A woman standing centerstage in a spotlight

#CouncilSpotlight – Megan Piercey Monafu

Braelyn Cheer

The Ottawa Arts Council supports artists and arts organizations through leadership, guidance and the provision of opportunities to advance our local creative potential.

Our series #CouncilSpotlight presents stories and experiences of Arts Council members and art award recipients.

Megan Piercey Monafu received the 2019 Corel Endowment Fund for the Arts Award.

Portrait photo of MeaganWhere are you from?

I’m originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and have lived in Corner Brook (NFLD), Montreal, and Toronto. I’ve been in Ottawa for 8 years, and it has become my home.

How did you get involved in the Ottawa arts community?

I got involved with the theatre community in Ottawa as soon as I arrived here in 2011, through self-producing and directing. Then in 2015, I began to build CSArt Ottawa, and through that initiative I’ve been able to meet many artists in Ottawa across disciplines. There is so much potential for interdisciplinary collaboration in Ottawa, if we can find the time and curiosity to explore each other’s work!

This year I am a playwright-in-residence at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, and also in residence at the undercurrents festival, and am working on a play called Strata Inc. through both of these programs.

How would you describe your artistic practice/discipline?The audience enjoying one of Meagan's plays

I am a playwright foremost, and I have a passion for directing. I love working with other playwrights, and I often direct my own work, as the visual aspect of my writing is very present for me in the creative process. I also care deeply about people, and inviting performers and designers into a project as equals; directing allows me to create that open and respectful space.

A theme running through all my work is hospitality. My artistic director role with CSArt Ottawa primarily involves curation and event producing, and in every moment of the process I seek to make the artists, community partners, and audience feel welcome and able to fully bring themselves to the table. In my group facilitation and community organizing work, the principle is the same, and in that way it feels like a part of my artistic practice—creating space is a part of my art.

What impact has your involvement with the Ottawa arts community had on your life?

I have met so many kind, approachable, and grounded artists in Ottawa. For me, Ottawa is the perfect size for a home base. It feels like a place where I can contribute. 

Ottawa is a great place for new A woman standing centerstage in a spotlightwork. There is an audience here that is open and ready to receive new ideas. It’s a task, as in any place, to find them, but they are here. Unlike larger places, art events aren’t a dime a dozen, and I feel that makes art less of a commodity here, something more personal and valued.

Is there a specific moment/situation in your art career that you remember fondly?

Theatre as an art form is made from moments in time, which creates so many fond memories. But any time I find a new collaborator, a kindred spirit, those are truly special moments. When I find those people, I treat it very seriously, and thankfully have found equally earnest people to work with. To fall in love with another artists’ work, and then get to work with them, create a working language, learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and then be together in the triumph of bringing a creation to production—those moments are the greatest.

Thinking of these moments now, I’m struck by the dark side of them. Once, very close to a show’s opening night, a close collaborator and I had a moment of despair. There was no money to do our work, we were travelling from Ottawa to Toronto and back out of our own pockets, paying others out of our own pockets, and the stress was hard on both of our partners. Making theatre is not a particularly logical enterprise. But finding those that believe in an art piece beyond the logic is special.

Do you have any advice for artists in the Ottawa community or artists in general?

Find your people. I needed to be patient in finding my people; I didn’t find them in my undergrad, and I was jealous of all the people who did find collaborators at that time. But I found my people through working, and througMusicians in Meagan's playh the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. I found them through reaching out to artists I admired, and from producing my own projects. 

I think there is a tendency for artists to close themselves off. Especially after experiencing rejection from programs or funding bodies or peer groups, there can be a feeling that we are all in competition with each other. But that isn’t true, especially in Ottawa, and it creates small-minded ways of thinking. Look for allies everywhere. There may be many people in the community with whom you could create something beautiful, even if on the surface they don’t appear to be a logical collaborator.

What are you currently working on?

I’m creating a play called Strata Inc., which takes place in a near future where virtual reality has become the way that people access and socialize on the Internet. It follows a hacker going corporate as well as users of this new VR world, exploring issues of online privacy, connection, security, and access.

While writing the piece, I started workinActress kneeling centerstage as concerned actor looks ong with one of my favourite collaborators and people, Johnny Wideman. Johnny has created sound design for the entire play, which includes glitch hop music and atmospheric soundscapes, and together we’ve worked on a production style which uses audience headphones as the main design element. The audience and actors, connected through the audio experience, enter a circle together, are surrounded by each other, and can see each other. Through this style we seek to symbolize online life. 

What was it like to receive an award from the Ottawa Arts Council? How do you think it will impact your career?

Receiving the Corel Endowment for the Arts Award was such a gift in the process of creating Strata Inc. Theatre doesn’t usually require investment in tech equipment in the development stage, but for this project it was essential—and not affordable without this award. I am grateful for the financial ability to move forward with the project, and for the encouragement to go on.