Meet Morgan Rose, graduate of the Master of Theatre (Writing) at the University of Melbourne

Morgan Rose. Image supplied.
Morgan Rose. Image supplied.

Morgan Rose is a graduate of the Master of Theatre (Writing) (formerly Master of Writing for Performance) program at the Victorian College of the Arts. She works with teens through various youth theatre organisations and recently took part in the Dear Australia – Postcards to Our Nation project. She gives Mireille Stahle an insight into her practice ... and what shows she's been bingeing on in lockdown.

Hi Morgan, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your creative practice?

I am originally from New Orleans but I have been in Australia for a decade. I am currently locked down in West Footscray with my partner, Kat and our little dog, Dragon, who at this very moment is barking loudly at nothing. I'm a realistic optimist. I'm left-handed. I used to hate olives but now I could eat a whole jar in one sitting. I watch too much TV – good and bad. I guess I call myself a theatre-maker.

I am sometimes a playwright who sits alone at a desk writing, but more often I am a deviser who is in a room with other people figuring out a play together. I am usually the one who writes what we come up with on paper. I often work with young people to make shows. I sometimes dramaturg other people's work. I also do some teaching, which I really love.

A big part of my practice is working with teenagers to create performance works. I do this mostly through the youth company Riot Stage. We have an amazing ensemble of young people from all over Melbourne who attend a variety of schools. I also sometimes do work with young people through other arts organisations like St Martins, MTC, and Arts Centre Melbourne. Working with teens is always a wild joy and together we've made some of the strangest most exciting work I've ever done.

Tell us about the Dear Australia project? How did you get involved?

Dear Australia is an online theatre project in response to the pandemic in which 50 playwrights from around the country wrote short monologues to be performed to camera and streamed online. It's got bucket-loads of talent and lots of different experiences and perspectives all wrapped up in one project you can watch from your couch. I got involved through Red Stitch, which is a company I have worked with for the past few years.

How did you approach the brief? What are you hoping to convey through your work?

The brief was to write a two-minute piece for one actor to deliver to camera about the current state of the nation (in the middle of lockdown). It's a tricky brief, but I like tricky. Two minutes is not a lot of time, so you have to make your point fast. One person is not a lot of people and one person can't have a conversation.

Writing for a person to speak to camera is not something I have ever done before: I'm a theatre-maker after all. So this was a whole new ballgame for me. I thought: "It's two minutes, it shouldn't be too hard." But I worked on it for several weeks and threw out pages and pages of bad writing.

I was in the middle of the pandemic myself, so perspective on the topic was not something I really possessed. I just had my own lonely experience, and a bunch of impressions of the world from social media. I decided to write about the strange quiet that came with this worldwide disaster, the waiting, the slowness of tragedy. It took a while, but I got there.

What are some joys and challenges of collaborating at a distance?

I finished my script, read it to a few friends back in the USA, then handed it off to Ella Caldwell, the artistic director of Red Stitch, and Emily Goddard, the actor who was going to be performing the part. We troubleshooted all the logistical problems together via zoom (what's Emily going to wear, should we make her cat a part of the video?, where are we going to get a massive amount of origami on short notice?).

Emily had the mammoth task of shooting the video with the help of a friend (shoutout to Eva Seymour) and this was a true pleasure to witness. Emily's job was no small undertaking. For this project she served as performer, production designer, sound designer, cinematographer, and director all rolled into one. I sent her a one-dimensional script – a two page PDF in black and white. The skill and heart she added to it are what make it a piece of art. This is not hyperbole.

Can you speak to your experience at the VCA and how it might have influenced your current work?

I loved my experience at the VCA. It shaped me as a writer and theatre-maker. Doing a masters program at the VCA requires that you really find your voice and define yourself as an artist. There is no defined pathway, there is no right or wrong. You have to make those decisions yourself under the guidance of some really smart people (in my case it was Raimondo Cortese). It was truly formative.

Who is inspiring you at the moment?

Ramy Youssef. If you haven't watched his show, you're missing out. And The Voice. Truly heartwarming and formulaic television. Perfect for a pandemic.

Dear Australia was livestreamed over three nights: Thursday 2 July, Friday 3 July and Sunday 5 July on multiple Facebook pages and on Playwriting Australia'sYoutube channel. Videos will be available to watch until September 2020.