In the days following the 2016 election, I found it difficult to be an artist. Don’t get me wrong — I know in my bones how effective and world-changing books, film, TV, and theater can be. But I felt a new responsibility on my shoulders. I felt the necessity to respond to this, to engage in some kind of artistic resistance. I just didn’t know how.
Enter Lauren Gunderson.
If you’re not a theater person, you might not know her name. In fact, if you only pay attention to Broadway, you still may have never heard of her. But for those of us who work in the profession, Lauren Gunderson might as well be the queen of regional theater. She was named the most produced living playwright in 2016 by American Theatre Magazine. Her plays, which include the widely produced I and You, Silent Sky, and Emilie: Le Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, are everywhere in America. Women theater artists like me are particularly reverent of Gunderson’s style. The intimate aesthetic and distinctly feminist voice of her work has truly changed the game for female directors, actresses, and audiences.
The week after the election, Playscripts, Inc., which publishes several of Gunderson’s plays, posted a blog by Gunderson. In it, she announced that, with agreement from Playscripts, Inc., any theater, company, or person who would like to perform a reading of her 3-woman play The Taming on Inauguration Day may do so, free of charge. So far, there are over 25 #TameTrump productions planned all across the country, as an artistic response to the election of Donald Trump. And mine is one of them.
The Taming is about three very different women: a staffer for a conservative senator, a liberal blogger, and a Miss America contestant. Somehow, they all find themselves stuck in a hotel room attempting a Constitutional Convention. They spend the whole play hashing out their views, playing Founding Father, and rewriting the defining document of our democracy. As you might imagine, the inclusion of disparate women's voices on the state of U.S. politics is precisely why this project is so empowering to female theater practitioners across the country, especially at this moment in history.
“When I imagined my state of mind on Inauguration Day 2017,” Gunderson told me in an email, “I knew I needed to be somewhere with others, laughing and communing and getting energized for the work and future ahead. So the idea for the #TameTrump readings of The Taming — a play I’d written that premiered in 2013 but was spookily appropriate for today’s political landscape — came as a way to use story, comedy, and community to take back the despair from that day and turn it into a day of regrouping, affirmation, and invigoration. We can’t resist alone or in silence.”
It’s that last sentiment that makes this movement so powerful. In the wake of the election, the devastation and despondence of women and men everywhere has been evident. Much like the women in the play, we are all trying to make a difference in the way that’s best available to us, whether that’s political work, online activism, or even beauty pageants. Even as we try, though, it’s so easy to feel useless, like there’s nothing you can do to change anything, or that your sphere of influence is too small to be helpful.
But Gunderson believes that taking a stand means something, regardless of the circumstances. “[T]here is [a type of] theater that is often accused of ‘preaching to the choir.’ But I think that the choir needs preaching to these days,” she wrote in the email. “That’s part of why I wanted to allow people to do these readings. We all need to be reminded to come together, to laugh at hypocrisy, to be better and do better, and that art and story are here for us and always have been when times get dark. We need to be reminded that history is made of people not impenetrable forces, and that change is possible and in fact, constant. That hope needs us. That the future is malleable if we show up and work together and refuse to give in to baseness and division.”
That’s a vision of the movement I think we can all get behind. After the election, I couldn’t even think of how to respond artistically. All I could think of was this country. How wrong I had been about it. How much it hated me and the people I love. How I was going to manage my own health care and reproductive health now. How ill-equipped I was to fight injustice. But when I discovered the tweet that Gunderson put out to announce the #TameTrump project, I truly felt like I knew what to do. This was how I could help. This is how I was meant to fight. Lauren Gunderson’s Inauguration Day readings of The Taming have empowered women theater practitioners across the U.S. to come together, heal, and work towards a better future through art. It certainly did for me.
If you want to attend one of the Inauguration Day readings of The Taming, the growing list of productions can be found here. And if you happen to be in San Francisco, I hope I see you at mine.
Top photo: Kathryn Zdan in Crowded Fire's premiere of THE TAMING. Photo by Pak Han.
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Emily Scott is a writer, actress, director, and filmmaker living in the Bay Area. She writes regularly for Culturess, and other work of hers can be found on Bustle, BitchFlicks, Vinazine, and her blog Crying While Female. She mostly writes pop culture criticism, feminist musings, personal essays, and screenplays. In all her creative pursuits, she's committed to telling women's stories, even if no one else wants to. You can find her writing and acting/filmmaking work at www.emily--scott.weebly.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.