Finding Fornes

A Director’s Quest by Hope McIntyre

My first encounter with the writing of Maria Irene Fornes was when I was doing my undergrad at the University of Saskatchewan. I was very interested in discovering work by female playwrights. I kept an on-going list of women playwrights and would go to the university library and check out play after play and read them in between classes, rehearsals and work. When I came across Fornes, I was immediately hooked. I remember reading several of her pieces and being struck by the style, the subtle political content and the language. I read up on her and loved how her work as a painter and her cross-cultural experience influenced her work. A peer did a student production of “Conduct of Life” during that time and I kept a copy of it, “Fefu and Her Friends” and my other favourite, “Mud” in my files of plays I love.


 When I did my MFA I wanted so badly to direct “Fefu and Her Friends” but our thesis directing was part of a summer repertory and both due to the casting demands and my thesis committee’s lack of understanding of the play, I was turned down. I had to select another piece. It was disappointing but I knew one day the right situation for directing the play would come along. Then, while doing an apprenticeship in England, I had the opportunity to work on a film adaptation of “Mud” and play Mae. It was an amazing experience. 

Needless to say, I have waited a long time to direct “Fefu and Her Friends” and am beyond excited to do so with a stellar cast and in the ideal venue. Why did this play hit such a chord with me? I think it was both the experimental use of space that opened my eyes as a young theatre student and that Fornes really does break all the rules, or as she would say she simply doesn’t believe there are any rules. There is so much to mine in her writing and at the same time her goal is to let the audience decide the meaning. 

A few years back, I tried to contact Fornes to invite her to FemFest. I had always read about her work teaching playwriting and missed an opportunity years ago to do one of her masterclasses. I simply could not get away nor afford to travel to New York. It is one of those things I will always regret. My invite to her to do a masterclass at FemFest went unanswered. I later discovered that it was due to her failing health. In my mind she will always be this high spirited, energetic artist that I have read so much about. In reality she is now 83 years old. A few years ago she began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. She was put in a nursing home far from her theatre community in New York City. After an on-line petition and much advocacy she was moved last year to a nursing home where her theatre family could visit and care for her. The change in her was immediate. As a lesbian woman with no children or partner, her extended family is the theatre, the artists she worked with, the playwrights she taught and inspired and artists like myself who have admired her from afar. She has shown us the possibility of theatre.

I will give Fornes the final word: “…my intention is not necessarily to promote kindness to the opposite sex but something ultimately more interesting, which is that any human being is a member of our species and if we don’t allow our imagination to receive the experiences of others because they are of a different gender, we will shrivel and decay.”Fornes pic3


For updates on where she is today, check out .




Fefu and Her Friends: Final Two Talents!

Fefu FB cover pic

Have you got your tickets to the Winnipeg premiere of Fefu and Her Friends yet? Better hurry! This compelling story will come to life in just over one month and tickets are selling fast. Written in 1977 by Cuban American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, Fefu and Her Friends is recognized as a feminist piece for its use of an all-female cast, central ideas of gender roles, its bold deviation from conventional theatre and for its unique staging. It is a theatrical experience for women and men alike! On today’s blog, we are pleased to feature the final two members of our all-female cast. Tracey Nepinak will play the role of Emma and stage veteran Megan McArton will lead the cast as the one-and-only Fefu! Look familiar? You may recognize both these woman from the world premiere of Jail Baby last spring! Sarasvàti Productions is incredibly pleased to have them on board once again. Keep reading to find out more.

Tracey Nepinak - HeadshotTracey Nepinak has appeared in: Good People, The History of Manitoba from the Beginning of Time to the Present in 45 Minutes (RMTC); Jail Baby (Sarasvàti); Ernestine Shuswap Gets her Trout (Firehall Arts); The Moving Gallery: Beyond Reconciliation (Urban Indigenous Theatre); Romeo & Juliet, Silverwing, The Happy Prince (MTYP); The Rez Sisters, Great Expectations, fareWel (PTE); The Sleeping Land (Globe); Cruel & Unusual Punishment (Theatre Projects); The Crisis in Oka,Manitoba (As the Bannock Burns).


Megan McArton - Headshot

Megan McArton is delighted to be working on another Sarasvàti production. Her experience last year in Jail Baby was enjoyable and enriching. She has just finished performing in Harvest at PTE and is looking forward to summer.

These two local actors are keeping busy! Tracey can currently be seen in RMTC’s Good People and Megan closes PTE’s Harvest this weekend. Dying to know more? Keep reading to get the inside scoop and find out what these stars would take  with them if they were stranded on a desert island.


Where would you love to travel?

TRACEY: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.
MEGAN: Australia and New Zealand.

What would you do if you won a million dollars?

TRACEY: Get off the grid.
MEGAN: Share with others.

If you were on an island and could only bring 3 things, what would they be?

TRACEY: Cigarettes, matches, chocolate covered almonds.
MEGAN: 2 friends and a box of books.

Fefu and Her Friends will run from May 22nd-June 1st inside the beautiful Ralph Connor House (54 West Gate). With only 60 seats per performance, there is no better time to book your tickets then right now. Our print-at-home ticket option makes the process incredibly simple! Did we mention you can also choose to have them mailed straight to your door? And don’t forget Mother’s Day is just around the corner on May 11th! Give the gift of live theatre to that special woman in your life. In fact, take her out for a night on the town! Grab a bite to eat, stroll down the beautiful streets of West Broadway, admire the old character homes and then catch Fefu and Her Friends! We guarantee it’ll be her most memorable gift yet.

 “I had never seen intelligence and intuition, history and character, environmental and realistic theater, narrative and experimental techniques combined in such an extraordinary way.” -Oskar Eustes


Fefu and Her Friends: Female Talent Galore!

Fefu FB cover pic

Murder, tea, and nightmare interrogations in a big old heritage house?!? We bet we’ve got your attention now. Sarasvàti Productions is thrilled to bring Winnipeg audiences the incredible Fefu and Her Friends by Maria Irene Fornes next month. Set in the spring of 1935, the play takes place inside a country house and takes the audience through an entire day, beginning in the morning as Fefu’s guests arrive to plan a charity event and climaxing in a murder scene in the evening. On today’s blog we are pleased to continue to introduce our incredible cast of 8 local female theatre artists! This week, meet Brenda McLean and Tracy Penner, two fabulous Winnipeg Women who are no strangers to the stage. Watch out for Brenda who will play the role of Christina and Tracy who will take on the part of Cindy in this much anticipated Winnipeg premiere. Keep reading to find out more about these local stars and this unique production.

Brenda McLean_HeadshotBrenda McLean is excited about working on this play in the beautiful and inspiring historical setting of the Ralph Connor house. Her previous collaboration with Sarasvàti was directing “Harold and Vivian” in their last FemFest, where she had many many laughs. This spring she is directing “The Weir” for PTE’s Adult Company and Costume Designing “The Comedy of Errors” for SIR. Brenda is also Co-Artistic Director of Theatre Incarnate, who will be doing a reading during Carol Shields this May.

Tracy Penner_colourTracy Penner is delighted to be working with Sarasvàti again! Other local companies she’s worked with include RMTC, TPM, zone 41, Root Sky Productions, SIR, and WJT. In Edmonton, select theatre companies include Catalyst Theatre, Shadow Theatre, Concrete Theatre, and Vault: Theatre of Invention. Tracy is a graduate of the University of Alberta.

Get to know these stars better with our hilarious up close and personal questions. Any guesses as to which famous Shakespearean character these stars both want to play someday? Keep reading to find out!


Where would you love to travel?

BRENDA: London, Ireland, Spain. I’d start in London and travel south.

TRACY: There are many places I’d love to see, but my top picks would have to be Greece and The Maritimes.

If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?

BRENDA: Maybe something from Adele or Bruno Mars.

TRACY: ‘Blue Skies’ would be my pick but if that were too old school, maybe John Legend’s new song ‘All of Me’.

What role would you love to play one day?

BRENDA: Lady Macbeth

TRACY: I would love to play Shakespeare’s ‘Lady M’ one day!

Fefu and Her Friends is a site-specific theatrical experience that is sure to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The piece will be presented inside West Broadway’s Ralph Connor House (54 West Gate). We are incredibly excited to use this heritage house venue as it fulfills our mandate of using new or non-traditional forms of theatrical representation to tell stories. Fefu and her Friends will have audiences travel to different spaces throughout the house while watching its compelling story unfold. Don’t miss out on this event! Due to our unique venue, there are only 60 seats per performance. Act now and get your tickets before it’s too late.

Fefu and Her Friends: More Amazing Talent!

Fefu FB cover picAs the days grow longer, the countdown to opening night gets shorter! We are extremely excited here at Sarasvàti Productions for our upcoming spring production of Fefu and Her Friends. Known for its unique absurdist and surreal elements and its powerful use of space, we are positive this show will impress audiences and leave them wanting more. As a continuation of last week’s post, today we are pleased to feature two additional members of our talented all-female cast! Meet Elena Anciro who will play the role of Sue and Kelci Stephenson who will take on the role of Julia. Find out more about these two homegrown talents below.

Elena Anciro - HeadshotElena Anciro is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Theatre and Film. She is excited and honoured to bring Fefu and Her Friends to life with this fantastic group of women! Her previous Sarasvati credits include: A Kick in the Head (as director), Generation Nexxt, the International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues, Empty, and Flood Control.  Her recent onscreen projects include “Foot of the Bridge” (40below Films), “Siberia” (NBC), and “Schism” (ZenFri). When she isn’t performing, Elena has the pleasure of working with youth across Manitoba as the Curriculum Developer for Career Trek, Inc.

Kelci Stephenson - HeadshotKelci Stephenson is happy to be home in Winnipeg again after a long winter traipsing around the prairies on tour. A graduate of the University of Winnipeg Honours Theatre program, she spent the past six months on the road with Stripped-Down Hamlet (Shakespeare In the Ruins), and Portage & Munsch: 50 Below (Prairie Theatre Exchange).

We got up close and personal with our stars so you could get to know them better! Take a look at what they shared with us.

What is your favourite play?
ELENA: That’s a tough one, but the most recent play I’ve read is “Kim’s Convenience” by Ins Choi. It’s been a while since I’ve read something that made me laugh that hard!

KELCI: August: Osage County or King Lear

What is your favourite thing to do on your day off?
ELENA: Playing with my nephews and breakfast with friends.

KELCI: Bake banana bread and read a book.

Where would you love to travel?
ELENA: New Zealand and Newfoundland are at the top of my travel list!

KELCI: New Zealand, Vietnam.

What would you do if you won a million dollars?
ELENA: The first two things I’d do is take my family on a trip and create a foundation that would support organizations working in the arts, community development, and education.

KELCI: Dance around like a maniac! As for what I would do with the money; take my family on a crazy vacation, and use the rest toward sustainability initiatives in Uganda with the Winnipeg-based organization Kwagala Foundation.

Fefu and Her Friends is a unique and immersive theatrical experience! The show will run from May 22nd-June 1st inside West Broadway’s stunning Ralph Connor House (54 West Gate). Want to find out more? Click here for more information on the show and to purhcase your tickets online. But hurry! With only 60 seats per performance, this show is bound to sell-out well in advance. Contact us to get your tickets today!