An Interview with Playwright Morgan Gould

International Support Women Artists Now/SWAN Day is fast approaching and the SWAN Day Calendar is filling up with some incredible events. One of these is I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART by Morgan Gould, currently playing at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago, IL. This week, Statera Ambassador Vanessa DeSilvio caught up with Morgan to learn more about her writing process, her mentors, creative experimentation, and the origins of I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART.

Morgan Gould

Morgan Gould

VANESSA DESILVIO: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you discover your talent for playwriting?

MORGAN GOULD: I'm originally from Cape Cod, MA (year round...not like the fun vacation version). I actually didn't start writing plays til like 2012, and I didn't write like SERIOUS full-length plays til I wrote this one in 2015. So in a weird way, this is sort of the first play I ever wrote. I can at least say it's the first time I wrote a play I ever thought might be produced by an actual theater, and not by me. But I've done theater all my life and went to school for directing. I've been doing that for like 15 years. I started writing plays because I ran out of fun things I was excited to direct. So I started writing my own things to work on with my actors. For me the entire point of theater is working with other people, especially actors, whom I adore. Honestly, if you don't like actors, I'm not sure I want to know you? 


VD: Do you find that playwriting and directing go hand in hand? Or do you try to keep the disciplines separate?

MG: To me they go hand in hand. When I'm writing a play, I'm imagining its execution. The script is only a blue print, always. If I wanted to have it all be done after it was written, I would have been a novelist. Theater depends on the actual SEEING of it. A script is not a finished thing, ever. Being a director makes me a stronger writer for the theater, and being a playwright makes me a stronger director. 


VD: How did you begin writing I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART? How long did it take you to complete?

MG: It was actually my thesis for my MFA at Brooklyn College. I'd been writing all this cheeky farces and Mac Wellman (who is the KING of cheeky) gave me a dare to write "a real play." He said, "Hm, what would a really sincere play look like. What if you wrote a real play? There has to be a couch in it, though, for it to be real." (Told you. Very cheeky). I laughed and accepted the challenge. Then I got busy directing and doing other projects. I opened a huge off-Broadway show, and when it was done, I realized my thesis was due in 38 hours.  I hadn't written a word of it. So I sat down and was like, "AHHH WHAT ARE REAL PLAYS ABOUT"  - and I thought, okay, they're about characters in conflict, right? So I was like, who are the characters of my life. And OBVIOUSLY I was like, "Me." And then I thought of my two best friends, both gay men, and I thought, "what would break us apart?" So I sat down to write, but then my roommate came home and was like "Wanna watch the premiere of American Horror Story?" DESPERATE to procrastinate, I  said yes. One of the first shots of season 4 (Hotel) is Lady Gaga and Matt Boomer walking down a long hallway in high vampiric drag to the song "I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart" - which I had never heard. I was obsessed. And I looked at them and I watched them savagely eat all the normal people in the park (that happens) and I thought, "That's what I want to do with my best friend...look fucking fabulous and eat the entire world alive while this song plays." So when the episode ended I had 37 hours to write it. I sat down, with that song on repeat, and I wrote 93 pages. They just shot out of me. And the first 70 pages are basically pretty close to that first draft.


VD: Wow. That is incredible. Now, has that continued to work for you as a writer - writing by the seat of your pants in very little time? Or do you typically write over a longer period of time?

Teressa LaGamba as Sam (right) and Robert Quintanilla as Leo (left) in Morgan Gould’s I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.

Teressa LaGamba as Sam (right) and Robert Quintanilla as Leo (left) in Morgan Gould’s I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.

MG: Yes! I am always flying by the seat of my pants, always. I've never taken more than about a week for a first draft. I tend to push those out quickly. Then the hard part begins. 


VD: How is this play deeply personal to you?

MG: It's a love letter to my gay best friends. It's a love letter to my younger self. The events are completely imagined, but the relationship is very real to me. It's my Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, honestly, haha. There is truly nothing that is more authentic to me than this relationship.

VD: What was the most challenging thing about writing this play?

MG: Writing the play was easy. Rewriting has been very hard. The impulse came so quickly. But crafting that is always the harder thing for me. I also think that this is really my only play that's had multiple productions over years. So now, when I return to it, it's like returning to a younger version of myself. It would be like getting in a time machine and going to therapy from 5 years ago. It's hard to channel and remember the feelings of isolation and sadness, but also love, that I had for this play and these characters when I was writing it. I also find this one of my most painful plays, so revisiting is always so bittersweet. I love Sam and Leo and I hope they're okay, I really do.  


VD: This play had a run at DC's Studio Theatre. How was that experience for you? How did audiences respond?

MG: It was a dream. I loved every second and I am so lucky to have worked with Nicole Spiezio, Tommy Heleringer, Anna O'Donoghue and the rest of the designers and crew and staff at Studio. Audiences in DC are similar to NY audiences, but even more diverse, so it was really fun. They got a ton of people who really got to see themselves reflected on stage for the first time. It was a big turning point for me as an artist and in my career. I'm so grateful for that experience.  


VD: Mentorship is at the core of StateraArts’ mission. Can you tell us about your mentors and how they have guided you through your journey as an artist?

MG: Well, I've mentioned Mac Wellman... but I remember that first class day where I shared it at Brooklyn, it was actually Erin Courtney who was teaching seminar and she is the BEST. She is such a wonderful and supportive playwright herself, and I'm such a huge fan. She's taught me to be unafraid of the weird AND of the sincere AND of the scary. I'm currently at Juilliard, and both Marsha Norman and David Lindsay-Abaire are such wonderful mentors. They're SO different in their approaches, but I like both perspectives on my work. My first directing teacher Elizabeth Margid. She is with me in the back of my head every single day in rehearsal when I'm directing, more than anyone. Emily Morse at New Dramatists is such a force, and truly loves playwrights. Whenever we chat, I feel so hopeful about the future of the field. She's a theater angel to so many playwrights, I'm lucky to benefit from her care and generosity. I think some of my greatest mentors are peer playwrights who lift me up every day by making me laugh at the ridiculous of our business, and whose work blows my mind and makes me see theater in a new way - there are so many I couldn't even name them all. 


VD: What are you currently writing?

MG: This email. But also. I'm currently working on a half hour comedy pilot sort of like fat sex in the city and I literally just wrote 5 pages of a new play due March 20th and I have no idea what it's about.

Teressa LaGamba as Sam (right) and Robert Quintanilla as Leo (left) in Morgan Gould’s I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.

Teressa LaGamba as Sam (right) and Robert Quintanilla as Leo (left) in Morgan Gould’s I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.

VD: What do you hope audiences in Chicago will gain from seeing this play?

MG: I didn't actually write it for all audiences, for better or worse. I wrote it for the fats and the gays, and I hope people who aren't fat or gay also relate, but they might not and that's ok. I think it's a positive thing, for people to have to watch things that aren't about them. I've had to do that my whole life. I've had to watch plays about straight white men. Or "women" plays that do not speak to my experience as a fat woman. Or plays about mostly rich people. And I've liked plays in all of those categories. I think it's interesting when old white (men, mostly) don't like the play, or don't get it, or get annoyed they don't understand the references. Or call it trite or light (to me, it's a deep tragedy, not a fluffy comedy). That tells me they need more training in seeing things that are not their own experience. Many of us have had that training our whole lives. They're just learning that the world doesn't revolve around them. So I try to have patience, even though it can be frustrating they aren't better and trying to see things beyond their own lens. Honestly, in my view, play is utter sincere realistic tragedy. To them it's a blur of millennial references. They seem to watch Shakespeare plays and Mamet plays just fine. Maybe the more they are exposed to language and feeling and circumstance that isn't their own, the more they'll begin to see humanity that isn't their own. I'm crossing my fat-millennial fingers.


VD: What words of advice do you have for other aspiring playwrights out there?

MG: You never know what the thing is that will be the thing. When I sat down to write this, I thought it was just an experiment. It turned out to be something that has cracked me open as a writer and in my career. It's opened a lot of doors. And I could never have done that if I sat down to do that. Just keep writing. Keep going. People will always, always CONSTANTLY and FOREVER tell you to stop. If you have something to say, and you can't not say it, then keep going. It will be very exhausting and hard. But you are lucky, because it is better than lots of other jobs, even though it does not pay very well. If you have a trust fund, honestly, why AREN'T you a writer? I mean, why not, really? 

I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART runs at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago through March 23rd. Learn more on the SWAN Day Calendar. There are five performances left and you can get you tickets HERE.


Morgan Gould is a writer/ director who is a Resident Playwright at New Dramatists and Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellow at Juilliard. Morgan's play I WANNA FUCKING TEAR YOU APART, is a Beatrice Terry/ Drama League Award Winner, and had its world premiere at Studio Theatre in Washington, DC in February 2017 (with Morgan directing). It was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play, and DC Metro Arts said that Morgan's work "shows every bit as much promise as Edward Albee’s early work, arguably more." Morgan is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, a MacDowell Colony Fellow, and an alumnus of the Dramatists Guild Fund Playwriting Fellowship, The Women's Project Lab, the Civilians R+D Group, Target Margin Lab, Lincoln Center Director's Lab, SDC Observership Program, the BAX AIR Residency, Playwrights Horizons Directing Residency and New Georges Writer/ Director Lab. She has previously held staff positions at Playscripts, Inc., Lark Play Development Center, Cape Cod Theatre Project, and was the Associate Artistic Director of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company, where she 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 also the Artistic Director of Morgan Gould & Friends – her theater company with 9 actors, 3 designers, and a filmmaker (www.morgangouldandfriends.com). 

As a director, Morgan is a frequent collaborator with playwright Leah Nanako Winkler, and has directed Winkler’s plays KENTUCKY in a 2016 co-production with Radio Drama Network, Ensemble Studio Theater and P73, TWO MILE HOLLOW at the 2018 Women’s Project Pipeline Festival, and GOD SAID THIS at the 2018 Humana Festival and at Primary Stages in NYC in 2019. Morgan also recently directed the Bay Area Premiere of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN by Young Jean Lee at Marin Theatre Company. Morgan holds a B.A. in Directing from Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and a M.F.A. in Playwriting from Brooklyn College. She is currently working on her new plays ALL THE STUPID BITCHES, THREE FAT SISTERS, and NICOLE CLARK IS HAVING A BABY and developing a half hour original series with Amazon Studios and Will Graham/Field Trip Productions.