Lauren Gunderson on New Plays

The prolific and ever-eloquent playwright Lauren Gunderson gave this speech a few days ago at the Artists Rep Theatre in Portland, Oregon where they will be mounting her play The Revolutionists in May. It’s already a sensation on Twitter and, with her permission, I am posting it here as I think it is simply wonderful.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Playwright Lauren Gunderson

“I’m here to talk about new plays. So of course I’m going to talk about very very old plays. Because they do now and always have done the same things: they bring us together physically, intellectually and emotionally; and they teach us how to be better humans.

New plays and live storytelling accomplish this feat all over the world in every culture on earth. Why do they do this? Because we need them to. Because we have co-evolved with live storytelling.

Story is not essential to entertain or placate us; but to show us at our best and worst and ask us “what would you do? What kind of person are you?” In this way theatre is not passive culture… is it survival.

Now yes we have other tools for survival – namely vaccines and large weapons – vaccineso what on earth does theatre give us that is so powerful? Portable, contagious wisdom.

Because humans are big brained and high social creatures which means we think all the damn time, and most of the time we’re thinking about each other. We have to think about other humans. Humans die in isolation. We need each other. Thus we need to understand each other.

Thus we need theatre so that we can get up close and personal to tragedy, lies, love, betrayal, decision, heroism, confession and mystery. We need to understand how to live together, who to trust. Theatre is our secret weapon to live long, prosper and find meaning and connection.

You are better people – by which I mean better people of and for a community – when you spend that real and precious time, away from screens and solitude, in the live company of strangers and artists, giving all your focus to something other than yourself. That’s theatre.

Yuval Harari’s book SAPIENS tells us that language wasn’t the critical invention for human thriving. It was story. Story – fiction – invented fabrication with main character some dramatic structure and a point… made us the most powerful species in history.

We have language to say “hey there’s a lion!” We have story to have “hey what if there was a lion?!” And we have theatre to say “hey you wanna find out what it’s like to BE the lion?!”lion

All of those teach us but only one of those allow us to empathize with the huge forces in our lives, to understand them from the inside, to get close to them investigate and play out a scenario so that we can all grow together. Theatre teaches as it congregates and enlightens.

The Greeks had a semi yearly new play festival that gave us archetypes and psychological portraits and stories were epically political and yet intimately personal. New plays do this right now and right here at Artists Rep, and every theatre that does new plays.

Shakespeare’s new plays gave us sophisticated humor and heartbreak like we’ve never seen that continue to define and challenge humanity 400 years later. New plays do this right now and right here at Artists Rep and every theatre doing new plays.bard

All across the world and history new stories were and are born not because it’s nice to have them but because it’s necessary. New plays do this right now and right here at Artists Rep.

So join me in not just celebrating what theaters do but thanking them for what they do. For teaching us, gathering us, illuminating and inspiring us. Thank you, Artists Rep and theaters like them, for making us better people. Thank you thank you thank you.”

Thank you Lauren.

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