Category Archives: 8 – Theatres of Identity


Mayes Castillero Rubeo, Costume Designer

In 1962, Mayes Castillero Rubeo was born in Mexico City. She moved to the United States in the 1980s to study at the Fashion and Costume Trade Tech College in Los Angeles. Her talent and desire led her to Italy, where she worked with Enrico Sabbatini, a costume designer and film and stage producer who became her mentor.
Rubeo experimented in cinema costume design, collaborating with indie producers on films like Men with Gun (1977), Sunshine State (2002), and Casa de los Babys (2003). Her breakthrough to major Hollywood productions came with the film Apocalypto (2006), which she co-directed with Mel Gibson.

Apocalypto (2006)

During the film Apocalypto she was given the freedom to explore with her creativity. She wanted a lot of corporations of color to set certain tones. She used colors that derived straight from nature. Every single piece of garment and clothing was handmade. Accessories that the Mayan used for luxury such as jade was strongly depicted amongst the upper class. Rubeo created faux jade with hand painted pieces of wood.

In her career as a costume designer, Mayes Rubeo has worked on some of Hollywood’s highest-grossing films, including Avatar (2009), John Cartes (2012), and Warcarft (2016). The costumes in Avatar were generated digitally. Digital costumes require graphic texture mapping. Designers such as Rubeo are fusing digital and physical languages, as well as pushing traditional design and fabrication methods. In the category of Excellence in Fantasy Film, she was nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award. Rubeo’s career ignited after this and was hired in many successful films going forward.

Notable Work

Great Wall (2016)

Beyond every arrange of costume designs comes an intensive research. Historical references and context are vital for the authenticity of her work. She made about ten thousands costumes during this film. The director of this film wanted for potent colors without them being overwhelming. She used primary colors as her main focus but with the combinations of different hues and tones.

Oscars 2020

In 2020, the Oscar’s nominations included Rubeo as the “first” Latina to be nominated for Best Costume Design. She was nominated for her performance in Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit.” While working in this film she curated a varied of choices by exploring the use of both new and antique fabrics.

Time after time Rubeo has demonstrate her capacity to take risks and go beyond expectations. She is the right women to take any task from ancient civilizations to fantasy action. Rubeo is an inspiration for the Latin American community. She is serious about continuing to break barriers and building a path for more people of color to work in the industry of film and design.

María Irene Fornés

Maria Irene Fornes in 2000.

“There is no signature to my work, it is more like if you think of a plant with roots, trunk, then many branches. It has that. Everything comes through the center and manifests itself in different ways.”

– María Irene Fornés

Personal Life

María Irene Fornés was born on May 14th, 1930 in Havana, Cuba. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951, after having moved there six years prior following the death of her father. She then lived in PAris from 1954 to 1957 to study painting and to be a part of the cultural and artistic movements happening there. This is where she also found her love of theatre and began a romantic relationship with famous writer Susan Sontag.

Outside of her playwrighting, which I will discuss more in depth, Fornés worked in advisory and educational across multiple theatre companies, and was an influential part of the Off-Off-Broadway movement. The great playwright sadly passed away in 2018 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Moments of Inspiration

There are two points in Fornés’ life that seem to mark the beginning of her career as a playwright.

  1. While residing in France, Fornés attended a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that, in her words, chaned her life. This production also sparked her interest in theatre as a career.
  2. On a night out with Sontag, Fornés had gotten her to confess to her fears of writing. In response, Fornes ditched the women’s plans to party that night to go home and help Susan write: “I was going to show her it was so easy, even I could do it.” While at first she struggled, she eventually pulled a book off of her shelf at random and used the first words of each sentence to create a story. While she described this story as ‘insignificant’, this moment sparked an ease and need to write in Fornés.
Maria Irene Fornés and Susan Sontag

Fornés also famously directed numerous productions of her own works.

“It’s hard to separate Fornés the writer from Fornés the director,… For her there was no division between writing dialogue for a character and thinking how the actor playing that character would hold her hands onstage, or where the chair would be placed, or how the light would fall at the end of the scene. She was also a master of stage silence.”MARC ROBINSON, YALE PROFESSOR (2013)

List of Her Original Works

  • THERE! YOU DIED (1963); retitled TANGO PALACE (1964)
  • PROMENADE (1965)*
  • MOLLY’S DREAM (1968)
  • MUD*

* = Denote plays that earned Fornés an Obie award; in total, she won 8 Obie awards for playwrighting, directing, and best new play.

Fornés also had a hand in multiple translations and adaptations, such as Virgilio Piñera’s COLD AIR and Anton Chekhov’s UNCLE VANYA.


Many playwrights and artists have credited Fornés as being a source of inspiration. Some of these creatives include, but are not limited to:

  • Paula Vogel, writer of The Baltimore Waltz: “In the work of every American playwright at the end of the 20th century, there are only two stages: before she has read Maria Irene Fornes, and after.”
  • Tony Kushner, playwright of Angels in America: “She’s not spoken of as an important American playwright, and she should be,… She had terrifyingly high standards and was terribly blunt about what others did with her work. Her productions were unforgettable. She was really a magical maker of theater.”
  • Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theater: “Nobody has had the influence on American playwriting as a teacher that Irene has.”



SpiderWoman Theatre

Prior to the Feminst Movement, the theatre community continuously faced a lack in representation of indigenous women in a white washed industry. In 1976, Spiderwoman theatre blossomed from the Feminist Movement and was introduced to the world by Muriel Miguel, Gloria Miguel, and Lisa Mayo. In 1975, Muriel organized a workshop consisting of Native and non-Native American women at the Washington Square Methodist Church in Manhattan.

This workshop was based on the Hopi Goddess or SpiderWoman, who wove men and women to life and taught them how to weave. At the start of the workshop, the sisters taught the audience Native American hand games. It is metaphorical to what the workshop consisted of since it experimented with the weaving of stories, images, songs, poems, experiences, feelings, music, spaces, and bodies. The actresses structured and developed the basis to their stories, they collectively used improvisation in order to bring life to their pieces. One of the women would become SpiderWoman while finger weaving her story to life as another performer wove their own story into the first one. Musicians also participated in improving through playing gongs, bowls, rocks, saw, flutes, hand made instruments, etc.

The process they created included collaboratively expressing themselves through their stories and writing it down in order to eventually create a solidified script through the process. The original members of the ensemble of the Spider Woman workshop dissolved a week after it occurred but Muriel put together a new ensemble by June consisting of her sisters (Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo) and two non native women named Pam Verge and Brandy Penn. Their first performance/workshop together was titled Women in Violence. Muriel’s purpose in this was to work with the anger and feelings that have been boxed in, regards to the Indian situation, current Indian Movement, and her own violence as a woman and an Indian.

After the debut of Women in Violence, Spiderwoman Theater’s existence was solidified with 70 performances in New York and Boston within a year. Spiderwoman Theatre is now known as the longest running feminist performance group in existence. After Women in Violence, debuted in 1976, Spiderwoman theatre has continuously produced more theatrical works including;

  • The Lysistrata Numbah (1977)
  • Sun, Moon, Feather (1981)
  • The Fittin’ Room (1981)
  • I’ll Be Right Back (1984)
  • Reverb-Ber-Ber-Rations (1990)
  • Hot ’N’ Soft (1992)
  • Hot ‘N’ Soft II (1993)
  • Power Pipes (1993)
  • Voices from the Cross Bridge (1994)
  • Daughters From The Stars: Nis Bundor (1996)
  • Winnetou’s Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City (1999)
  • Indian Summer (2006)
  • Persistence of Memory (2007)
  • Red Mother (2010)
  • Oops, Bloody Bloody, Oops (2011)
  • Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue (2011)
  • The Elder Project (2011)
  • Women in Violence II (2012)

Over the years, the troupe has continuously pushed barriers and questioned gender roles, cultural stereotypes, and sexual and economic oppression. The sisters created a voice for indigeneous women internationally. On their website, their mission statement states, “Our mission to present exceptional theatre performance and to offer theater training and education rooted in an urban Indigenous performance practice. We entertain and challenge our audiences and create an environment where the Indigenous, women’s and art communities can come together to examine and discuss their cultural, social, and political concerns.”  Some of Spiderwoman Theatre’s accomplishments also include an honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts for their life contributions to the theatre presented to them by Miami University in 1997, being apart of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2005, and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 from the Women’s Caucus for Art. Spiderwoman Theatre still continues to spread its mission and be a proud representation for Indigenous women to this day.

Work Cited

“About.” Spiderwoman Theater,

“NAWPA: Spiderwoman Theater.” Walter Havighurst Special Collections University Archives,

Spiderwoman Theater and the Tapestry of Story.

“Spiderwoman Theater.” Contemporary Playwrights of Color,

Staff, ICT. “An Appreciation of Spiderwoman Theater.” Indian Country Today, Indian Country Today, 7 July 2005,