In early March, even before officials issued the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, theaters had been suspending shows and shuttering their doors due to the coronavirus.
Within the chaos, a small bright spot appeared on social media. Local luminary and popular playwright Lauren Gunderson announced a playwriting seminar on Facebook Live, completely free, for anyone who cared to tune in. It was the sort of generous act that one might expect from a theater-maker who’s built her career on connecting to audiences through empathy and triumph over adversity. With Gunderson as cheerleader and coach, her videos are now archived and viewable on her public Facebook page.
Gunderson is one of a handful of Bay Area theater figures offering free workshops online. For people whose careers are built on the act of gathering together, creating opportunities for others has been a key part of their pandemic response. Audiences may not know when they'll be able to see another one of their shows in person, but in the interim, learning their techniques is a great way to stay connected to their work—and to our own innate need for the arts to sustain us.
In her one-hour classes, Gunderson steers participants through four informative lecture-style sessions, covering how to write emotion, conflict, comedy, beginnings and endings, and the “business” of playwriting. She punctuates her lessons with personal anecdotes, good-natured “rants,” and a comforting optimism.