Meet ‘I And You’ Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Lauren Gunderson

Lauren Gunderson

At The Fountain, we’re always pleased and excited to introduce important playwrights to Los Angeles audiences.  As we gear-up to start performances of our funny and powerful Los Angeles Premiere of I  And You,  we’re eager for you to meet award-winning playwright Lauren Gunderson. Audiences have been enjoying her plays in regional theatres around the country. Now Lauren makes her Los Angeles debut with us here at the Fountain. We couldn’t be more thrilled. 

Lauren Gunderson is the 2014 winner of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play award and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for I and You.  She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her work has been commissioned, produced and developed at companies across the US including South Cost Rep (Emilie, Silent Sky), The Kennedy Center (The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful And Her Dog!), The O’Neill, Denver Center, Berkeley Rep, Shotgun Players, TheatreWorks, Crowded Fire, San Francisco Playhouse, Marin Theatre, Synchronicity, Olney Theatre, Geva and more.  Her work is published at Playscripts (I and You, Exit, Pursued By A Bear, and Toil And Trouble) and Samuel French (Emilie). She is a Playwright in Residence at The Playwrights Foundation, and a proud Dramatists Guild member. She is from Atlanta, GA and lives in San Francisco.

In her play  I And You,  two high-school teenagers who meet under extraordinary circumstances.  Caroline is sick and hasn’t been to school in months. Anthony suddenly arrives at her door bearing a beat-up copy of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ and an urgent assignment from their high school lit teacher. As these two let down their guards and share their secrets, the poetry assignment unlocks a much deeper mystery that has brought them together.

A Quick Chat with Lauren Gunderson

What is ‘I And You’ about?

This play is really about connection and the surprises we find when we really get to know people. In many ways it’s a Hero’s Journey but in miniature, so the heroes that we wouldn’t expect are two teenagers doing a project on Walt Whitman, but through a kind of, what might seem like a kind of vanilla assignment, blossoms this understanding and healing and a kind of transcendent communion that happens between these two unlikely heroes. So through that we found out about how we’re all connected to each other and life and death and meaning.

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock in "I And You"

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock in “I And You”

 What does this play mean to you?

This is a very special play for me because it reminds us that we’re all heroes and we’re all the main characters of our own stories even though we may seem not that in the privacy of our own homes, in this case, in Caroline’s teenage girl room. But from these really beautiful, profound, and private moments can come great stories, universal tales, about connection and meaning. That’s really where it stems from. I think that teenagers can teach us a lot, as much as we can teach them, so I hope that this is a play that finds some of its power in that teenagers can bring their parents and parents can bring their teens and everyone can come around this play and feel like it’s speaking to them and about them.

What was your inspiration behind all this?

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Well I’ve always loved Walt Whitman— who doesn’t?—so it starts there. And I was really fascinated about how people find each other and how we impact each other in ways we don’t even know when we first meet. So that, spinning it all together with a bunch of surprises, a bunch of profound, funny moments, and really meaningful, deeper stuff, all weaving up into a play that’s about what we mean to each other. So in that way it’s a play I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, and through writing it, I’ve kind of changed how I know playwriting, how I tell a story, what a story is really about and what we want a story. so it’s changed me a lot through writing it, as much as I hope it’s changed people through seeing it.

Are there any similarities between you and these characters?

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

That’s a good question. I think there’s probably more similarity between Caroline and me than I would 11 like. But that’s what’s fun about writing, when you think about trying to write about really real characters, is you steal from yourself, you steal from your family and friends, you steal little details about life, and I think it’s those details that make it actually feel more universal. So Caroline likes cats a lot, she likes Jerry Lee Lewis, she likes Elvis, she has a very snarky attitude about things, but she’s very plugged in to herself. But in many ways I’m very like the other character, Anthony, too. I love jazz, he loves jazz. He kind of has a nerdy relationship to things that he’s passionate about, which I might relate to. But it’s really about really curious, smart, funny kids, and I think all of us hope that that part of ourselves is still alive and well no matter how old we get.

What do you hope audiences will get from this play?

I would love this community to get a sense that we’re all in one story together. Even though we might not think a 16- year-old has much to tell as 60-year old or a 50-year-old or a 40-year-old, of course they do, because we’re all human beings and we’re all looking for meaning, and we’re all looking to live a life that matters, a life of love and compassion and being understood. And those things don’t ever change, whether you’re six or 60. So I think that’s the biggest gift. It’s also an interesting thing to resuscitate Walt Whitman, not that he has any press problems, but when you look at a poem that’s over 150 years old and you find that it’s still relevant, I think it’s a metaphor for theatre as a whole. It’s an art form that’s so old and so basic, in a real fundamental way, still matters to us now, and can pull it together in one room and have on great cathartic experience together. I think that’s theatre at its best, and I hopefully this play is part of that tradition.

Previews start April 2nd. It opens April 11th. Get Tickets/More Info 

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