Profiled in The GuardianJanuary 4th, 2018
“A typical Gunderson protagonist resembles her author: smart, funny, collaborative, optimistic—a woman striving to expand the ranks of a male-dominated profession. She has revived Émilie du Châtelet, an Enlightenment genius who revised Newton’s laws of motion; Olympe de Gouges, a playwright who fought for women’s equality in the French Revolution; and Henrietta Leavitt, a twentieth-century Harvard astronomer who figured out how to measure the distance between Earth and the stars. Gunderson grew up in Georgia, and “desperately wanted” to be a physics major, but she tired of plodding through “the normal stuff” before she could get to “the cool stuff.” She went to Emory and majored in English; one of her first scripts, written when she was eighteen, centered on a cosmologist. “Moments of scientific discovery are inherently dramatic,” Gunderson told me. She is now married to a Stanford biologist whom she met when her agent suggested that she interview him to research a potential story. Relationships form a part of her characters’ arcs, but it’s their intellectual desires, their yearning to transform themselves and their world, that Gunderson foregrounds. Her plays are less likely to end in a kiss than in a beautiful explosion of computer data.”
In her third year on this list, ‘I and You’ playwright Lauren Gunderson has shot to the top spot. American Theatre Magazine has the article.
Lauren’s play Miss Bennet (co-written with Margot Melcon) also tops the most-produced plays list.
“Pitched at a carefully contemporary feminist tangent by the gifted playwright Lauren Gunderson, working here with Margot Melcon, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is a droll and quite delicious seasonal sequel to “Pride and Prejudice,” a period pairing of Mary with a gentleman as awkwardly bookish as herself and thus a celebration of nerd love in all its overeducated glory. An unstuffy, highly entertaining and warm-spirited work, the kind of thing multiple generations can enjoy together.” – Chicago Tribune
“But now comes ‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,’ the newly imagined, utterly beguiling dramatic ‘sequel’ to Austen’s novel … The show is a gem — ideal for the holiday season but also sure to prove evergreen.” – Chicago Sun-Times
“If you’re already a Jane Austen fan, seeing Marin Theatre Company’s “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is akin to discovering “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time. Written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, it’s driven forward by effervescent wit, the will-they-or-won’t-they-
How do you become the most-produced playwright in America? For Disgraced author Ayad Akhtar, who was last year’s most-produced playwright, according to American Theatre‘s Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights list, it took having a play on Broadway, then having that play be produced all around the country (18 times by last year’s count). This season’s most-produced playwright, August Wilson, has reached the top a different way: A full 9 of his 10 plays are in circulation.
Something similar is true for Lauren Gunderson, the second most-produced playwright of the season, and the most-produced living playwright in America, who reaches that spot on the strength of six separate titles. “It’s kind of incredible!” the San Francisco-based Gunderson exclaimed over the phone when we told her the news. She also placed on last year’s Top 20 list. “I framed last year’s list—I’ll have to get another frame.” What’s remarkable is that she reached this level largely without the New York stamp of approval; her popular play I and You had an Off-Broadway production last January, an import from Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Other plays on her roster this season include Silent Sky and The Book of Will.
Gunderson credits her productivity to working on three projects at a time, and attributes her popularity to relationship-building. “A lot of these companies are mounting the second or third play of mine that they’ve done,” she explained. “If they had success with I and You and Silent Sky, I point them to newer plays. It’s really incredible—it does create a more continuous conversation, which is what we hope for the theatre.”
Some details about the data set: Similar to the methodology we use for our Top 10 list, we looked at season announcements from 411 member theatres of Theatre Communications Group (you can peruse the full listings at tcg.org/profiles). Those productions numbered 1,946. And for our purposes here, we don’t count composers or Shakespeare as authors (see “What We Noticed” below).
A version of this story appears in the October 2016 issue of American Theatre.
Miss Bennet, a new holiday play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, premieres at three regional theatre this fall:
“Her prettier and wittier sisters always overshadowed Mary Bennet. Now she must learn to be the heroine of her own story in Miss Bennet, a charming holiday romance, a continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.”
Review: ‘The Revolutionists’ has beheading, lots of laughs:
“a sassy, hold-on-to-your-seats theatrical adventure…. an invigorating and enlightening journey.” Cincinnati Enquirer
Two new premieres are on their way to stages in Berkeley and Cincinnati.
Ada and the Memory Engine premieres at Berkeley’s CentralWorks Theatre this October. This new play with original music unpacks Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer in 1850 who happens to have Lord Byron as a father.
Across the country The Revolutionists take the scaffold – I mean the stage – at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. All the fun of the French Revolution without the smell. More at… therevolutionists.tumblr.com
Silent Sky gets a stellar welcome at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit. The production was extended to March 8th and have received raves all around:
” Vastly important yet little known, Leavitt is the subject of “Silent Sky,” Atlanta native Lauren Gunderson’s luminously beautiful play, now onstage at Theatrical Outfit. A lovingly crafted period piece that imagines Leavitt’s inner world against the backdrop of World War I, Einstein’s discoveries and the suffragette movement, “Silent Sky” is an intellectual epic told on an intimate scale. Bottom line: Heavenly.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“If you haven’t been a big theatergoer lately, Theatrical Outfit’s new production Silent Sky, onstage through March 8, could act as a simple reminder of what a pleasant, thought-provoking evening at the theater ought to look like. It’s a lively, funny, accessible play that’s alive with interesting ideas.” Arts Atlanta
“Lauren Gunderson’s play about a real-life female astronomer, Henrietta Swan Leavitt (Elizabeth Diane Wells) in the early part of the last century is a truly dramatic and thought-provoking work of art.” – Atlanta Cultural Arts Review
“Please do not think that “Silent Sky” is all starchily scientific; quite the reverse. Its characters are intensely human and likable. Ms. Wells’ performance as Henrietta has genuine charm, intelligence, and strength. Ms. Gunderson writes dialogue that is fluid, witty, and often moving. As a playwright she is a master craftsman.” – Atlanta InTown
The San Francisco Playhouse commission, BAUER, transfers off-Broadway to 59E59 Theatre in Midtown Manhattan running Sep 2 – Oct 12.
EMILIE: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends her Life Tonight opens in Boston’s Nora Theatre at Central Square Theatre Sept 4 – Oct 5.
FIRE WORK, originally developed at The O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, premieres at TheatreFirst in Berkeley Sep 26 – Oct 19th.