Authors: Megan Terry

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Ex-Miss Copper Queen on a Set of Pills, pr. 1963

Calm Down Mother, pr. 1965

Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place, pr. 1965

Comings and Goings, pr. 1966

The Gloaming, Oh My Darling, pr. 1966

Viet Rock: A Folk War Movie, pr., pb. 1966 (music by Marianne de Pury)

The Magic Realists, pr. 1966

The People vs. Ranchman, pr. 1967

Massachusetts Trust, pr. 1968

Megan Terry’s Home: Or, Future Soap, pr. 1968 (televised), pr. 1974 (staged)

The Tommy Allen Show, pr. 1969

Approaching Simone, pr. 1970

Three One-Act Plays, pb. 1970

Couplings and Groupings, pb. 1973

Nightwalk, pr. 1973 (with Sam Shepard and Jean-Claude van Itallie)

Babes in the Bighouse, pr., pb. 1974

Fifteen Million Fifteen-Year-Olds, pr. 1974

Hothouse, pr., pb. 1974

The Pioneer, pr. 1974

Pro Game, pr. 1974

100,001 Horror Stories of the Plains, pr. 1976 (with Judith Katz, James Larson, and others)

Brazil Fado, pr., pb. 1977

Sleazing Toward Athens, pr. 1977, revised pr., pb. 1986

Willa-Willie-Bill’s Dope Garden, pb. 1977

American King’s English for Queens, pr., pb. 1978

Attempted Rescue on Avenue B: A Beat Fifties Comic Opera, pr., pb. 1979; Goona Goona, pr. 1979

Mollie Bailey’s Traveling Circus: Featuring Scenes from the Life of Mother Jones, pr. 1981

Kegger, pr. 1982

Family Talk, pr., pb. 1986

Sea of Forms, pr. 1986 (with Jo Ann Schmidman)

Dinner’s in the Blender, pr., pb. 1987

Walking Through Walls, pr., pb. 1987 (with Schmidman)

Amtrak, pr. 1988

Headlights, pr., pb. 1988

Retro, pr. 1988

Body Leaks, pr. 1990 (with Schmidman and Sora Kimberlain)

Do You See What I’m Saying?, pr., pb. 1990

Belches on Couches, pr. 1992 (with Schmidman and Kimberlain)

India Plays, pr. 1992

Sound Fields: Are We Hear, pr. 1992 (with Schmidman and Kimberlain)

Star Path Moon Stop, pr. 1995

Plays, pb. 2000

No Kissing in the Hall, pr. 2002

Teleplays:

The Dirt Boat, 1955

One More Little Drinkie, 1969

Radio Plays:

Sanibel and Captiva, 1968

American Wedding Ritual Monitored/Transmitted by the Planet Jupiter, 1972

Edited Text:

Right Brain Vacation Photos: New Plays and Production Photographs, 1972-1992, 1992 (with Jo Ann Schmidman and Sora Kimberlain)

Biography

Megan Terry, the daughter of Joseph Duffy, Jr., and Marguerite Cecelia (née Henry) Duffy, was born Marguerite (Megan) Duffy; she changed her last name to Terry in homage to her Welsh heritage. Speaking of her great-grandmother, who with her seven children crossed the country in a covered wagon, Terry once said “I come from a pioneer culture, so I’m kind of different from people raised in the East. Women worked side by side with the men. I was taught to build houses. . . . My grandfather was a great engineer who built bridges and railroads. I grew up using tools. I think that’s important.” Terry has spoken of the women in her life who were particularly influential: her mother, grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, and cousins, whom she has described as “fantastic women. I love to be with them. I go home several times a year just so I can hang out with them! They’re all beautiful, bright, witty, full of the devil. Terrific singers.”{$I[AN]9810001612}{$I[A]Terry, Megan}{$S[A]Duffy, Megan;Terry, Megan}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Terry, Megan}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Terry, Megan}{$I[tim]1932;Terry, Megan}

Terry attended the Banff School of Fine Arts at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, where she was trained in theater design. In 1956 she earned her B.A. in drama from the University of Seattle, Washington. As a teenager she was trained in other aspects of the theater when she participated in the Seattle Repertory Playhouse. Here she watched actors do improvisations in workshops and acting classes. She also learned that some actors can be effective storytellers, which inspired her to begin writing.

During 1954-1956 Terry taught drama at the Cornish School of Allied Arts, where she reorganized the Cornish Players, a group that toured the northwest United States for two years. She also conducted workshops at various colleges and universities, and she worked as a sculptor, painter, and theater designer. When she moved to New York in 1956 Terry became a founding member of the Open Theatre (with Joseph Chaikin), the New York Theatre Strategy, and the Women’s Theatre Council. She revolutionized the American theater by creating the first rock musical and antiwar play, Viet Rock, which was given its premiere at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York and was chosen to inaugurate the first season of the Yale Repertory Theatre under the artistic directorship of Robert Brustein. In 1974 she joined Jo Ann Schmidman to become playwright-in-residence and literary manager of the Omaha Magic Theater, the oldest and most productive feminist theater troupe in the United States.

In 1970 Terry’s play Approaching Simone, which is based on the life of the French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, was awarded an Obie for best new play. In 1977 Terry was awarded the Silver Medal for Distinguished Contribution and Service in American Theater by the American Theater Association. Together with Schmidman and the Omaha Magic Theater Company, Terry has produced plays that offer alternatives to realism. In 1983 she was awarded the Dramatists Guild Annual Award in recognition of her sustained work as a writer of conscience and controversy. The governor of Nebraska named her artist of the year in 1992. In 1994 she was voted a lifetime member of the College Fellows of the American Theater.

Terry’s work has consistently addressed social problems. In Sleazing Toward Athens she focuses on the excessively materialistic orientation of college students. In Kegger she confronts adolescent alcohol abuse. Attempted Rescue on Avenue B explores women coming to terms with nonprocreative forms of power, and the fears and possibilities that accompany such confrontations. Goona Goona takes domestic violence and child abuse as its subjects in a slapstick Punch-and-Judy format, and Babes in the Bighouse, the first full-length play Terry developed after joining the Omaha Magic Theater, is set in a women’s prison and explores connections between incarceration and sexual stereotyping. Do You See What I’m Saying? explores the lives of seven homeless women in their struggle to help each other survive on the streets. Sound Fields: Are We Hear is a full-length musical that examines the relationships between human beings and the earth, as well as their ethical responsibilities toward the earth.

Terry’s theater pieces combine sculpture, music, dance, video, chanting, and visual arts. She and members of the Omaha Magic Theater have built a subscription community in the small Midwestern city of Omaha, and they regularly tour and conduct workshops and seminars in arts communities and academic institutions elsewhere. In the course of these activities Terry has attained an international reputation as a leading figure in American feminist theater.

BibliographyBabnich, Judith. “Family Talk.” Review of Family Talk. Theatre Review 39 (May, 1987): 240-241. Although this article is only a brief review of one play, it reveals important details about how many of Terry’s works are produced through collaboration with psychologists, social workers, artists, and community activists. Babnich points out how Terry uses music, multimedia effects, and comedy to achieve serious social criticism and a call for action and social healing.Betsko, Kathleen, and Rachel Koenig, eds. Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987. Includes an informative interview in which Terry discusses her creative process, influences on her work, women in theater, sources of her ideas, and the state of American theater. In addition, she reminisces about her work with the Open Theatre and the Omaha Magic Theatre as well as with a number of America’s most significant contemporary playwrights.Diamond, Elin. “(Theoretically) Approaching Megan Terry: Issues of Gender and Identity.” Art and Cinema 1 (Fall, 1987). Terry is the main focus of discussion.Fenn, Jeffery W. Levitating the Pentagon: Evolutions in the American Theatre of the Vietnam War Era. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992. Contains an excellent analysis of Megan Terry’s Viet Rock as transformational drama and as political commentary. Fenn studies the play in the contexts of both the experimental theater of the 1960’s and the earliest American plays that focused on the Vietnam War.Hart, Lynda, ed. Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989. A wide-ranging collection of essays that includes Jan Breslauer’s and Helen Keyssar’s “Making Magic Public: Megan Terry’s Traveling Family Circus,” an analysis of Megan Terry’s Mollie Bailey’s Traveling Family Circus: Featuring Scenes from the Life of Mother Jones as new feminist drama. The other essays are equally valuable in that they provide a theatrical context for Terry’s work and ideas.Keyssar, Helene. “Making Magic Public: Megan Terry’s Traveling Family Circus.” In Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre, edited by Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989. Terry is the main focus of discussion.Keyssar, Helene. “Megan Terry: Mother of American Feminist Theatre.” In Feminist Theatre. New York: Grove Press, 1985. Details Terry’s contributions to the development of a collaborative feminist theater in the United States. In addition to providing thorough bibliographic information and notes, this essay offers a valuable overview and analysis of Terry’s vital impact on American drama.Klein, Kathleen Gregory. “Language and Meaning in Megan Terry’s ‘Musicals.’” Modern Drama 27 (December, 1984): 574-583. Focusing on the plays American King’s English for Queens, Babes in the Bighouse, Brazil Fado, and The Tommy Allen Show, Klein details how Terry’s work elucidates the relationship of language to gender. This insightful article draws connections between Terry’s work and the traditions of B-movie musicals, television, and popular culture, with an emphasis on the language of Terry’s musicals.Leavitt, Dinah L. “Megan Terry.” In Women in American Theatre, edited by Helen Krich Chinoy and Linda Walsh Jenkins. New York: Crown, 1981. A brief overview of Terry’s works and life.Murphy, Brenda, ed. The Cambridge Companion to American Women Playswrights. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. This broad work contains information on Terry and her place in American theater.Natalle, Elizabeth. Feminist Theatre: A Study in Persuasion. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. This survey of feminist theater features a ten-page bibliography, an index, and nine pages of analysis of Terry’s role in the development of feminist theater. The discussion focuses primarily on American King’s English for Queens and Babes in the Bighouse, placing them in the context of feminist concerns.Savran, David. In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988. Features an in-depth interview with Megan Terry in which she describes the plays that have influenced her work and the emotions that lead to ideas for plays. She discusses specific plays and the genesis of each one, and she identifies her favorites among her plays. The interview closes with her speculations on the future of the American theater and her work with the Omaha Magic Theatre.Schlueter, June. “Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place: Megan Terry’s Transformational Drama and the Possibilities of Self.” Studies in American Drama, 1945-Present 2 (1987): 59-69. A lucid and interesting treatment of one of Megan Terry’s more significant transformational dramas as an example of the Open Theatre’s contribution to redefining the creation of dramatic character. Schlueter points out that Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place is a work that strongly represents Terry’s transformational experimentation and its impact on the definition of self in American drama.
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