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Interview with Playwright Ethan Morrison on "A Man in their Eyes"

In honor of tomorrow’s reading of “A Man In Their Eyes” by Ethan Morrison, Marketing Board member Emma Wasserman sat down for an interview with student playwright Ethan Morrison about his new play.

WM: So let's start with the first question! What inspired you to write A Man In Their Eyes?

Ethan: I really like westerns, but there there's a huge amount of toxic masculinity and sexism

and just bad juju with like your classic westerns and I kinda wanted to use some of that some of

the tropes and stuff and I wanted to say “hey maybe we take a look at those classic manly men

from A Fistful of Dollars and from The Good, Bad, and the Ugly and like we say ‘hey is this

healthy?’” the answer is no and like how can I talk about that and how can I like use that and

how can I sort of take people take this like idealized sort of masculinity in this very specific time

period from very specific lens and sort of transfer it into something trying to say “hey should

you really look at look at look at these characters and look at this depiction of masculinity and

how these people define themselves or whatever and like romanticize it and fall in love with it?”

which is a lot of stuff that a lot of post westerns or revisionist westerns have done, but I like

doing it as well.

WM: So, what was your favorite part about writing the piece?

Ethan: My favorite part about writing the piece was sort of discovering the characters and

discovering how they are and who they are and who they want to be and everything. A lot of

this play deals with a character’s gender identity and how they define themselves. It’s mostly

their masculinity; a lot of the time just because it's a western, you're gonna have male

characters, it's a trope… less of a trope and more of a given. But it's sort of discovering what led

them to this path, and what they want to become, and what they have looked at to define their

own masculinity, and why aren't they meeting that or what has stopped them from meeting

that, and why aren't they happy with it or what why are they happy with it and like is that

sustainable; is that something they can continue to do? And learning those characters

specifically and what that means to them and what being a man in this time period or in this

setting means.

A photo from a rehearsal of the reading

WM: On the flip side, what do you think the most challenging part of writing this piece has been

and how do you work around that challenge?

Ethan: There is a trans masculine character in this play. I am not transmasculine. I am a

cisgender man. And when approaching writing a transmasculine character I didn't want to say

anything that I couldn't say as a [cis] man so I tried not to approach that character from a point

of view of “here is what I have to say about transmasculine men as a [cis] man.” It's more of a

situation where it is how this person defines their own masculinity and how other men in their

life have defined masculinity and what leads them to their own definition of masculinity. I had

help from a friend of mine to sort of understand some of the do's and don'ts and I have

struggled more to try to understand what can I say and how do I present this character because

I think the character in this play, the transgender character in this play, he is a complicated

character and I wanted to avoid people from thinking “oh here is the villain or here is the villain

of this piece and they are also transgender,” therefore dehumanizing transgender people, which

is a horrible sort of continued thing and a terrible thing generally. I wanted to approach this

character as a complicated character and as a complex character and as a character first and do

them justice and do their story justice. But yeah obviously I don't know everything and I still

have things to learn to sort of understand, but that's probably the most difficult thing about

writing this play.

WM: What are you most proud of in regards to the show and what's been your favorite part

of working on the project?

Ethan: I'm most proud of the world, if that makes sense. I just like the setting that I've

developed and the consistency I've tried to set with it. It feels fun when you can make a setting

and just like play around with it with the characters. It's very much like “okay so this is what this

character thinks, this is what they do, what do they do in this setting, why are they doing that?”

and it is just a situation where, after having worked on the characters and found out who the

characters are there are a million different ways that they can interact with each other and a

million different little character interactions you can have in that world and in that setting that

just fill it out and make it feel real and make it feel believable and everything. And as far as

working on the project it’s just fun to hear people say my words and hear people think about

the text that I have written.

WM: What are you most excited for in the reading of the script?

Ethan: This is kind of nerdy for me, but there are a few song-y aspects. It's nothing like it's

gonna be a whole like masterful performance; it’s folk songs and stuff and they're meant to be

not perfect, and they're meant to be messy, but they're gonna be fun. And I will— we’ll see how

I do in terms of teaching it to them and getting them to do it. I want some audience

participation but that's my own little pie in the sky idea that who knows may end up happening

or not.

WM: Do you have any quotes or sneak peeks of the show you'd be comfortable sharing?

Ethan: I'm very much of the mind that I like a show to be consumed in one sitting or observed in

one space in one time and then you sort of experience all of it at once and can think of all of it

at once. And then once it's done the story is finished, the story is complete and then you can go

and… I like the illusion that it's happening there and it's happening yeah for you for the first

time. So no, how dare you ask!

WM: Okay, and then, last but not least, is there anything else you'd like to share? Anything else

you'd like to say.

Ethan: I guess in terms of… this is interesting just in terms of it being a period piece, or

whatever. It's not a particularly historically accurate one, which I intentionally did because

there's a point at which some of the details (not to say that like history doesn't matter— history

is very important but) in the context of westerns the idea of the mythic quest that we've

developed from media and from movies and from a bunch of people retelling and retelling it is

completely fabricated; is false and not real. Which is why, approaching doing a western, you

kind of just don't feel like having it be 100% historically accurate because a lot of the tropes and

fun of westerns come from spaghetti westerns, which are westerns made by Italian filmmakers

that have very little basis in like actual American history, and those are some of the best films!

Those are some of the greatest! I hold up a prize to these westerns that define the genre or

whatever. So yeah, it's not a historically accurate play by any means, but I don't want it to be

and I don't want the audience to think that at any point. It’s set in the mythic west. I say a time

period that's mostly to just set that it's like “hey this is after the Civil War.'' Generally, that's the

vibe that I wanted to give.

WM: Okay then! I do not have any more questions. Thank you so much!

Ethan: No problem.

WM: I’m very excited to see the show!

Ethan: I'm excited for people to see it. I’m excited to see it as well. But yeah, thank you.

WM: Thank you!

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