Morgan Smith shares encouragement for queer artists looking to break into entertainment

Morgan Smith is a writer, model, activist, and social media influencer. They are the creator of Averno. Averno is a multimedia franchise including 6 plays and musicals, virtual reality, epic poetry, comic books, radio theatre, and a concept album. Bittersummer: A New Musical is the third release in Broadway Records’ long-term partnership with the creators of Averno. BITTERSUMMER: A New Musical is an unflinching look at the beauty, anguish, rage, and redemption in the lives of teenage girls who collide with the new American Gods. Morgan has studied at Juilliard, Yale, MIT, and NYU.  YEM was able to speak with Morgan about where their inspiration for Averno came from, how their projects make waves for the LGBTQ movement, and how much of Bittersummer is related to

their personal experiences.

Young Entertainment Mag: What were you first expecting the Averno Universe to be like and did reality exceed those expectations?

Morgan Smith: Honestly, this is both exactly what I was expecting and WAY more than I ever could have hoped for. This- an extensive universe, an incredible collaboration between so many artists- is exactly what I dreamed of. On the other hand, nothing like this has existed before, so I don’t think I could have actually anticipated what it would look like.

YEM: Where did your inspiration for Averno come from?

Morgan: Oh boy. EVERYWHERE. A lot of it comes from my experiences growing up, my time in Virginia in farms and forests and mountains. I have always been a HUGE reader and a lot of my inspiration comes from classical mythology, particularly Greek theatre. Also horror movies. And internet culture. And regional history. And Norse epics. And my own teenage years. A little bit of everything!

YEM: What is the first musical you’ve ever seen and how has it impacted you?

Morgan: I’m actually not sure what my first musical was. Maybe Les Mis? My family is a big theatre family so it’s always surrounded me. My grandmother took me to a show every year for my birthday. I saw a local production of Man of La Mancha that inspired me a lot when I was probably 10.

YEM: With Bittersummer starting off with its huge impact, where do you see its growth in the years to come?

Morgan: I’ll truly just be grateful if we get to keep telling this story. I think it’s a story that has a lot to offer, particularly to young people who have a LOT to process. I think the bigger the productions get, the more people will get to connect with this story.

YEM: What is the process you take to create your characters?

Morgan: Truly, they just kind of appear. A lot of the current Averno characters first appeared in January 2020 when I wrote Arcana, the epic poem that serves as the foundational lore of the world. The Lovers turned into Willow a few months later, the Sun was Bittersummer, the Magician is Aster’s story. But honestly, my characters come to me fully formed and I get to know them better by writing them.

YEM: When your initial hit musical Oceanborn was featured in the NY Times and taken to Off-Broadway, how did you feel and how did it further motivate you to keep creating?

Morgan: It was one of the most incredible feelings. I think it can be hard to feel as though the art you’re making is working, is worth it, etc, but when I first saw those articles it felt like it was finally HAPPENING. Although, even without those, I would have still been inspired to keep creating. I can’t stop. It’s who I am.

YEM: In what way do your projects make waves for the LGBTQ movement?

Morgan: I think Averno is unique in the fact that it isn’t necessarily TRYING to make waves. My inclusion of queer characters isn’t a statement, it’s just a representation of the people I see around me. Myself, my friends, my world.

YEM: If you had any encouragement for queer artists looking to break into entertainment, what would it be?

Morgan: Don’t feel like it’s your duty to represent the entire community. Your job is to create art that is truthful and kind and excellent. Your queerness is an important part of you, but it is also part of an integrated identity. Telling honest stories where queerness is centered, yet not extraordinary, is the greatest way to create change.

YEM: What was the concept you had in mind for Bittersummer’s music that made you reach out to Annalise Emerick and the Brother Brothers?

Morgan: There’s just… such a lovely quality to both of their music that FEELS like summer and FEELS like growing up. I think that the aesthetic sensibilities of music is the most important thing to build out a story and theirs fit PERFECTLY.

YEM: How does the Averno Universe open doors for others to create virtual multimedia experiences?

Morgan: I think the most important thing it’s done is provide a model. When I first started this, there was no system or structure for how one would go about doing something like this. And now that Averno exists, all of these other universes have started popping up and following what we’re doing. It’s so cool to see all of the other people following this model and trying to do what we’ve done.

YEM: Who in your life have you looked up to and learned from?

Morgan: My entire family. We have a very intense work ethic and a can-do attitude, and I don’t think I would have been able to do Averno without those lessons. I’ve cooked for 13 every night at workshops, shopped for costumes, arranged transportation, done casting and fundraising and paperwork and graphic design and picked people up and done whatever else it took to make it happen. My family taught me that.

YEM: You mentioned Bittersummer has been six years in the making, how did the idea start?

Morgan: I think it’s really been in my brain since my first year of high school. I only started writing it a year and a half ago, but I was living it before then.

YEM: How much of Bittersummer is related to your personal experiences?

Morgan: It is very much based on some experiences me and my friends had in high school. Sometimes the only ways to process those experiences and grow from them is to write about them.

YEM: How many people did it take to put Averno Universe together?

Morgan: I created the Averno Universe in the fall of 2019. For the first 8 months I was pretty much working alone, occasionally collaborating with other artists such as Annalise Emerick on early projects. This was a really fruitful time for me- I wrote the 40,000 word epic poem that forms the foundation of the entire Averno Universe, I drafted the books of 3 musicals and 2 films, I wrote a graphic novel, and I workshopped and developed one musical. This was when the main characters, the magical system, the rules of the universe, etc were created. However it was all kind of lonely- being the only person working on multiple projects meant no one else understood the scope of the universe. I started reaching out to artists in June 2020 and the team quickly grew from then. That was when Averno really started feeling like a team. Since then, there have probably been around 100 artists, composers, animators, and designers involved with the universe, and each of them have left their mark in some way.

Check out the Bittersummer album!