Wilson once said of Irene. "She's the most original of us all." Paula Vogel contends: "In the work of every American playwright at the end of the 20th century, there are only two stages: before she has read María Irene Fornés—and after."

But Fornés did not set out to become a playwright. After arriving in New York City from Cuba in 1945, she worked mostly in textiles and even traveled as a painter to Paris in the 1950s. Not until the 1960s did Fornés write what she considered to be her first real play—Tango Palace—which catapulted her into the vanguard of the nascent Off-Off Broadway theater movement and a downtown DIY aesthetic that continues to thrive today. Often referred to as the American theater's "Mother Avant-Garde," Fornés steadfastly refused to adhere to any rules or formulas in playwriting, choosing instead to follow her characters' lead in order to better get at her core question: What does it mean to be a human being?

As a teacher and director of the INTAR Hispanic Playwrights in Residence Lab in the 1980s, she mentored a generation of Latinx playwrights, including Cherríe Moraga, Migdalia Cruz, Nilo Cruz, Caridad Svich, and Eduardo Machado. In 2005, while presenting Fornés with the Theater Practitioner Award at TCG's conference in Seattle, Machado said: "She told us that we were going to change the theater, that we were going to create a world where Latino writers in America had a voice, and she willed it into all of us. And none of us would be here without her. She is the architect of how we create theater, how we teach, and the way we lead our lives."

Fornés died last month on October 30th of this year, at age 88. She had lived at Amsterdam Nursing Home in New York City, and visitors were always welcome.

Director's Statement by Michelle Memran:

"I didn't decide to become a playwright," Irene once said. "It decided itself. When something happens by accident, I trust it."

Just as Irene didn't set out to become a playwright, I never set out to become a filmmaker. No, that day on Brighton Beach in 2003 was a glorious accident. Irene's response to the camera and my response to filming her was a beautiful surprise for us both. Initially the film was our way to keep the creative process alive in each of us, and the process—at least at the time—was very much the product.

Today I am able to see clearly the reason I stayed committed to the project years after I stopped filming (due to Irene's advancing dementia). The reason I kept working with the tapes, combing through hundreds of hours of footage, was because there was a story I had to tell. Eventually I met an editor—Melissa Neidich—who cared as deeply for the material as I did, and what we unearthed was a story about the power of friendship and creativity, and what it means to remain an artist through all the vicissitudes of one's life.

That is the heart of the story I'm telling, but I am also making this film because it confronts a prevailing attitude about aging and Alzheimer's disease that I feel passionate about challenging and that I believe needs to change. In our society today there's a pervasive view that people lose their value as they lose their short-term memories, which confines multitudes of elders to a life of invisibility and isolation while they are still capable of meaningful relationship. The Rest I Make Up counters that assumption by inviting us to live for a while with an irrepressibly vital and generative playwright who—even in the face of eroding memory, even as she no longer formally writes and teaches—is experiencing a remarkably creative period of her life.

The film's title, The Rest I Make Up, is taken from lyrics to one of Irene's songs in Promenade: "I know everything. Half of it I really know. The rest I make up." It is a testament to the way life can creatively increase even as it is cognitively disappearing, and to the way a teacher can continue to lead a student even as the student begins to lead the teacher. Over the past fifty years, there have been thousands of artists and writers who have worked with Irene or taken her legendary workshops. And each of them has an Irene story to tell. The Rest I Make Up is mine (Michelle Memran).

This film is distributed by WOMEN MAKE MOVIES