“When I came across the story of the First Folio printing, I was struck by the many rich characters involved and the myriad ways they could’ve not succeeded,” said THE BOOK OF WILL playwright Lauren Gunderson on a recent November phone call. “It spoke to so many themes — lineage, mortality, legacy, family, friendship — and I was excited to write a new play about a timeless subject: how art lasts beyond the humans who make it.”
First Folio, noun \ˈfərst\ˈfō-lē-ˌō\
The 1623 published collection of 36 of William Shakespeare’s plays, otherwise known as Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.
THE BOOK OF WILL, a rolling world premiere set for the HVSF Theater Tent June 9 – July 28, 2017, follows the lives of two actors in Shakespeare’s own company, Henry Condell and John Heminges, as they navigate the preservation and printing of Shakespeare’s work in the early 1600s. With no money, no easy way of authenticating Shakespeare’s catalogue of plays, and a deep desire to get everything right, the pair enlist the help of their wives and colleagues to bring the iconic stories of Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, and so many more to the world.
Gunderson, an Atlanta native recently named the most produced living playwright in America by American Theatre Magazine, often writes historical dramas. “I fancy theater as a kind of time travel. We’re not just seeing a world but actively visiting it.” Many of her dramatis personae are respected women in the sciences: astronomers, mathematicians… so what of the women supporting Shakespeare’s all-male company?
“Even though women tended not to be acknowledged onstage or in historical record during Shakespeare’s day, Condell and Heminges both named their wives as executors of their wills,” said Gunderson. “This is a big deal because it meant that they respected them enough to, essentially, hand over their legacies. It was a natural jumping off point for me.”
As the noise and color of Elizabethan London begin to unfold onstage, so, too, do the desires, doubts, and egos of a diverse band of relatable friends. “Shakespeare doesn’t need our help in idolizing him, but humanizing him,” said Gunderson. “Stories of him at the bar with friends, of him being heartbroken or frustrated, of those he left behind in death… they resonate.”
“History walks again here. Love is lived again. Loss is met and survived and wept for and understood here and not the first time but every time.”
– THE BOOK OF WILL
One particularly affecting scene finds Condell and Heminges on a darkened Globe stage in the middle of the night, united in mourning. Gunderson admits that it dragged her into the phenomenon of storytelling itself: “The scene came out all in one big rush and spun me off into… why? Why do we do this together? We still go see Romeo & Juliet. We still go see Richard II. Why? It became the heart of the entire story.”
Gunderson and the show’s director, HVSF Artistic Director Davis McCallum, will get the chance to further investigate that heart in the new year, as the play experiences its first staged performances by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company (January 13 – February 26, 2017). A number of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival favorites – including powerhouse couple Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson – will perform in Denver’s production before the show is reimagined for HVSF’s Theater Tent by McCallum.
Not a ‘Shakespeare person’? Not a problem for Gunderson. “Ultimately, it’s an underdog tale. I hope our audiences will see it as a powerful story of friendship and legacy.”
THE BOOK OF WILL is in previews June 9 – June 21, 2017 and runs June 22 – July 28, 2017. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.