Visible Feminism
Danny Stock
“We cannot survive in a vacuum. We must be part of a community.”

“There are two of you—one who wants to write and one who doesn't. The one who wants to write better keeps tricking the one who doesn't.” María Irene Fornés, Fefu and Her Friends


Three years ago, the classic theater experimental play Fefu and Her Friends became a part of the 12th grade core curriculum. Cuban American playwright María Irene Fornés wrote the 1977 play, seeking to dismantle stereotypes about women’s roles. It features an all-female cast and unusual staging: the audience actively moves set to set until they have witnessed each scene.

This year, English teacher Nadia Mahdi, who originally brought the play to the department, opened up a new way for students to reflect on the text. Understanding that her students had spent a busy fall writing college applications, Nadia envisioned a project in which students would have a chance to explore a different creative medium while demonstrating deep engagement with the play. The results were truly astounding.

“Fefu is of the world of Becketts’ Waiting for Godot,” Nadia explained. “The playwright aims not to represent the world realistically but instead to explore an existential, psychological experience of the world. Some students made connections to Netflix’s show Stranger Things in which parallel worlds exist nearly on top of one another.”

The Neil Gaiman-like layering of worlds provided the seniors with great material for students to represent their understanding of the text visually, either alone or in collaboration with peers. Project highlights included a staging map flipbook and a reversible movie-style poster created as a collaboration by Emma Rosen ’19, Emma Eichenbaum ’19, and Sophia Mohammed ’19, comic book pages by Ana Gunther ’19, and an animated film by Kat Liu ’19, which is now being used in other classes to teach the play.

In reflecting on the process, Ana explained, “I chose a scene where the characters are talking about a dream, so I not only had to enter the visual world of the play but also the dream world within the writing. I found it really challenging, but as an artist, I also found it really fun to combine my artistic interests with my English project.”

This community of 12th grade writers then critiqued their own processes, capturing in writing how their projects illuminated for them a deeper understanding of the text. It remains to be seen if their writer selves have tricked them into writing better through these fantastic, break-the-mould projects.
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