Exploring the femicide crisis in Juárez, Mexico: an interview with playwright Dana Lynn Formby

Dana Lynn Formby
(photo courtesy Mortar Theatre)
Up-and-coming playwright Dana Lynn Formby is never not writing. In fact, following this interview (which traveled from an Argo Tea in the loop to a local bar in our Edgewater neighborhood) she had to rush home to put the final touches on a screenplay draft due the next day. Her brain is like a story-generating wirbelsturm.

I’d become familiar with Formby’s work after seeing her play Inherit the Whole at Mortar Theatre this summer, where she displayed a knack for creating real, raw dialogue and exploring dark and necessary themes. She has some fancy credits, too, which you can read on her bio. She currently serves as a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists.

But she’s most excited about her latest effort, Corazón de Manzana, a play that explores our connection to the murdered and missing women of Juárez, Mexico — an ongoing epidemic clouded in ambiguity and horror. Following extensive workshopping of this play, Formby’s getting ready to present it at a reading at the Victory Gardens Studio space Nov. 8, with hopes of a fully-realized production by Mortar Theatre next season.

UPDATE (March 14, 2011): Exciting news! Mortar has announced that Corazón de Manzana is getting produced at the DCA Theatre August 23 – September 25, 2011.

It’s clear in speaking with Formby that she’s extremely passionate about her craft and this project. And she’s also just a really cool person. Here’s a brief highlight of that spirited conversation.

What drew you to this subject matter?
As a grad student in Ohio University, my friend convinced me to attend a talk about abused women in Juárez, Mexico. I reluctantly went to this talk with no expectations and very little insight into this epidemic. I guess it made me uncomfortable to know that there was something so horrific happening outside of my safe, Midwestern bubble. Following this talk, I was horrified. Something shifted in me after hearing these stories. What’s happening there is just disgusting — young women are being mutilated, burned, raped and tossed into ditches. There are reports of human and organ trafficking. And the worst part is, next to nothing is being done to support these women or fix this crisis. So, I knew that I had to write a play about these women, and I dove into research to learn more. I’ve been working on this piece for more than two years.

Why are women in Juárez, Mexico being abused so horrifically?
There are a lot of complex issues at play here. The main one is the passing of NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement passed in 1994 between Canada, Mexico and the United States designed to foster greater trade between the three countries]. We all use goods made and created in Mexico. And these goods are probably manufactured in plants that employ women, because they can be hired for little money and they are nimble.

As a result, young women have poured into Juárez — the industrial capital of Mexico — for work. Since Mexico is a strongly patriarchal society, it’s seen as negative for a woman to be the breadwinner, so men react abusively toward these working women. In addition, women who work in these factories and sweatshops have little to no support from their employers, and are forced to work late at night. While returning home, many have been — and will be — abducted. Furthermore, Juarez is just a ridiculously dangerous and corrupt city — in fact it’s been called the most violent zone in the world outside of declared war zones. It’s filled with crime, poverty and drug trade. Gangs literally rule the streets.

And, if you think about it, since we use goods created in sweatshops like the ones in Juárez, we’re all active players in this epidemic.

How does your play explore this issue?
It tells the story from three mother-daughter perspectives: a mother and daughter in Canada, a mother and daughter in the U.S., and a mother and daughter in Mexico. At the end of the play, they find their lives are all intertwined with a young woman in Mexico, named Mazi. Dance and movement are used to help propel the story, and there are moments where dialogue is spoken in Spanish. I look forward to seeing how audiences will respond to it.

How much of this epidemic does the audience need to know before going to see this play?
Very little. The main character, Denise, is our vessel into this story, and we learn about this crisis through her exposure and discovery of it. We travel with her through her journey.

What do you hope people will leave your play thinking about?
That’s a tough question to answer, because the play really challenges the audience to realize how we are all part of the problem. I want to get people talking about this epidemic, and I hope this play will, on some level, get the dialogue going. We need to start somewhere.

You can attend a one-night-only free reading of “Corazón de Manzana” on Nov. 8 at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue.

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