For a recent family reunion (250 Forsters in San Juan Capistrano, CA!), I adapted the research on Ysidora Pico de Forster (1808-1873),
which I collected during the creation of my performance “What’s on [My] Mind?“ and presented it to my family members in a straight-up presentation, complete with a Keynote slide show. In contrast, the intergenerational persona I embodied in WO[M]M? grew from historical details about Ysidora’s life, which I amplified and refracted through my imagination and my own life experience. But for the reunion, I felt like I had to stick to the facts about her life, an appropriate and ethical thing to do in this case. Yet imagination played a large role in how I interpreted the facts for my family.
For example, in figuring out the organizing principle for the presentation, I focused on Ysidora’s birth order: she fell exactly in the middle of 11 children. This focus turned out to be extremely powerful one for me.
These “filters” helped me fill out the details that I’d caught in the research, helped me explain some things about her, like
- More likely to embrace change/open to new experiences: she was the only one in her family to marry outside her race (she was Afro-Hispanic and married an Anglo)
- Independent: she did not marry until she was almost 30
- Flexible/easy-going: she managed the multiple, rapidly-changing citizenships Californios faced in the 1800s: Spanish, Mexican, American
- Generous: she and her husband were consummate hosts to all who ventured through their rancho, unfailingly providing refuge, food and entertainment for not only guests, but also the large household they managed.
- Secretive/Rebellious/Concerned about fairness: she was inordinately preoccupied with the physical (and spiritual) sanctity of the unwed women who worked on the rancho — so much so that she locked them every night in the attic loft above her bedroom to keep the vaqueros away from them (obviously, a problematic solution — a drastic one, too).
- Strong negotiator/peacemaker: she was able to manage the highly conflicted relationship between her husband and her brothers (Pio and Andres Pico) after the lawsuit that occurred in the 1870s, Pico v. Forster.
- Social: she was a favorite friend throughout her life
Using birth order filter, I forged her story within a blaze of history and imagination.
The Forster family appreciated the presentation. Afterward, many members approached me, thanking me for bringing her into their own imaginations, from which she’d been absent — always overshadowed by her husband, Don Juan Forster, in the historical documents. For me, the experience of working with this material continues to gratify and inspire me.
Now, I’m figuring out the next mode the story will take.