She’s one-upped herself.

Decatur-born, San Francisco-based Lauren Gunderson is the most-produced playwright in America this season, according to American Theatre magazine, which crunches the numbers and publishes a Top 20 list each fall.

Lauren Gunderson

Last season, Gunderson was the most-produced living playwright in America, finishing second to the late August Wilson. This season is her third consecutive Top 20 finish.

“It’s Gunderson’s America,” the magazine’s Diep Tran said in his report. “We just live in it.”

What’s interesting is that Gunderson is not a huge name in NYC theater circles; she’s had two productions there. Most of her plays find their audiences in the country’s regional theaters, large and small. Right now, Gunderson — who admits to juggling multiple projects at one time — is in the second year of a three-year playwriting residency at Marin Theatre Company in California, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She’s an Emory University grad and got her master’s degree at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“This is a breathtaking landmark for me,” she said in an email exchange with Tran, “because it is a testament to longstanding friendships and creative partnerships throughout our diverse and inspiring national theater community. I hope this is another encouraging and motivating moment for women in theater as well.

Lauren Gunderson plays seen in Atlanta in recent seasons include (top, from left) “EMILIE: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight” at the Weird Sisters in 2013, “Silent Sky” at Theatrical Outfit in 2015 and (bottom, from left) “The Revolutionists” at 7 Stages and “I and You” at Aurora Theatre, both in 2016.

“Stories by and about women can and must be produced across the country to complete the deep generational narrative that our art form so uniquely puts forth. Stories by and about women aren’t just for women but for all of us.”

Locally, Gunderson’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (co-written with colleague Margot Melcon) opens Nov. 20 at Theatrical Outfit. The Taming, something of a Shakespeare riff, opens June 1 at Synchronicity Theatre. This past summer Essential Theatre staged her Ada and the Memory Engine and Synchronicity hosted a two-night staged reading of The Heath, her one-woman banjo musical about King Lear and her late Southern grandfather.

She likes to write about women and science.

Atlanta audiences have seen Gunderson’s work for 17 years, beginning with Parts They Call Deep at Essential Theatre in 2001 and most recently with Ada. You also may have seen any of these: Exit, Pursued by a Bear (Synchronicity, 2011); EMILIE: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight (Weird Sisters Theatre Project, 2013); Silent Sky (Theatrical Outfit, 2015); I and You (Aurora Theatre, 2016); and The Revolutionists (7 Stages, 2016).

Shelli Delgado, Jennifer Schottstaedt. Photo: jerry Siegel
Kate Hamill tied for ninth on the list. Synchronicity stages her “Sense and Sensibility” through Oct. 15, with Shelli Delgado (left) and Jennifer Schottstaedt as the Dashwood sisters. Photo: Jerry Siegel

At least four others on the list will be professionally produced in Atlanta this season. Lucas Hnath’s The Christians runs through Oct. 15 at Actor’s Express; Kate Hamill’s madcap adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility runs through Oct. 15 at Synchronicity; Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors runs March 1-18 at Georgia Ensemble Theatre; and August Wilson’s King Hedley II runs Feb. 13-March 11 at True Colors Theatre Company.

Shakespeare in Love by Lee Hall (No. 3), finished its Alliance Theatre run Sunday at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center.

The American Theatre Top 20 does not count productions of Shakespeare plays or A Christmas Carol, because they would always finish on top. Here are the Top 20 playwrights for 2017/18, their number of productions nationwide this season and their Atlanta connections, if any.

1. Lauren Gunderson: 27 (including 8 co-writing credits).

2. Simon Stephens: 19.

3. Lee Hall: 15. The Alliance Theatre production of his Shakespeare in Love closed Sunday, Sept. 24.

4. Lisa Kron: 15 (including 13 co-writing credits).

5. Dominique Morisseau: 15. True Colors Theatre Company did her Detroit ’67 in 2015.

6. Arthur Miller: 14. Actor’s Express did The Crucible last winter; the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse staged it most recently in 2015.

7. Ayad Akhtar: 13. The Alliance Theatre did his Pulitzer-winning Disgraced in 2016.

8. Quiara Alegría Hudes: 10 (including 5 co-writing credits). The Alliance did 26 Miles in 2009; Pinch ‘n’ Ouch did her Pulitzer-winning Water by the Spoonful in 2015; and In the Heights, for which she wrote the book, was co-produced by Aurora Theatre and Theatrical Outfit last fall.

9. Jordan Harrison: 10. Actor’s Express did Maple & Vine in 2014.

10. Ken Ludwig: 9. Aurora Theatre did The Fox on the Fairway in 2012; Stage Door Players did Lend Me a Tenor in 2012.

11. Tennessee Williams: 9. His Glass Menagerie continues through Oct. 1 at Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square.

12. August Wilson: 9. The Alliance did Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 1988, Fences in 1989, King Hedley II in the 2003/04 season, and Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf in 2008. True Colors opened with Fences in 2003 and did Jitney in 2010.

13. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins: 9. Actor’s Express did Appropriate in 2016; Theatrical Outfit did My Name Is Asher Lev in 2012.

14. (tie) Kate Hamill, Lucas Hnath: 9.

16. (tie) Aaron Posner, Eugene O’Neill, Lorraine Hansberry: 8. Actor’s Express did Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird in 2015.

19. Mark St. Germain: 8. Theatrical Outfit staged The Fabulous Lipitones in 2015, The Gifts of the Magi for three seasons (2012-14) and The God Committee in 2006.

20. Oscar Wilde: 8. Actor’s Express did The Judas Kiss in 2011; Georgia Shakespeare did The Importance of Being Earnest in 2012

About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project. Full disclosure: She’s also an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.

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