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Interview with EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR Playwright Lauren Gunderson

21 August 2012


Lauren Gunderson was kind enough to set aside some time to answer some questions posed by Cap T’s artistic director Mark Pickell.  Here is their serious and not so serious conversation.

How did the idea of writing a play about a woman who,with the help of her gay best friend and a stripper, leaves her husband to be eaten by bears come to be? What was the spark for this unique story?

The germ of the play was it’s title actually. What a fabulous and preposterous (and terrifying) stage direction, right? I thought that combination of emotions could be a great tone for a play – something seemingly ridiculous that could capture something truly awful. Hilarious violence that ends, like Winter’s Tale does, with redemption and a better world.

I am always interested in the playwright’s process of writing a play. How did early drafts of the play differ from the final version?

I write pretty quickly, so there are always a lot of drafts for me. Every draft uncovers a deeper heart or a twistier plot or a moment of earned revelation. The earlier drafts included more actual scenes from The Winter’s Tale, some terrible Jimmy Carter jokes, and a more obviously violent Kyle.

All four characters are so distinct and interesting, are they based on specific people in your life? (you don’t have to name names :)

Heh heh. Everything is based on something ;)
The play has some deep roots in Dixie and the south (for real, y’all). Were you raised in the south? Why was it important for this to be the setting of EPBB?

Born and raised a Georgia girl. I grew up outside of Atlanta in Decatur, GA, which is actually a shockingly liberal, diverse, and Obama2012 kinda town. But I have dear family all over the south, anda family cabin in the North Georgia Mountains (right near Nan and Kyle’s place). I wanted to set this in a place that I adore in all its complexity. It’s lush mountains, and wonderful people, and brave matrons, and deep pride, and it’s complicated past. Southern folks are not one thing of course, they are brilliant and funny and wild and kind – but there are some that are mean and violent and every bit true to a bad stereotype. I wanted this place to be all of those things. The best advice I can give folks who want to play this play accurately is not to play the southernness, just play the humanity.

To say Nan loves Jimmy Carter is an understatement. Jimmy Carter and his words are throughout BEAR. Why was it important to include him in this play and what are your thoughts on the 39th President of the United States?

Jimmy is from Georgia, baby! And my Dad worked at the Carter Center in Atlanta when I was younger, so he became a bit of a hero in my house. I think President Carter is a true humanitarian and social change-maker that has done so much to make peace and health the foundation of a better world for all. He’s smart, southern, and compassionate. Just like Nan :)

What has surprised you most about this script in production?

How freaking funny Sweetheart’s slide show is.  How hard comedy is to perform, but how successful it can be to enlighten.  And how much freedom there is in karaoke.

What playwrights do you feel have been most influential to your playwriting style? Why?

For this play in particular… Stephen Colbert and William Shakespeare.

Your other plays seem quite different from BEAR. Why is BEAR unique or different from the others?

I let the content dictate the form. Most of my plays are funny (the world is often funny on its own). but this play let loose my inner raging comedian. Comedy needs to be fast, orchestrated, and heightened. The content required a seriousness and heroism but also a way to expose the cruelty of domestic abusers. I know of no other way to expose and ridule than a good, loud revenge comedy.

In an email you mentioned you are getting married soon. After reading this play should your future husband be concerned?

Ha! He saw this play in its infancy and all the way through its premiere and he still wants to marry me. At this point, it’s his fault ;)

What’s up next for you in the world of theatre?

Bear is the first of a series of Shakespeare-based contemporary plays. The next one to premiere is call Toil And Trouble (which I describe as a hipster Macbeth set in San Francisco). The one after that is called This Is Wittenberg, which expores the genesis of Hamlet by imagining that Hamlet and 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe are grad school roomates. I heart Shakespeare :)

Sweetened or unsweetened ice tea?

Sweetened, yall. I mean if you’re going to do it, do it all the way.