Power of the Pen Poetry Plays: Week 1 Part III Megan Goherty


>>During our class videos you may hear our
poets and playwrights use terms that are new to you. We’ve created a list of key terms and definitions
that you can refer to at any point during our video lectures. This list is available on the videos and readings
class page, where you can read it or download it as a PDF. If you would like to find and review these
terms as you watch each class video, you can stop this video, go back to the videos and
readings class page, and download the PDF. There you can play this video and each of
the following class videos. If you have any questions about these terms,
we encourage you to ask your teaching team in the weekly class discussions.>>Megan Goherty is a playwright and performer
whose work includes the musical LOVE JERRY; the play BAD PANDA; as well as solo shows
HILLARY CLINTON GOT ME PREGNANT; LADY MACBETH AND HER PAL MEGAN; and others. She has received the Jerome Fellowship for
Playwriting and three Talkin’ Broadway awards. She earned her MFA in Playwriting at the University
of Texas in Austin, and teaches dramatic literature and dramaturgy at the University of Iowa.>>My name is Megan Goherty, I’m a playwright
and a stand-up comedian, and I teach at the University of Iowa. So when I want to write a play—and just
to be clear: I’m calling my multi-act or sort of traditional plays, you know, get your actors
and put it on… I’m calling those “plays.” I’m calling my monologue stuff “shows,” even
though those are constructed like plays, I’m going to call them “shows.” And then there’s my comedy. So when I want to write a play, usually what
will hook me in is I’ll have an image, or a funny or interesting idea. And it’s often sort of two things coming together
at once. That’ll be the place that I start. So I start in this sort of small scene, or
with these characters, and the process of writing it is kind of backing up, and backing
up, and fleshing out, and saying, okay, well where are we, really? And what’s really sort of going on? And it’s a lot of revision. It’s a lot of snorkeling in the dark, like
I’m feeling my way. Sometimes to torture myself I love to read
about writers who outline everything before they begin. Like oh, what clarity! They’re like: “It’s such a breeze to write
things!” And I’m like, that’s amazing, but I can’t
do it that way, or when I try to do it that way the result is always very tepid. So I have to really spend a lot of time in
the dark. I have to really spend a lot of time writing
terribly, and sort of feeling my way around to find the things that I find interesting,
or the things that are compelling. And then the next slew of drafts is then,
well, what do other people find interesting and compelling, and how can I yoke those two
things together? So that’s how I find my way into a play. The way I find my way into a solo show—most
of my work is semi-autobiographical, which is a big, fancy way of saying that everything
is true except for the parts I made up—and the way that I find myself into those works… I’m usually prompted by a revelation that
I have had—a revelation or a transformation that I want to explore or unpack. Or sometimes several revelations. Or a question that I am wrestling with. And
that’s a different path in, right? So when I write a play, I start with I have
an image or an idea and then discover the question; and it’s not quite so tidy as to
say it’s the opposite of that for a solo show, but let’s be tidy for a minute: it’s sort
of the opposite of that for a solo show in that I start with a question or a revelation
and then have to expand out into character and plot. So my latest solo show is called LADY MACBETH
AND HER PAL MEGAN, and it talks about… the sort of premise of the play, the premise of
the show, is that my friend tells me that I can’t play Lady Macbeth because Lady Macbeth
is a tragic figure of powerful darkness, and I am the human equivalent of a Golden Retriever. And so I set out to prove her wrong, and in
so doing, have to reexamine not only what I think of Lady Macbeth, but also who I think
I am as a woman and as a stand-up comedian. So that’s kind of what that play is about. But where that play started for me is the
revelation that I had that all of the sort of… and the play is a lot about stand-up
comedy, and the process and act of stand-up comedy, especially what it’s like to be a
woman in stand-up comedy. And a lot of the conventional wisdom I had
heard about comedy, and the way that we talk about comedy, is with this violent language. That in comedy, you know, you’re going to
go out there and kill; you’ll kill or be killed; you’re going to murder them… this sort of
killing. And the revelation I had that, for me, comedy
is not about killing, that comedy is not about violence at all, that comedy is, in fact,
about sex, that comedy is about love, it’s about creating a crowd out of a group of individuals,
it’s about fostering a sense of play and ecstasy in the audience. And that is a very different way than the
way we talk about comedy. We tend to talk about comedy in this violent
way. And I was like, well I don’t think that’s
true at all. So that was a revelation I had—one of maybe
five—that I based my solo show around. But here is where theater is different from
comedy: because stand-up comedy I could come out and be like, “Hey you guys! Listen up. I totally had a revelation, what we’re doing
here is sort of like a sex act, it’s creative, it’s fine.” Like I could come out and just sort of inform
my audience about the things I think and feel. But you can’t inform in the theater. To inform an audience is death, right? It’s boring. No one wants to be informed. What audiences want is they want to discover,
they want to go on a journey and discover. So my job is to—in that show in particular—is
to lead my audience through my own character’s journey, allow my audience to discover, “Hey,
you know what, I don’t think that comedy…” so that they can make those discoveries, that’s
much more powerful. I must lead them to that. I must illustrate for them, right? It’s show, don’t tell. Instead of telling them what I want them to
know, I must show them, and then they come to that conclusion. And that’s a very satisfying, powerful…
that’s the essence of drama, it’s the essence of theater. So voice is an interesting question, especially
for me as an artist. Because when we talk about voice as writers,
the writerly voice, like what’s your voice, what’s the voice of the piece. When we’re talking about my work, my writerly
voice is very close to my actual speaking voice, it’s a literal voice, right? This is where theater has a complication that,
say, fiction writing doesn’t have. There are actual, literal human voices saying
these words aloud. And one of the things that I have to be on-guard
for is that I have to… anything I write, I, in turn then, have to speak. And so a lot of times in my early drafts,
or in my earlier work, my earlier monologue work, I would compose them on the keyboard,
and then I would go and say them out loud and be like, well, this is unspeakable. Who says “heretofore?” Nobody says “heretofore.” Like if I find myself writing any words like
“hence,” do you know what I mean? Then I’m writing, I’m not actually communicating. So one of the techniques that I use to find
my voice is I just say it out loud. A lot of my early drafts are just me speaking
out loud. And so the typing down, the writing down,
is the last step in the writing. A lot of the writing comes from talking, comes
from actual talking. And so in that way, if you read one of my
monologue scripts, it doesn’t read as smoothly as, say, a blog post might, or an essay, or
something that I have written to be read, right? It just doesn’t read as smoothly. Because it’s meant to be spoken. It’s meant to be spoken aloud. And that’s really, really, really true of
my monologue plays. But it’s also true in theater in general. One of the things that students of theater
have to learn—and it’s a skill—is how to read a play and imagine it in their minds. And that’s a skill we sometimes forget about—we
sort of take it for granted when we are teaching theater. But to read a play aloud, and imagine it,
and hear the pauses, hear the subtext, takes time and effort. Because plays are not meant to be read, they’re
just not meant to be read on a sofa. They’re meant to be performed. And so one work-around is to get your friends
together and read the play out loud. And then in reading it out loud you go, “Oh! I see. I get it now. I didn’t get it before, but now hearing it
out loud I get it.” So voice is in there somewhere. The other thing—and I think this is really
important—about voice, is that you know, you’re talking about how to find the voice,
how to develop the voice of a piece. I don’t know that answer, and honestly I think
that your writerly voice—the voice of the piece—will reveal itself to you. That we can’t really impose a voice for very
long, it will fall apart almost immediately. And I think about when I was starting out
as a writer, I’m like, “Oh, do I have a voice? I’ve got to develop my voice.” And I felt the same way I felt about it when
I was twelve and I wanted to develop breasts, like, “Will I? When will I grow them? How? I’ll do these exercises.” But you can’t do those exercises, right? Like you will develop… my twelve-year-old
self had to learn that I will develop breasts when and whether and how, and none of those
are up to me, and I can’t decide, I can’t put in an order for the kind that I want. They’re just going to be who I am barring
some major reconstructive surgery. Similarly, I read writers who write very differently
from me, really poetic, lyrical writers, and I’m just like, “Oh, it’s wonderful, gorgeous!” I can’t write that way. And to try to write that way rings false. I have to write the way that I write, I have
to speak the way that I speak, and the way that I speak is very plain, and very irreverent. That’s it. That’s just who I am. That’s who I am as an artist. And all the wishing in the world isn’t going
to make me into some florid lyricist. It’s just not going to. And once I accepted that and allowed voice
to reveal itself to me, it took a lot of the anxiety out of writing.

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