Retired Knox County teacher and current playwright Catherine Rhoden-Goguen, visited the classroom of one of her former drama student Corri Taylor to share her newest play, “Unstoppable by Design” with Taylor’s students.
Rhoden-Goguen contacted Taylor about putting together a cast of both students and teachers for her newest play.
“Unstoppable by Design” highlights the life of Matt Rifenburg, who had to overcome several obstacles in order to achieve success, something Taylor’s students said they related to. They not only met with Rhoden-Goguen, but also Matt Rifenburg.
During the visit students got to know Rifenburg and his story, the inspiration behind the play, and read through several scenes.
These students and teachers from Lynn Camp will be performing “Unstoppable by Design” on May 10th at Union College.
Welcome to the Friday Five, where The Register asks five questions to preview local events or highlight area artists. Kentucky Playwrights Workshop is hosting an open reading of new works for the stage on Sunday from 2-5 p.m. in the Community Room of the Clark County Public Library. One of the plays feature the story of a Madison County resident. Catherine Rhoden-Goguen and Matt Rifenburg provide more details.
1 How did you find out about Matt Rifenburg?
Cat: My father had died in September 2017, very unexpectedly and I had been in the longest trauma and mourning period of my life. Sort of just mindlessly scrolling through things on the internet one night, I saw a post on Quora. The post was by a person in their 20’s who was experiencing some hardships and was asking if his life was over. I could relate to that feeling and so I was interested to read the comments. Matt had posted a response outlining struggles in his own life and how he had turned things around by not giving up. Among the things he mentioned was dropping out of high school and then landing a job at Cornell University in the engineering department. Being a former teacher, that piqued my curiosity and I was also touched by the compassion he had shown in his response to this stranger who clearly needed someone to offer kind words. I read a link to an article that had been written about him that was included in his comment and that’s when I, without much thought, sent Matt a message to ask if he’d be interested in letting me tell his story through a one act play.
2 Why did you decide to make a play about Matt’s life? Matt, how did you feel when Cat contacted you about writing a play about your life?
Cat: The initial attraction to Matt’s story was high school drop out who finds success through hard work and that offers hope. I needed to believe that was still true but it had not been my experience as a teacher that those students who dropped out found that type of success. I thought this type play would perhaps be a catalyst for young people. After speaking with Matt however, I quickly discovered there were so many more layers to his life and I was in awe really of him at that point. So many times he could have and most people would have given up but he didn’t and I wanted to know why. The conflict was there. The message was there and the writing challenge was there. What I didn’t know was that I was the one who needed the message. I would say ironically, Matt saved my life so I could write the story of his. How could I not write his story?
Matt: It was a bit strange and amusing at first, since I didn’t know her well at that point. A magazine had previously written an article about me and that worked out pretty well, so I said, ” ok” when she asked. I had always felt that my story was only marginally interesting, but Cat was enthusiastic, and allowed me to make changes as I saw fit. The whole process was pretty interesting, and during the course of writing it, and talking to Cat, I began to realize there is more to the story than even I had realized.
3 How did the writing process go for such a unique play?
Cat: The play process began with emails. I would send questions and he was very open in answering anything I asked. It then progressed to texting and long phone conversations and eventually a face to face meeting. I was very mindful of my role in this playwriting experience being different than in my other works. I didn’t feel it was my job to make it a more artistic piece than it was. I wanted to stay true to his story. So any edits he wanted, I obliged because again, I was the storyteller moreso than the story creator Luckily, we worked great together and there were very few changes he asked me to make.
Matt: Cat and I talked a bit about the process, and she sent me a ton of questions to get her started, and from my answers she developed the first draft. She did a great job. We spoke a few times about questions she had, and I think it was less than 2 weeks before I read the first draft. We had a couple of long conversations on the phone where we went through the play and made changes to wording, or where something needed to be changed for accuracy. There were many thousands of texts to talking about different things, and the second draft was largely what the play is now. I later changed a couple things that didn’t have the feel I wanted after we did a read through with the readers you will see Sunday. We got a lot of great feedback from people who have read it so far, and it is growing into a pretty amazing project, with many future possibilities.
4 Where can people hear the reading of the play?
Cat: Clark County Library in Winchester, KY will host the premiere reading of Unstoppable by Design. It will be on Sunday, March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) at 1:30. It is free to the public and refreshments will be served.
5 What can people expect at the workshop Sunday?
Cat: There will be three plays that receive readings and this event is sponsored by Kentucky Playwrights Workshop. After each play there will be a Q and A session so it’s very interactive. I am so very thrilled that we will also have Matt in attendance and he is more than willing to answer questions as well. Richmond is very fortunate, as was I, to have him here and I hope the community who might be looking for a feel good story or perhaps the student who has an interest in engineering and mechanical design will attend. It’s free and a great way to support new works of Kentucky playwrights.
Matt: We have 8 amazing readers who have volunteered to do a reading of Cat’s latest play “Unstoppable By Design”. It is the story of how I went from a high school dropout to designing and building particle accelerators at Cornell University, along with a few roadblocks along that path. There is drama, humor, and flashbacks in the play depicting a few of the events that I have been through. Most people should be able to identify some similarities in their own lives, and leave the play reading with the thought that you don’t have to settle for the life you have, and it is possible build the life you want. It will be a unique experience because it is rare that you have both the writer of the play, and the person on whose life the play is based in the same room, and be able to ask questions about it. And, there will be cookies…
A retired Knox County teacher and current Playwright, Catherine Rhoden-Goguen, will soon reveal her newest play called “Unstoppable by Design” on Sunday, March 17.
“Unstoppable by Design” highlights the life of Matt Rifenburg, who endures throughout a journey of life’s obstacles in pursuit to achieve success, despite the possibility of failure.
“Will his drive and perseverance be enough, or was his fate sealed with the first blow?”, as quoted from Rhoden-Goguen’s website.
“Unstoppable by Design” is not the only play she has written. Her first, “May I Have Your Attention, Please?” won the Critic’s Choice Award for the Wisconsin State One Act PlayFestival.
She even had the opportunity to discuss the writing process and inspiration for “Unstoppable by Design” on the podcast called: Strength to Be Human by Mark Antony Rossi.
“I want to write plays that engage the audience in thinking, questioning,” Rhoden-Goguen said, “And then with those results, I want them to go a step further and have my plays be a catalyst for action…even if that is just beginning a discussion about a difficult to talk about subject.”
Her plays have been performed at colleges, community theaters and on high school stages. She will continue to share her passion of drama with many others at Clark County Library in Winchester, Kentucky on St. Patrick’s Day.
Knox Countian, Cat Rhoden Goguen, is many things: former Knox County teacher, published playwright and author, and mobility advocate…just to name a few.
Her new play, “Unstoppable by Design,” will debut on Sunday, March 17, at 2:00 p.m. in the Clark County Library. Recently, Cathy took some time to pull back the curtain, exclusively for the Mountain Advocate, to discuss her inspiration, motivation, as well as her latest creation.
What are the first 3 words that come to mind when I say, “Who are you?”
Scorpio, persistent, creative… If the three words are connected though it would be “transparent Scorpio onion”
What was your seminal moment?
I think my moment was actually when I was a child, playing with my paper dolls which were torn out of catalogues my aunt Pauline would give me. That is when I first was a writer, even though I didn’t understand what it meant and I couldn’t write the words yet. It was still the thought process and creativity developing. It was very clear to me that I was unique in that way early on. And I had pretty elaborate plots and dramatic scenarios long before I went to school, just from my paper dolls.
Does it still inspire you?
Now that I have the skills to write, I don’t still find the need to play with the paper dolls though it might be a lot of fun. But I find myself still pulled more towards drama than comedy and there is usually a twist or two in my work.
A seminal moment specific to writing plays as an adult was when I was asked to start a drama program at Knox Central HS and there was no budget so I wrote a play tailored to the students in that class. May I Have Your Attention, Please? Was written and later published and performed all over the world. And sort of full circle is that Josh Collins was in that first drama class and now he is playing the lead character in my latest play.
Meeting Matt Rifenburg changed everything for me in many ways. Having been through the writing process of my latest play and capturing the story of a real person’s life has opened up so much fascination to me. As the saying goes, “truth is stranger than fiction” and this latest play has allowed me to see that firsthand. Being able to learn so much about a person’s life and to be entrusted to take that information and tell their story has been life changing to me. The randomness of how this latest play came to be has shown me that even at my age of 54, there are new motivations. I will never forget the writing of this play and I can’t wait to see how it is received at its first official reading March 17th.
There is a distinct, yet unusual, duality to your personality: the logos of education and the pathos of arts…
How do you explain that juxtaposition?
How do you make it work in your favor?
I was lucky to have a good balance of left brain/right brain and the education side of me helps for writing structure and the formality of writing but the arts side is the creative side that makes my story of love different than all the other stories of love other people will write. I definitely think they complement each other and growing up, my mom was the one always pushing me to do well academically and quizzing me in English but my Dad was my constant exposure to the arts and it made for a unique blend that has shaped me into what I am today.
How has your background shaped you?
My life has been a series of very unusual events. I have never had an ordinary life at any point. These events have been both extraordinarily good and bad but not the typical life events. Coping with these has certainly influenced and shaped me-again both good and bad. I’d probably be less, minus these experiences but sometimes I’d love to trade for normalcy just to see….
How does the community see you?
I hope the community sees me as someone who speaks up when necessary but one who works equally hard to fix problems, not just complain about them. I hope the community sees me as a creative artist who has dedicated much of my adult life to passing on my passion for the arts.
Are there any misconceptions?
I’m sure that there are misconceptions. One is that some people doubt those with mobility issues are capable of doing anything or we are turned into some kind of feel good project if we do anything at all. Still others perceive advocacy as being a troublemaker and artists as weird. Of course these are just that…misconceptions.
Set anything straight?
My eyes are up here lol…I’d love people to see me as a person and not as a person who uses a mobility scooter. I have the same feelings and aspirations as anyone else and I’m a go getter so have a conversation with me. People fascinate me and I don’t bite 😉
What are your civic aspirations? (future role: mentor, professor, office holder, local celebrity)
I’d love to start a community theatre or at least an acting group or writing group. There’s a lot of talent in this area that goes unnoticed sometimes or has limited exposure. I’d love to lead a group to collectively showcase more of this talent on a larger stage.
What is your comment on our culture? (shared through work)
I try very hard in my writing to keep characters real and that usually means giving them both good and bad characteristics. People often do wrong things but not because they are all bad but because they feel trapped or afraid etc. I don’t want to tell people what to think so I try to present the characters and let each person draw their own conclusions based on their own experiences and thoughts. People are told what to think too often. I don’t want to add to that problem.
Concepts and Creativity
What does your work aim to say?
What are your themes?
#Theatre4Change is what is in my mind whenever I entertain a new play idea. I want to write plays that engage the audience in thinking, questioning and then with those results, I want them to go a step further and have my plays be a catalyst for action…even if that is just beginning a discussion about a difficult to talk about subject. The typical play for me addresses some social awareness issue. I have addressed such issues as suicide, Alzheimer’s, effects of technology and social media on our lives, drug addiction and incarceration, domestic violence, inclusion and the list goes on and on…
What is your process?
My process begins when the idea comes to me. It can sometimes be a random thing such as a typo. Two plays have resulted from that type beginning. First Week of Jane was the result of seeing a typo on Facebook that should have said First week of June but the typo caught my attention and once I had the title, the rest was just filling in the blanks. Similarly, Gorilla Girl resulted from a typo of a text that should have said, good morning gorgeous, but was autocorrected to “good morning, gorilla”
So once the idea comes, then I pre write in my mind. All I need is the structure of: this is where I’m starting and this is what I want to convey and it’s like a puzzle from there.
In my latest play the process was a bit different and came about from seeing an article on Quora which was about a guy who dropped out of high school. This spoke to the teacher side of me that I still have intrinsically and from that interest, the rest of the play held so much more as I kept digging.
When do you know it’s complete?
Like a puzzle, you just know when that last piece fits and the puzzle is complete.
Something that has stuck with me from my latest work is, “Everyone wants to be a lion until it’s time to hunt.” I find this applies to many things and not just writing but specifically to young writers I would say it means to you that everyone wants the novel, the play on Broadway…the finished product. That is the metaphorical “lion” but not as many want to be a lion when it’s time to write the 15th draft, or format a script or do all the “stuff” that isn’t as glamorous. You can’t be a lion without doing the hunt which is the blood, sweat and tears of what makes a lion so magnificent. I think keeping this in mind will serve you well in life no matter what career path you take.
Kentucky Playwrights Workshop presents readings of three one-act plays, each running about 30 minutes in length. Discussions will follow.
The authors are local playwright Bill McCann, Jr. whose Southern Gothic explores whether or not an elderly man suffering from
dementia can help solve a decades-old murder mystery. Lexington playwright Michael McCord‘s Dinner at Zuck’s is a comedy about a young man’s meal with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Barbourville playwright Catherine Rhoden-Goguen‘s play Unstoppable by Design explores the gut punches Matt
endures on his quest for success despite the probability of failure. Will his drive and perseverance be enough, or was his fate sealed with the first blow?
Kentucky Playwrights Workshop is a 501(c)3 public charity that encourages development of new stage works. In addition to this
afternoon of readings others are being developed for other regions and cities across the state; six are planned for 2019. Follow KPW’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Kentucky-Playwrights-Workshop-Inc-170206223071576/?fref=ts) or visit their website (http://www.kyplayswork.org/) for more information and for updates.