This is part four of the Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interviews: Eliza Quinn and Max Paton interviewing Morgan Rose. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. When I suggested this, Max and Eliza immediately asked to speak to Morgan. They had both just seen her MTC Neon Show: Lord Willing & The Creek Don’t Rise and wanted to understand more about Morgan’s creative process and the writing of that work. So enjoy this beautiful contribution from Morgan, Max and Eliza.
What brought you to writing?
I was always interested in writing. I wrote a lot when I was little, and then kind of abandoned it. I found theatre and was like “Oh, well I won’t do that writing thing anymore”. I started as a performer and then worked my way through all the things like director or producer, but then somehow ended up back at writer. When I came to Australia, I always would write little bits and pieces if we needed to for plays, and then people just kept asking me to do that all the time, so I did.
Do you have any central themes or ideas that you keep coming back to in your writing?
I think I do, but I don’t realise that I do. It’s like “Oh fuck I wrote about that again, whoops”. I write about fucked up relationships a lot – it just always ends up being that. Weird relationships too. Like something really bizarre happens – a man eats his girlfriend, or a woman falls in love with a dolphin, that kind of thing. I realised the other day, and I don’t know if this counts as a theme, but everything I’ve written in the past two years has ended with everyone walking away and leaving a man alone on stage to deal with his shit. I was like “What the fuck?”
And because I don’t live in my home, I find I write a lot about being out of place, being somewhere you don’t necessarily belong.
From the start of your writing process, just having the germ of an idea, to the finished script, how much would you say a piece changes over the course of that?
I feel like it can change pretty drastically. But I feel as I’m writing more and more and figuring out how to write more and more, I’m more certain at the beginning now than I was before. Before I’d just have this little idea, just see what happens and write. Now I know to maybe sit with that idea and do some more planning. If you think about it longer before you just dive in, it gets easier. And so, as I’m growing as an artist I think maybe my ideas are a little more solid, more fully formed and less wobbly.
When you write for theatre, are you seeing every single moment of it on stage?
I do. I know plenty of people don’t, but I definitely always see it on stage and that’s something I’m really interested in, in my work – the form of theatre. I never want to ignore that it’s happening on stage in front of an audience. That’s precious to me. I don’t want it to be a film, I don’t want it to be set in a real place: I want it to be set in the very strange place of theatre.
Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write Lord Willing & the Creek Don’t Rise?
I lived in New Orleans during the hurricane when it hit. I evacuated, which is actually why I left. Then the news story came out a year after the storm and I guess I felt immediately drawn to it, and connected it with theatre – it’s like this metaphor. There’s a flood, and there’s a person consuming the person they love, and it was this fucked up, but very innately theatrical story. It was also about something I felt very personally about, which was this city in a first world country, that was just left to fend for itself. It was so fucked there, after the storm. It was so bad. And having been a part of that, in whatever way, I felt really angry. I felt like most people didn’t really understand what had happened and the extent of how bad it was. I thought that this story was a good way to try to explain that.
In Lord Willing, did you want to explore the fallout of this event?
Lord Willing was inspired by this real story, but I stopped researching halfway through because I didn’t want to tell this person’s story. It inspired something in me, to tell a story, but it’s not a biopic. I feel like this man got pushed into this horrible place by all of this shit that went down. Everyone will focus on this one event – “Oh you did this horrible thing, you did this horrible thing” – but what’s behind that? What’s the build up? That’s what I was interested in. Less in the actual disgusting horrible thing that happened and more in what came before it.
Is it hard to step back in a rehearsal room and let your work take shape?
Because I come from this collaborative background, Lord Willing was the first time I’ve handed over a script and said “Here, do it, and I’ll just be over here”. That was really hard, because I was like “I know all these things about it and it has to be this way!” And Kat (Henry) was like “Actually, you know, no, I’m the one directing it”. She’s brilliant, and thank God she was directing it, because I have directed but I am not a director. Lord Willing was a weird, new experience for me but we got through it and figured it out. But a lot of the getting through it was me realising “This is Kat’s thing now, and I have to let it be her thing, calm the fuck down Morgan, she knows what she’s doing”.
Do you feel like there’s something you wanted people to take from Lord Willing, or do you feel it’s entirely up to interpretation?
It’s important to me to not tell an audience what to think. I think about that when writing, I try not to spell it out. What Lord Willing is about for me is that this kind of shit could happen to any one of us. I’m not capable of saying that we’re all capable of eating our lovers, but if put in a fucked up enough situation, you can do things you never thought you were capable of.
How did you respond to the Welcome to Nowhere brief?
We had to write something about an in-between space, so I did some brainstorming and thought of a million ideas. What I narrowed it down to was a story about a bunch of people whose town disappears: they wake up and their town is gone, they’re just in this desert and they don’t know how or why. I wrote another one that was about how we communicate online; that relationship we have with people around us but it’s all in this nowhere place. I wrote little bits and pieces of those and sent them to Emma and said “Which do you want?” And so we went with the town disappearing – it had more of a story while the other one was episodic.
Any final words of wisdom for a pair of super cool young uni students such as ourselves?
Learn how to do all the things, especially in theatre. If you’re a performer, don’t rely on just being a performer and auditioning and letting other people do it for you – know how to do the applications, know how to get the money yourself, know how to put on a show. Even if you’re the performer and you say “I’m going to hire this director so that I can play Hamlet”, be able to do that because not a lot of people can put together a production, to put together all those pieces and make it happen. The people that can do that are the people that have a show!