Playwright’s Process: Seven Questions with Kagan Goh
Playwright’s Process is a new blog series inspired by Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire, where we introduce you to playwrights and theatre artists that are creating exciting new works. We ask them to choose seven questions from our list that resonate with them.
Our first theatre artist for the series is Kagan Goh, a multidisciplinary writer and mental health advocate based on unceded Coast Salish territories. He is also one of the contributors for Szepty/Whispers: Dialogue, which was featured as a web-app and QR code experience during PTC and The Cultch Digital Storytelling Team’s UNSCRIPTED: Szepty/Whispers. Learn more about Kagan and his theatrical experience, Surviving Samsara.
1. What got you into writing and/or creating for theatre?
My entry point into theatre began with the written word, spoken word poetry, and storytelling. Central to my work is a desire to humanize the struggles of those with mental health challenges, and to fight the stigmas that hold them back. As a form of self-therapy, I started writing and sharing my stories about my experiences of living with a mental illness, and have found a receptive audience in Vancouver’s literary community since 1998. My theatrical play currently in development, Surviving Samsara, traces my personal struggles with manic depression over the last twenty years, and exposes the damaging effects of the stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against the mentally ill.
2. How would you describe your writing process for your plays? What are the key values for your process?
To date, I have written 29 drafts of the play. As the saying goes: writing is rewriting. As I honed my craft in playwriting taking PTC’s Block A with Leanna Brodie, as well as working with feedback from dramaturgs Kathleen Flaherty, Jivesh Parasram, and director/collaborative creator Susanna Uchatius, each successive draft is a process of excavation akin to sculpting away the inessential elements to distill the spirit and essence of the final draft of the play.
3. What kinds of theatre or theatre artists inspire you?
Theatre artists like JD Derbyshire, Tetsuro Shigematsu, and Corey Payette inspire me with their original, exciting, innovative ground-breaking theatrical plays. These theatre artists take bold risks and challenge stereotypes. They create theatre which is not only powerful and moving but changes audiences’ perceptions and transforms people’s lives.
4. What are things that you hope your plays and theatre creations convey to audiences and your communities?
Bringing [Surviving Samsara] into the world of theatre opens up the space for engaging audiences in dialogue around a subject too often shrouded in silence. The versatility of theatre also makes it possible to recreate an experience of “madness” through the incorporation of acting, spoken word, music, video, film and audiovisuals.
Individuals with mental illness are said to display a capacity to see the world in a novel and original way; literally, to see things that others cannot. I choose to use innovative multimedia elements to engage the senses and externalize my internal emotional states of non-ordinary consciousness, giving the audience intimate insights into an ‘insider’s’ experience of madness.
5. If you had unlimited access to resources, what would be a dream show you would create?
I am creating my dream show with Surviving Samsara even though I don’t have unlimited resources. Limitations are the necessary catalyst for innovation and creativity. The parameters set by the so-called limitations help define how artists shape and mould their stories with more imagination. What an artist needs is not unlimited resources but unlimited imagination.
6. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement to date is the making of my documentary film Stolen Memories –a detective story about my personal quest to return a photo album “stolen” from a Japanese Canadian family during the Japanese internment. It took 5 years to find the family, and six additional years to convince the family to appear on camera, and in total Stolen Memories took 15 years to complete. Through the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, what kept me going were sheer will, hard work and determination. The world television premiere at the W2 Media Café on 4th March 2012 where I received a standing ovation from the 300 over full-capacity audience in attendance was one of the highwater marks of my life.
7. When in the day do you feel the most creative?
I feel most creative first thing in the morning when I wake up. I often wake up at five or six a.m. brimming overfull with ideas inspired from the liminal state of waking from my dreams. The morning is my most productive and fertile time of day to write and create before the necessary minutiae of daily life crowd my life.
Originally from Singapore, Kagan Goh is a Vancouver-based multidisciplinary Mad Artist: award-winning filmmaker, published author, spoken word poet, playwright, actor, mental health advocate and activist. He was diagnosed with manic depression at the age of twenty-three, in 1993. Kagan is a well-known spoken word artist, essayist and poet, a respected and established voice in Vancouver’s literary community for over two decades. He has been invited to perform at readings, festivals and on radio, and has published in numerous anthologies, periodicals, and magazines. In 2012, Select Books in Singapore published his poetic memoir, focused upon his relationship with his esteemed father, Who Let in the Sky? Kagan is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker with a number of releases including the award-winning Mind Fuck (1996) and Stolen Memories (2012); his films have been broadcast on national television and gained entry into respected film festivals across Canada. kagangoh.com
Goh’s theatrical play Surviving Samsara is being co-produced by Cinevolution Media Arts Society and Theatre Terrific. Surviving Samsara offers a powerful and compelling glimpse into artist Kagan Goh’s personal struggles with manic depression, and his journey towards recovery, acceptance and unconditional self-love. The work brings together acting, spoken word, Butoh dance and audiovisuals to expose the damaging effects of the stigma of mental illness, and explores manic depression not only as a disorder, but as a spiritual emergence — a vehicle for personal growth, healing and transcendence.
For more information about the theatrical play, check out the link: survivingsamsara.com