Backstage

Interview with Morgan Rose | Playwright Virgins & Cowboys

Playwright Morgan Rose
Playwright Morgan Rose

Morgan Rose is a theatre artist orginally from New Orleans. As an actor, she also has a background in Suzuki Actor Training, The Viewpoints, Composition, Slow Tempo and Butoh. She has studied with SITI Company (NYC, USA), Pacific Performance Project (Seattle, USA), Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre (Brisbane, Australia), and Dairakudakan (Hakuba, Japan). So with such an diverse mix of influences, it’s no wonder her latest work Virgins and Cowboys is one of the most eclectic pieces in the FLIGHT Festival program. We take five with Morgan to talk about her love of physical theatre and what audiences can expect from this vibrant new production about the search for connection.

How would you describe your play in one sentence?
A sitcom that falls apart to reveal its ugly insides.

You are collaborating with choreographer Dale Thorburn on Virgins and Cowboys. What interests you about exploring your play through physical movement?
I’m a writer who prefers dance. The performances that have affected me most have always been movement based. I can’t create this myself, I don’t have the mind for it. I spent years studying physical theatre before admitting that I was much better at writing text. Words, I get. Movement is a mystery, which is perhaps why I’m drawn to it. Dale Thorburn, our choreographer, and I have known each other for many years, and artistically we click, even though we’ve rarely gotten the chance to work together. One day, over dinner, he said to me ‘I’ve always wanted to do a choreographic treatment of a text.’ I had just finished writing Virgins and Cowboys and as soon as he said it, I knew that’s exactly what the piece needed. Because the traditional form of the play disappears halfway through, and the characters no longer have realism to assist them in deciphering blocking, we suddenly have more options and movement becomes more important.

Who is your favourite playwright and why?
I’m going to cheat and name a screenwriter, and that’s Charlie Kaufman. He’s dark, and funny, and he doesn’t write realism. Being John Malkovitch was an epiphanous moment for me. It was so bold. I didn’t realize that was allowed. If you want me to play by the rules, I would name Will Eno. His work is heartbreaking and strange. It washes over you rather than asking you to cling to a story.

How does the form you’ve chosen speak to the content of your play?
The characters in the play are all desperately trying to find some sort of happiness, and they are all failing miserably. They are disconnected from each other and from themselves, and so their attempts to fill the void are disingenuous and futile. We use a lot of tricks in the work to mimic the ways we communicate these days in a theatrical way. The dialogue flows like a television sitcom to begin with, there’s a falseness and familiarity to it, and then it becomes disjointed and out of sync like an instant messenger conversation. A single conversation can last for hours as the conversationalists walk away from their computers, have lunch, come back, reply to a question, etc. This speaks to the bizarre world we currently live in where we confuse our own identity with our Facebook profiles. Or at least I do.

This play is a response to the US recession through the lens of suburban Australia. How does your position between these two cultures affect your work?
I’m definitely half way between the two cultures at the moment and it’s problematic. I get called out on it frequently (‘Will this read to an Australian audience?’), but there’s not much I can do about it. I can’t help the fact that I grew up in America, and that my past is going to inform my work. I also can’t ignore the fact that I live here now: all my interactions are with Australians, my own accent is changing, my way of socialising is changing, I am not as American as I was 5 years ago. I am somewhere in the middle, and so is my work. There’s a sort of freedom in it though. Being in between two things means you can ignore the norms of both places. I play the two countries against each other in order to get away with things.

Why do you write?
I write specifically for performance. I love conversation and the way people communicate and miscommunicate. I love that people can say one thing and actually mean the opposite. I love banter. I love a live audience. I love the things you can get away with on stage (singing! dancing! silence! painting yourself blue and beating a drum!) I love how difficult performance is, how it requires collaboration and timing and luck and there’s no way to ever be 100% successful at it. I guess, in short, I’m a masochist.

Virgins and Cowboys Season: 14 – 23 August, 2015
Click here for tickets and information

Follow Morgan’s company – Motherboard Productions here