ABOUT THE PLAY
Having attended her first picket at five years old, Laurel is proud of the good work she has done in the name of the Lord. While being groomed to be the next leader of her radical church (a fictional church similar to Westboro Baptist), Laurel takes to Twitter to spread the Word. When her tweets are responded to by an agnostic college student, a rabbi and a few Twitter trolls, Laurel struggles to determine the true meaning of her faith and define her relationship with God.
June 13-23 | August 29-September 1
Click here for tickets and schedule.
Join us for a talkback with playwright Emily Dendinger on Thursday, June 13 and Friday, June 14 immediately after the performance.
On Thursday, August 29, we will be joined by WMFE’s very own Three Wise Guys for a post-show talkback about the play, religion and social media.
Q&A with playwright Emily Dendinger
What inspired you to write this play?
When I was the NNPN Playwright-in-Residence at Curious Theatre Company, Artistic Director, Chip Walton, sent me a New Yorker article about a young woman similar to the main character of this play, Laurel, who grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church and has since left the faith. I was captivated by her journey and began to research others who grew up in the church and have left. Members of the WBC are taught that anyone who isn’t part of the church is a sinner and destined for hell. Friendships between the opposite sex are especially frowned upon and fraternizing beyond the church is grounds for reprimand and expulsion. In interviews, all the members who have left speak about a sense of belonging and purpose to their lives when they were members. Their sudden break from the church was often brought on by a relationship or encounter with a non-member, and for many of them, these encounters first happened on the Internet. I extended my research beyond the WBC to other radical evangelical churches and found there were a lot of similarities between all these faiths. One person I spoke with said that while his church never protested, everything the WBC believes, he grew up believing.
What is something interesting you learned from the research you did to write this piece?
Oh so many thing! From the research, I was struck by how many stories, no matter what the church was, are so similar. I often think about what makes people tick, and the truth is, we are all more alike than we want to admit. Everyone hungers for the same things; love, validation, community, belonging. These are universal to humanity and we are constantly seeking these things and live in fear they will be taken away from us. As a playwright, I believe it is my job to get to ask the hard questions we don’t want to ask, but desperately need to be asking. I’ve always been interested in questions of forgiveness, and this play really dives into this.
The other big thing I learned is more general about theatre and new play development. Because theaters pick their seasons so far out due to a variety of seasons, there often seems to be a shelf life on plays. When I wrote this piece in early 2016, the world looked radically different. At that time, the play was very much a crisis of faith. But then there was a president in the White House whose favorite mode of communication is social media, and suddenly the play wanted to be something else entirely. The question of whether someone is responsible for what they say online suddenly started to matter in a way it hadn’t before and almost without realizing it, this play and certain characters needed to shift and go in a new direction. The great thing about plays is that they are living, breathing works and do have the luxury of shifting and changing with the time.
What are you looking forward to seeing or learning from this production?
I’m really excited to see how the social media works in this play. This has always been central to the story, but yet to be fully realized. How do we create a compelling cyber world? What does that look like? How do we depict that? I also think it’s such a gift to have a full production because that’s how plays are meant to be experienced — with actors, designers, and an audience. Theater is such a collaborative art form, and often you can forget that when you’re typing alone in your room. The playwright David Ives once said playwrights are only dreamers and it’s up to everyone else to make them real, and I truly subscribe to that notion. A play is a blueprint, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens with this play once you add in the rest of the pieces.
What is something you want audiences to take away from the production?
I hope my audience wants to talk about what they saw. I often joke about how I hope an audience seeing one of my plays won’t turn to one another and say, “What a nice play. Where should we go for dinner?” I hope this play, and all of my plays, invite conversation. The theater is one of the few places we have left where we can experience something together in a room, turn to one another and talk about it.
Emily Dendinger is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her plays include No Home for Bees (2017 Source Festival Finalist), Little House in the Big City (2017 NNPN Showcase Finalist), Pocketful of Sand (2016 Activate Midwest New Play Festival Winner and 2015 Alliance/Kendeda finalist). She is a two-time winner of Theater Masters and has been a finalist for the City Theatre National Award, Emerald Prize and Heideman Award. Emily has worked around the country with companies including Actors Theatre of Louisville, Route 66, The Lark, Sideshow Theatre, The Alliance, NNPN, Available Light, Curious Theatre Company, NJ Rep and TimeLine Theatre. Her work has been developed at The Perry Mansfield Festival of New Work, Tofte Lake Residency and Durango New PlayFest. Emily was the 2015-2016 NNPN Playwright-in-Residence with Curious Theatre Company and is an alumni member of TimeLine’s Writers Collective. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Playwright’s Workshop.