Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Voyage Of A Laptop - Playwrighting and Exploring


I always wanted to be some kind of explorer – astronaut, marine biologist, Indiana Jones. That last one was literal – after seeing *Indiana Jones and The Whatever It Was* for the 13th time in a row in 4th grade I asked my mom if I could officially change my name to Indiana. Applying her excellent social foresight, my mom refused.
You now hear the Indiana Jones theme
And though I berate myself for spending too much time in front of a computer – as a writer I think I might have achieved a version of my original goal. The point is now obvious I’m sure– playwrights are explorers of the human and theatrical landscape. We are surveyors, voyagers, pioneers of the grand and small corners of risk and feeling. The most brittle heartbreak, the
glossiest sex, the richest triumph, the seediest betrayal – we seek that out! Get all that in a play and that’s drama gold rush.

Not to mention the undiscovered country of theatrical innovation – bold dramatic structures, twisting poetry, transformative space and time through design and music - the myth-making stuff.

And how many times have you hit a rewriting moment and felt like a burnt out sea captain in a tempest. I have.

I am particularly aware of the strange business of exploring the human largess as I bounce from one play to another vastly different play in the span of one week.

My new play EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR launched its rolling world premiere in Atlanta at Synchronicity Theatre last Friday (which was first read at Playwrights Foundation last year!). The following Tuesday I start rehearsals for my *other* new play SILENT SKY premiering at South Coast Rep (also their commission) April 8th.

BEAR is a raucous revenge comedy about a North Georgia woman triumphing over abuse with the help of her simply ridiculous friends. And there is a bear. And Jimmy Carter. And some karaoke. To write this play the explorer in me wore a camo jacket, daisy dukes, bright red Converse high-tops, and shouldered a bedazzled dart gun (in case that bear got some crazy eyes).

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On the other hand (which might as well be someone *else’s* hand it’s so far away from the first hand) is SILENT SKY – a true story of early 20th century American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt who’s mathematical discovery in 1912 allowed us to measure the universe for the first time in human history. There are no bears. There *are* some suffragettes. My explorer outfit for this one definitely included polished leather lace-up boots (with little heels), jodhpurs, a high collared lacey shirt, a big-ass Teddy Roosevelt hat, and a shiny refractor telescope. Or a spacesuit.

Those two worlds boast forcefully different terrain. One is a steamy country of outlaws and wild animals. The other is a perfectly intricate garden maze that may or may not lead to epic but quiet cosmological truth.

The wonder of all this is that it’s our job to thoroughly explore all of these landscapes – not always at the same time. But we get to go where our characters go, with them, before them (though sometimes they seem to find their way without us). That is a fabulous job.

It certainly helps to *actually* visit some cool places and learn a few new things in your writer’s life. I never think more clearly than when I’m traveling. But my instinct is always to put the new things I witness/experience in a play.

It’s only in a play that I get to the heart of it – the beating, breathing, scared, lusty, curious, imperfect, angry, ambitious, art-sculpted human heart that is created, abstracted, essentialized, and delivered forth through theatre.

Because it’s seems that even the barest *actual* landscape can host the richest terrain of human life. Perhaps characters *are* their own environment…

For me the writing of plays is this – adventure through creation. It takes skill and tools and a crew (actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs) to navigate and to know.

All that and I haven’t left my desk.


Lauren Gunderson
PLAY MATH: A Secret Guide To Dramatic Structure

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