Illustration by Shenuka Corea

NYUAD’s First Fully Student-Led Production Takes the Stage

Fornés, inspired by the playwright of the same name, premieres after months of intensive rehearsal.

Nov 17, 2018

On Nov. 15 at 8 p.m., NYU Abu Dhabi’s first fully student-led production premiered at the Black Box Theater. Titled Fornés, the show ran in the Black Box Theater from Nov. 15 to 17.
Fornés is an interpretation of various works by Cuban-American playwright, Maria Irene Fornés. The production included three short plays: Dr. Kheal, Drowning and Hunger. The production was advertised as centering around “the experiences and connections that comprise our human condition, both in the familiar and the uncanny.”
Entering the Black Box the audience encountered a stoic Smriti Nair, Class of 2021, as Dr. Kheal. Her brilliant performance had the audience both laughing and experiencing discomfort at the same time — a difficult task for any actor. Using a simple yet effective set, the creative team was able to enhance each performance. Both Drowning and Hunger used detailed costumes and props developed by the design team. The performances dived into the strange world of Irene Fornés, creating strange worlds into which the audience members felt immersed. The sound and lighting designers helped stroll the audience through these strange experiences, with the ideal amount of added sound and alternative lighting setups.
Revered for creating elaborate worlds using design and imagination, Fornés’ work delved into some of the darker themes on the human condition. Over the course of her career, Fornés inspired many students, teaching them to free their writing and change their perception of the playwriting process. Although there is little documentation regarding Fornés’ creative process, several of her students have left inspiring accounts of their time with her.
Initially, the student production was on hiatus after a series of logistical setbacks. Vicky Critchlow and Ethan David, Class of 2019, along with other students, pitched the idea of a fully student-led production to NYUAD’s Theater Program in early September. With a few students having studied Fornés’ work before, in addition to an overarching interest in the material, the production was a go.
Students worked together every day to put the production together under a tight deadline. The cast and staff were paired up with theater faculty who offered mentorship to students and gave advice when needed.
“It was definitely a learning experience but lots of work. It was very difficult, well, it was hard for me as the work demanded a full time stage manager role, and I’m still juggling regular school with four classes and PE courses,” said Stage Manager Isabel Rios, Class of 2022, when discussing the workload the production required.
“It was great to see growth in some of the more inexperienced actors. For me theater is about community and that was the greatest takeaway,” added Rios.
Cast members underwent an immersive training regiment that encouraged an understanding of Fornés’ work and approach to theater. The cast selected which pieces they wanted to be involved in.
“The first session we all sat together and read through all six shortlisted pieces. This made it easy for me to choose which ones I really wanted ... I kept moving from, this is genius and amazing to, this is the weirdest thing ever. For Hunger we got to do lots of background reading, this helped us create relationships with the piece,” commented cast member Tori Mondello, Class of 2022.
In order to gain a better perspective of Fornés’ style and approach to theater, the cast attended a film screening of The Rest I Make Up, a documentary featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York examining Fornés’ personal history through the lens of a road trip she went on with director Michelle Memran.
Director Vicky Critchlow weighed in on her experience directing the student production. “It was scary. I’ve directed a capstone before but that was a [30] minute piece, whereas this was three different plays entirely. Ethan and I were in charge of the whole project, we were also having to take on production roles and deal with logistical things. There was that stress and the artistic stress.”
Despite the intensive process, Critchlow maintained that directing NYUAD’s first fully student-led production was an enjoyable experience. “It was so much fun. Going from not knowing what the hell I was doing to what we ended up with. We would laugh and joke around and that would end up in the piece … It's been really fun to see it come to life.”
Taj Chapman is a staff writer. Email him at
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