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3 min

Don’t feed the monster

Ottawa playwright explores personal demons with new 20-minute show

Megan Carty wrote and stars in the one-person play Me and My Monster, which runs as part of the Fresh Meat Theatre Festival on Oct 16. Credit: Jessica Barrera

From childhood insecurities to deeply held anxieties, we all have our demons. Often they’re something we avoid talking about. But a new one-person show by Ottawa playwright Megan Carty is pulling them out into the light, using the metaphor of the monster under the bed to address the dark and difficult issues we all face.

Me and My Monster deals with a young child (played by Carty) who confronts the monster living under the bed. What seems like a simple premise is a metaphor for facing one’s inner demons and accepting our anxieties as a part of ourselves. “It’s all my experience with the monster through metaphor visually,” says Carty, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they. Throughout the play the child alternately hides from the monster, confronts it, brings it out into the open and attempts to cage it.

The show was partly inspired by Carty’s own struggles with gender identity. “I don’t think that I am straight, but I don’t think that I’m gay,” they say. “And I don’t think I’m a girl, but I don’t think I’m a boy. I’m somewhere in between.” Carty developed an eating disorder that began around puberty; as their body matured and became more feminine looking, they used not eating as a way of remaining androgynous. It was from this experience that the concept of starving the monster was born — depriving themselves of food kept Carty’s body appearing genderless, keeping their personal monster at bay.

Me and My Monster began as a 10-minute show that Carty developed while doing a summer lab intensive with Calgary theatre company One Yellow Rabbit. When they learned that the Fresh Meat Theatre Festival was looking for submissions, they jumped at the chance to expand the play further. “The beautiful thing about these festivals is that when you get accepted, you’re sort of forced to make your piece grow,” they say.

Now in its third year, Fresh Meat presents a series of original 20-minute works at the Arts Court Library over two weekends. “Twenty minutes is the perfect length to try something new — something which you’ve imagined but aren’t quite sure you can actually put on to a stage,” festival founder Jonah Allingham tells Xtra via email. “Any longer and you’d better be sure it will work; any shorter and you can’t really fit a complete story in. That’s what Fresh Meat is about: really discovering where theatre can go. Discovering what you can create when all you have is your imagination, a stage, simple tools and effects, and 20 minutes to present it in.”

To further develop the monster concept, Carty interviewed people in their life about their own monsters, which they say instantly clicked for many people and helped them to open up about things like anxiety and mental illness. “If everybody has an individual monster that’s as complicated as they are, it . . . gives more weight to the struggles that they’re [dealing] with because it doesn’t categorize them or compartmentalize them,” Carty says. “All of the different people that I interviewed, their voices kind of propel my story forward.” The play uses a combination of interview footage and Carty’s own experiences to advance the plot.

Carty admits that exploring such a complex concept in only 20 minutes was a challenge. They wanted to look at different ways of dealing with the monster, and the child goes through various techniques, from calmly asking the monster to go away to luring it into a cage and trapping it. Ultimately, though, the child must learn how to live in harmony with the monster; it’s only when the child is able to accept that the monster is a part of themselves that a resolution is reached. “When we attend to our monsters and we really notice them, they stop looking even scary,” Carty says. “They stop looking like monsters.”

Carty hopes the show will resonate with people, no matter what their personal monsters are. “I’m hoping that everyone watching the show . . . will watch the story and be able to enjoy it and think about it, but at the same time be thinking about their own monsters.”