Fool for Realism
CB: Loss. There is so much power in that word. It’s charged with energies which pierce through the humdrum of everyday existence and make us pause. We reflect on the loss. What have we lost? Why did we lose it? And what were we hoping for? What did we have to gain? I guess all this is just a circumloquacious way of asking, “What is Losing Tom Pecinka?” And please. Tell it to me on the level and not like a boring press release. Like, why should I–Teddy Nicholas–go see this show?
MG: You should see the show because cute gay men and one straight guy make out in it. Also, it’s trying to get at representation on stage. Like, why do we accept realism as realism? Why is realism in the theater so fake? But also, why do we love it so??? I think because it’s so delicious. Also, you should come because it’s funny. And as far as theater goes, I would say this is almost as entertaining as a television show. Which I think is a pretty bold statement. But I stand by it. I would watch this and like it as much as an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or Parenthood.
I also think you should come because I have four actors who are a delight to watch. And it’s nice, because they are serving beer. And the theater is relatively centrally located, and it’s easy to get there and home afterwards. All of these things are important to me, and I think to the majority of theatergoers.
CB: Let’s talk about tone/genre for a hot second. You’ve expressed to me in previous conversations that you admire the work of Thomas Bradshaw. His style shares a bit of the same techniques you employ in works like DOG EAT DOG and Losing Tom Pecinka. The audience is set up to experience one thing and then you quickly shift it, pulling the rug out from under us, and catching us off guard. One moment I’m giggling insanely, and then the next I’m shocked or feeling tense in the pit of my stomach. How do you navigate between these constant terrains? Or is this unintentional? Am I imagining it? I can’t be. Is there a balance? If so, what is it? Or why is it tipping the balance? What is imbalance?
MG: I think it comes naturally to me to navigate the shifts because I think that’s what I do in life. I’m fully sincere and loving and generous and also fully ironic and absurd and mean. I completely embody that as a human being, and I think many of us do. Or at least, those of us who know what it feels like to be outsiders. As a fat person who is also a white middle class privileged person, I’m always like, in the process of navigating a world where I need to dive in as an insider while secretly feeling completely removed. I don’t think as an artist anyone can fake that. But yes, of course, it’s also totally choreographed and planned. I just don’t think I could DO that planning if I wasn’t so aware of how that line works in my own life. I also think, on a basic level, I am thinking about the audience. I want them to have fun. I want it to be a rollercoaster. I think that can only happen when you put surprise at the center–the piece is also in relationship to utter surprise or total and complete fulfillment of our deepest desires (which involve sex, romance and violence for me–so that’s why I have lots of like weird sexy moments and bizarre cliched violence. I just like it. I just do.)
CB: We both worked with Young Jean Lee. You more so as a director whereas I was strictly a stage manager. In my experience, working with YJ, witnessing her process (which was heavily collaborative) has really shaped me as an artist and as a person. What would you say you took away from your experience working with YJ? How long did you work with her?
MG: In the five years I worked with her, the single biggest thing I took away from Young Jean is to never consider something finished and to never stop making it better. It’s never just, “This will be okay.” It’s always, “This has to be perfect.” Like YJ, I can drive my collaborators up a wall with that, but I also think it’s the difference between mediocre and excellent. Never settle. Always push yourself and everyone in the room to the finish line. If you see the solution, implement that shit even if the curtain is about to go up on opening night.
CB: It’s funny you talk about representation as I am seriously listening to ‘Shake it Off’ by Taylor Swift and I remember the backlash against her music video where she used black dancers twerking and Earl Sweatshirt’s comment that it was racist. I always think that’s a tricky road to navigate; what to represent, and how, and if you even have the right to do so? Especially when it comes to things like identity. I feel like Tom Pecinka touches on that, in terms of the identity stuff. Wasn’t there cross-gender casting in the first production? It was so beautifully performed as I recall. How do you find the balance between the humor that you always manage without offending anyone?
MG: Firstly, I love ‘Shake It Off,’ and I regularly listen to it on repeat. The best part of the music video is at the end when the normal looking people dance with her. I love it. Secondly, to answer your question, I guess I don’t worry that much about offending. But, I think it all comes from the intention behind it. Actually, the actor in this production who is playing the female lead and I were talking about why it needs to be played by a man last night. The real reason I made her to be played by a man was because I feel a man playing a woman exposes what we expect from actresses–how we see women on stage. It highlights the ways in which women are forced to perform vulnerability and fragility and weakness for an audience’s gaze. When we see a man do these things (and in a serious, not like HIGH DRAG way), we recognize them as ridiculous–and then we’re forced to hit the aha! button in our brains and realize they’re just as ridiculous when a woman does them…and yet we accept that. So yes, it’s funny, but it’s also holding up a mirror for the audience that addresses the constraints women have as storytellers and how they are forced to represent themselves in restrictive ways. And yeah, it’s funny to see a dude playing a lady, I guess. But it’s kind of painful in a way. And I’m genuine in my exploration of that. I’m not just like HAHAHA A GUY IN A DRESS. I actively hate that type of humor.
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Morgan Gould is a writer/ director who has previously held staff positions at Lark Play Development Center, Cape Cod Theatre Project, and Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company, where Morgan co-created UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW (BAC/PS 122) and worked alongside Young Jean on the premieres of LEAR (Soho Rep) and WE’RE GONNA DIE (Joe’s Pub/ LCT3) and tours of PULLMAN WA and THE SHIPMENT. Morgan is a New Georges affiliated artist (where she was a member of their emerging writer/ director lab from 2010-2014), an alumnus of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, The Civilians R+D Group, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre and Playwrights Horizons Directing Residency Programs. She was an 11-12 BAX (Brooklyn Arts Exchange) AIR with playwright Matthew Paul Olmos and a 12-13 Space Grant Recipient. Since starting Morgan Gould & Friends in 2012, Morgan has created LOSING TOM PECINKA, PEE PEE POO POO PA PA FACE, THE GIRL WITH THE HONEY BEE EYES, WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, THIS BODY//MY BODY, SHREK: AN ADAPTATION, DOG EAT DOG, NURSE NORA MENORAH SAVES CHRISTMAS and HELIX, HELIX: The Science of You, Me, Us and Them (A Sloan Commission) and more. MG&F’s work has been featured at Dixon Place, The Brooklyn Lyceum, HERE Arts Center, Ars Nova, CAP21, BAX, New Georges, The New Ohio and The Culture Project. B.A. in Directing, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (and currently in the M.F.A. Playwriting Program at Brooklyn College). In addition to her theater work, Morgan is currently the Literary Manager at Playscripts, Inc., a theatrical licensing and publishing company.