EM Summer 2004



Emory Weekend

Alumni in Africa


Alumni Authors

To have two plays produced at once is surely a playwright’s dream.

It won’t likely happen for many in their lifetime. But it did for Lauren Gunderson ’03C this winter, when she saw a pair of her plays, Leap and Background, mounted simultaneously at Theater Emory and Atlanta’s Essential Theatre.

Gunderson, the daughter of Gary Gunderson, director of Emory’s Interfaith Health Program, seems to have been called to the theater the way some people are called to the ministry or medicine: the stage is in her soul. She has watched five of her full-length plays come to life, as well as a handful of short pieces. The first, Parts They Call Deep–which she wrote in high school–was staged at Essential Theatre during her freshman year at Emory; after winning the theater’s Playwrights Prize, it was selected for New York’s Young Playwrights Festival and produced off-Broadway.

And her talent doesn’t stop at writing. Gunderson also is an accomplished actor, appearing most recently in Life Goes On at Theater Emory. Although she is no stranger to the stage, she has acted in only two of her own short plays.

“I always write parts for myself, but no one seems to cast me in those,” she says good-naturedly.

Leap imagines two mysterious, playful sisters who call on a young Isaac Newton, serving as scientific muses and inspiring some of his most significant ideas and discoveries. The plot blends science, history, and fantasy in a way that is already a trademark of Gunderson’s work.

Background offers a glimpse of the overlooked stargazer Ralph Alpher, who ostensibly came up with the “Big Bang” theory but never got the credit.

“I tend to enjoy interpretations of amazing people at their most amazing moments or on their way to being amazing,” Gunderson says. “That’s what is most exciting to me about theater, when you take a piece of history or science and elaborate on it in a fictive way, bending the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction . . . about personalities that are so intriguing. Elaborating on the past helps us understand and appreciate the present.”

Both plays earned reviews that almost qualified as an embarrassment of riches. “No doubt Lauren Gunderson was the kind of student who made her Emory theater professors giddy,” wrote Wendell Brock of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “At twenty-two, she is an elegant and assured actor, a rigorous researcher, a precocious and prodigious writer of plays. . . . There’s no denying that she’s one of the most formidably talented voices to emerge here in years.”

“Lauren came into the program as a writer who knew how to write a play and tell a story through that,” says creative writing program director and playwright Jim Grimsley, Gunderson’s honors thesis adviser. “My job was to help her learn to think about her choices and to rewrite with a vengeance, all of which Lauren took in easily.”

Although she hopes to continue acting, Gunderson, who majored in English and creative writing with a minor in theater, says it’s writing that is closest to her heart.

“With writing, I have more comprehensive creativity. I create everything, so it’s easy for me to enjoy that part,” she says. “I get

to become a scientist, historian, anthropologist . . . I love all the research angles. But part of the wonder of being a writer for the stage is that when you’re done

with the play, it’s barely begun.

So many people are involved in the life of the play, it’s wonderful to watch all these other amazing artists use their creativity and vision to finish what I’ve started.”–P.P.P.



© 2004 Emory University