Two Michigan theaters to stage free readings of Lauren Gunderson play to raise money for gun control non-profits
DETROIT / ANN ARBOR—Matrix Theatre and Theatre NOVA, will join Lauren Gunderson in producing free Readings of her new play, Natural Shocks as part of a national campaign of theater activism against gun violence. Theaters, universities, high schools, and community groups across the country will stage readings of the unpublished play to raise money for gun control and domestic violence nonprofits.
With the images from Stoneman Douglas High School fresh in the nation’s collective mind, and millions of voices rising in unison to demand sensible legislation on gun control now, these two local professional theaters are joining the cause by taking part in the National Campaign Of Theater Activism Against Gun Violence, taking place across the country April 19-23, 2018. The timing is intentional: April 20 is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting and the day of the National School Walkout, organized by the student activists in Parkland, Florida. Professional theaters, universities, high schools, and community groups are pairing their readings with town halls, audience talkbacks, and fundraisers for nonprofits like Everytown For Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.
Matrix Theatre’s reading will take place on Friday, April 20 at 5:30 p.m., Theatre NOVA’s will take place on Saturday, April 21 at 2:00 p.m. Both readings will feature local professional actress Julia Glander and will be directed by David Wolber. NOVA’s reading will benefit the Washtenaw Chapter of Moms Demand Action, Matrix’s will benefit Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Both readings will feature a discussion about gun control issues and a reception with the actor and director.
Modeled after her Inauguration Day project when she made her play The Taming available to theaters for royalty-free readings on January 20, 2017, Lauren Gunderson and her team of producers have coordinated an ambitious national campaign of theater activism against gun violence with royalty-free readings of her new play Natural Shocks taking place across the country. If her name sounds familiar, it is because American Theatre Magazine calculated that she is the most produced playwright in America in the 2017-2018 season. (Last year, she came in second behind August Wilson.) Gunderson has a knack for writing plays that fit well in communities across America, and Natural Shocks is no exception with its single character described as “probably 40 years old, maybe younger, maybe older” who can be “any race, from any region, with any accent.”
Natural Shocks is a classic Gunderson play: funny, inspired by Shakespeare (in this case, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech), featuring a richly-drawn female character, and with an unexpected ending that will stay with audiences long after they leave the theater. It is completely of-the-moment, with a storyline all too familiar in 2018: one that is inescapably intertwined with gun violence. Gunderson finished the first draft of the script only two weeks before the Parkland shooting. When that tragedy hit the news on Valentine’s Day, she knew she wanted to use the play to drive awareness, conversation and, ultimately, action.
“I was a junior in high school when Columbine happened in 1999 and it spurred me into activism instantly,” Gunderson said. “I was 17, a teenager like all those amazing kids in Parkland who are taking up the cause of their lost classmates and making the biggest difference in this issue I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
It is also not lost on Gunderson that many of the Parkland activists that have emerged to lead the #NeverAgain movement are theater kids. “Nineteen years later, here we are, another school shooting, but finally a freshly invigorated and seemingly unstoppable movement brewing. Use this play to start conversations, to build networks of support, to gather people and give them some place to go to congregate and say enough. We are the undeniable force of nature that will light up this darkness and change it forever.”
There are more than 80 confirmed readings spanning 33+ states. Producers on the project include Leah Hamos, theatrical agent at The Gersh Agency; Corinne Hayoun, head of the NY office of MANAGE-MENT; and Christina Wallace, tech executive, and theater producer.
Lauren M. Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America of 2017, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award, the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, she is also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and John Gassner Award for Playwriting, and a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s 3-Year Residency with Marin Theatre Company.
Julia Glander is hopeful and proud to be participating in this important National Campaign of Theater Activism Against Gun Violence. She has played many stages across the country: Off Broadway, Kennedy Center, Asolo Theatre, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, from tiny intimate spaces to the massive Hollywood Bowl. As a director, her work has been seen at the Williamston Theatre, Tipping Point Theatre, Performance Network, Penny Seats, and the 2017 Wear Orange event “Right to Carry, Right to Live” for the Washtenaw chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, of which she is a member.
David Wolber is an actor and director. He aworks as a producing artistic director for Theatre NOVA and development consultant for Matrix Theatre Company. Recently, he directed The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson for Theatre NOVA, and appeared in The Snow Geese by Sharr White at Meadow Brook Theatre. He also directed and co-devised Dream Deferred: Detroit, 1967 at Matrix Theatre. This past year he received three Wilde Awards.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a nationwide, non-partisan, grassroots movement of millions of Americans striving to end the epidemic of gun violence that kills 30,000 Americans every year. The Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence (MCPGV) is an affiliate of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a national non-profit organization focused on supporting state-based gun violence prevention programs.
Photo: Lauren Gunderson.