Lauren M. Gunderson is the Playwright-in-Residence at Marian Theater Company through the National Playwright Residency Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Find out more about her residency experience here, and learn about the impact of the program at large here.
I consider a large part of my National Playwright Residency Program residency at Marin Theatre Company to be the continual asking and answering of this question: Why theatre? This series of videos will be a collection of asking and answering that question in myriad ways. I will ask myself, my fellow theatre artists, social scientists, and community leaders. Sometimes the answer will be cultural (because art is good for you!), sometimes technical (because story has universal dramatic structure!), sometimes biological (because narrative is an ancient element of our human evolution!). I believe that it is the energetic and open asking and answering that keeps our art form relevant, responsive, and inspired.
The second video in this series "Why Theatre?" starts with an exploration of the ancient, primal origin of story and how it can serve playwrights in their creative process. What is the point of telling and receiving a story? Why do we do it? Why have we always done it? (I reference the book Art As Therapy, which you can read more about here.) At their most fundamental level, I think stories are designed to help us learn, to extract wisdom from others, to empathetically experience crisis to better prepare for should it come our way. This makes the telling and the receiving of stories active endeavors, not just passive entertainment. We engage with characters, we don't just watch. Audiences should be always asking themselves, "What would I do in that situation? Who would I prize myself to be?"
As a story creator, this tells me that I need to put my characters through the most important tests of their lives in my plays because audiences want to learn from characters journeys to prepare for their own. Theatre lets me ask how to live a meaningful life, not answer it. I ask myself, "What would I do?" as I make my characters answer the same question. My characters must come up against fundamental challenges to their beliefs and identities so they can reckon with the decisions that will define them. My characters must be forced to do things, not just say things, that will clarify themselves in their own hearts and the eyes of the world.
So. The class covers some of that, plus a discussion about the dramatic structure of plays that unpacks how a writer might journey their protagonist from introduction to crisis to climactic catharsis.
Video editing by Jeff Berlin.
What else would you like to see in this series? I'd love to have your thoughts and ideas in the comments.