Interview: Lauren Gunderson on The Book of Will

Lauren Gunderson is an America playwright, screenwriter, musical book writer and short story author, known for her captivating storytelling and thought-provoking narratives. She lives in San Francisco.

Gunderson is a two-time winner of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for I and You and The Book of Will, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award and a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

With over twenty plays produced, including I and YouParts They Call DeepBackground and The Book of Will, Gunderson has established herself as one of the most sought-after playwrights in the United States. She has also written the book of new musical The Time Traveller’s Wife which makes in London premiere this October.

The Book of Will, her 2017 play billed as a ‘love letter to theatre’ is a wonderfully witty, funny and fast-paced play that tells the story of The King’s Men as they band together for a near-impossible plan – to collect all of Shakespeare’s plays and compile the First Folio. No easy feat, and what follows is a bonkers race against time through 1620s London.

The play receives it European premiere this year marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio in a co-production from Octagon Theatre Bolton, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Shakespeare North Playhouse.

Interview with Lauren Gunderson

What is The Book of Will about?
“It is about Shakespeare’s friends who after his death realise that his plays are at risk of vanishing forever because they were not written down. In the quest to preserve his stories and their own legacy of performing together, the friends attempt the impossible: to create a collection of all the plays.”

So it’s also about life in the theatre?
“Yes, the real story is about the trials and triumphs of a group of people, a chosen family [of actors] who have come together to tell stories live, in front of you – as the theatre asks us to do – but also to be there for each other, to love and support each other. This play is a valentine to all theatre and all theatre-makers.”

How did you make it so funny?
“The comedy comes from the characters knowing each other so well – the level of friendship where you can tease and support at the same time. Another part of the comedy for me is taking something that is so revered and just kind of breaking the glass around it.”

The collection the friends produce is 400 years old this year. Why is it called The First Folio?
“The collection needed to be printed in a size and format large enough to accommodate all of works and that would be a folio. So the collection become known as The First Folio. The core of this play is the realisation that literature’s bible was made by people who loved this man. This was Shakespeare’s friends saying, ‘this is so important to us and we know it’s important to other people. We have to do it.’ They are a group of people who do something that changes the world.”

What inspired you to write this play?
“Part of why I am a playwright is because of the Shakespeare festivals that are all over America, where I’m from. I went to lots of them and my ambition as a playwright was ignited by the productions I saw. The Book of Will is a way of thanking Shakespeare and also of acknowledging that any group of people getting together to tell a story in live performance is a bit bonkers!”

Do you worry about bringing your Shakespeare story to his homeland?
“It does feel quite presumptuous as an American to say, ‘I’ll tell the story of your greatest national poet.’ But I hope it is received as the compliment that it is.”

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