Ruth: Welcome to the first episode of While You Create. I'm Ruth, founder of Cool Girls Collective and your host. I created the show as something you could listen to while you sit at your computer or paint at your easel or do what it is that moves you creatively. Today, we'll be hearing from artists who have been through tough times and from it created new work they're proud of. I'm so very grateful to have you listening and I hope you enjoy. Roll It.
Ruth: It goes without saying that these past few years haven't been easy. In one way or another, all of us have experienced major life changes. For better or for worse. Maybe some of us took a break to deal with the real life stuff and others coped by channeling everything into their work. For Megan Quick, an actor and writer based in Brooklyn, art became her constant. During the pandemic, Megan performed a solo musical production inspired by one of Hollywood's greatest films.
Megan: I would say, it's a cabaret style diva retrospective where you get to hear Hollywood's dirty secrets and learn more about like some of the most famous names you know.
Ruth: Now, before we get into the story, I want to make it a habit for us to just take a second. To breathe. To ground ourselves. To quiet our minds. Here's Adreyauna from Ink to Prosperity to guide us in a moment of meditation.
Adreyauna: If you're going through a tough time right now, I hope that this humming meditation is a reminder that you are not alone.
Ruth: Now, back to the story. In 2018, Megan had the idea of what would eventually become a show called And Toto Too, where she would write and play the role of Toto. You know, that terrier from the Wizard of Oz. In the show, Megan even wears her hair in two buns like dog ears and on her face is a painted dog nose with whiskers. She sings original songs in it and tell stories of what it might have been like to be on set. Surprisingly, this funny and enlightening cabaret on one of cinema's most beloved canines was actually born during a rough spot for Megan. Here she is.
Megan: In 2018 in December, I lost my grandfather. It was very difficult, it was watching someone get very sick very quickly and he just got very, very sick and it was hard to figure out what was going on. And his decline happened pretty quickly. So all that to say in the wake of that, I had a really hard year, I was living in New York and what I shared with him growing up was old Hollywood movies and Judy Garland specifically. We really shared her. Meet Me in St. Louis. Easter Parade. The Harvey Girls. Those were movies we watched together, especially Meet Me in St. Louis.
Ruth: This is from Megan's show.
Ruth: Of course, before any of those titles, Judy Garland starred as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. This is probably how most of us remember her, a young girl with pigtails fastened by blue ribbons wearing a matching blue gingham dress, saying to a small scruffy dog, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
Megan: And so I was in line for Shakespeare in the park with some friends,
it was like five am because you have to get there really early to get tickets because they're all free but you got to be in line. And we were talking and somehow we started talking about like animal actors in Hollywood and I think it hit me. I googled the dog who played Toto because obviously that's a huge example of a famous animal actor in Hollywood. And it talked about her trainer and then I was just like this is probably its own Hollywood ecosystem, it's probably full of its own drama and weird history and scandalous history as like Hollywood histories are and so I kind of started writing it that morning. I wrote it down, I wrote down the idea. I found out her name. Her name was Terry Spitz, that was the dog.
Ruth: In early 2019, Megan received an opportunity from a friend to develop and debut And Toto Too for his theater in Athens, Georgia. Suddenly, Megan found herself juggling theater with the throes of reality.
Megan: I would sleep till 10 every day. I would meet with Cameron, my director and then I would go back to sleep at two and I didn't know why. I was like, why am I napping so much? And then I remember talking about it with Cameron later and I was like, oh I was like grieving, I was like in shock and he was like, but we just, you know, you were, he was like, we're letting you do what you needed to do to like make your art. Yeah. I would just sleep all day, play a dog and beyond this like retreat from my life as I was like going through this really hard thing. It was weird because I had lost my grandfather. The show had really been inspired by losing him, but then I think it also was totally informed by losing Eric as well
Megan: I had a brother named Eric and he had glioblastoma. He was diagnosed with that in 2015 and then it came back and he deteriorated really rapidly. We got one of those calls that's like a nightmare to get where it's like he probably has a month. In the midst of like Eric declining, I just didn't know what to do. If anyone's been through that with a family member, it's a very confusing moment of free fall. You really don't know which way is up. I think focusing on writing the show was a way to have something to hold onto.
Ruth: Later, Megan earned the opportunities to perform And Toto Too virtually at the PIT in 2021 and in-person at the Krane Theatre as part of the 2022 Frigid Festival in New York. For every new run, the show was reworked. Sometimes to fit timing constraints. Other times for creative purposes. However, there is one story in the script about Terry who played Toto that has meant a great deal to Megan.
Megan: There is also an anecdote which you find in different sources, so I think it's true. Terry, and this is, I know for sure she got injured on set. She got stepped on when all the winkie soldiers are marching in the movie. And she had to be taken off set for two weeks to heal and Judy Garland took care of her because she was 16 and was like, I really bonded with this dog and I want to take care of the dog. And then Judy really tried to adopt her and they wouldn't let her. And so that's sort of the emotional pivot of the whole play. The question the show poses is how do we love each other in a way that feels true and in a way that's not about what we can get from each other? Which given that I just lost two people, that makes sense that that was sort of always on my mind. You're very aware of the love you take for granted once it's just gone. We've gone through so much as a society in the last two or three years where I'm like, now I know I know so many people have lost someone, right? And so when you are in the middle of that kind of grief and loss and fear, watching someone get sicker and sicker and just knowing that there's no out is one of the worst experiences you can have with someone you love. I don't know how you ever get equipped to deal with that or process it. And so I think weirdly, I think in the context of everything going, no, I didn't think, ok I'm going to write this play to process this or I'm going to make sure I have art to turn to or any of that. I think these themes just became so much more present in my life because of what was happening.
Megan: I think with Toto, it's such an incredible example of how art can really just be a life raft for you. I don't think you have like I don't like the mythology around you have to go through hard things to make good art. Like I don't think that's a healthy way to view it, but I do think art is one of the only good things you can turn to when things are hard. So that's where I think that tie in happens, not necessarily you have to go through hard things, but you will probably turn to art if you're going through hard things.
Ruth: There's a review of And Toto Too written by John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards from the Frigid run that reads, "amidst the panoply of dog jokes, there are hints of melancholy, of the tragedy of lost possibilities that creep in culminating in a poignant ending that makes good on its bold performance choice. We can't say that you will gain any courage by seeing And Toto Too, but your brain and your heart will surely thank you." If that's not art imitating life and vice versa, then I don't know what is.
Ruth: Megan Quick is a writer and actor based in Brooklyn. You can follow her on instagram at quick dot Megan, that's Q U I C K dot M E G A N. Her production And Toto Too was directed by Cameron Jefts, Charlotte La Nasa, and Alyssa May Gold. It was produced by Dani Turner and Lizzy Lincoln. Technician was Paul Purvine. Choreography was by Carolie Moore. And accompanists were Whitney Wallace and Camille Harris. Megan also wanted to give a huge shout out to her early collaborator, dramaturg, and director Cameron. Per Megan’s email to me, “there would be no Toto without his help and encouragement at its inception.” Special thanks to Adreyuana at Ink to Prosperity. Ink to Prosperity a space that provides personal & career development from a spiritual perspective. You can learn more at ink to prosperity, that's I N K T O prosperity dot com or give her a follow on Instagram @inktoprosperity. While You Create is an audio show brought to you by Cool Girls Collective. We're a community shaping convos around creativity. You can find us at cool girls dot C O and on Instagram @coolgirlscollective. Production music is by LoHi5. You can listen more on Instagram at lo hi the number five dot music. This has been your host Ruth signing out.
WHILE YOU CREATE is an audio show brought to you by Cool Girls Collective — we’re a community shaping convos around creativity. You can find us at coolgirls.co and on socials @coolgirlscollective. Production music is by LoHi5 (@lohi.5.music).