Atlanta native Gunderson, 26, started acting when she was 10 and wrote her first play in high school. A reading of "Emilie: The Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life at the Petit Théâtre at Cirey Tonight" will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
"A LOT of my pieces are science- or history-based, so most of my creative development starts with research. I cram a lot of information into my brain and there's spillage that ends up on the page. Many of my plays are biographical, so I have that person's life to go on as well as the time period they're in. But it's not like a documentary. As the dramatist, I can say who the story is really about and how we are going to tell it.
Most of my development experiences have been good. I started when I was young, so I didn't have a guide for how all of this would work. I did have to learn a couple of things the hard way. Sometimes dramaturgs and directors were too heavy-handed. The story also got lost when there were too many cooks in the pot. Other times, however, there's been a great balance. The dramaturg can be critical and very serious and harsh and yet can be helpful when you need someone to tell you that a character is absolutely ridiculous.
Part of what play development teaches you is to know what you want, and to be flexible, when to say, 'I think that's the total wrong direction' and not take everyone's advice. The theaters that gave me my start, the first thing they gave me was confidence. The best development begins with that -- the permission to tell the story you want to tell, not the way the director wants to tell it, or the theater itself. It's a fun dance, especially as you get more successful, because you deal with bigger and bigger personalities.
'Emilie' takes a form that I've never worked through before. Time is a fractured thing. Also, this play acknowledges itself as a play, so there are a number of lenses the story is seen through. We have the history and biography and my version of Emilie, and then the meta-theatrical level of her knowing she's in her own play, and then the science. The play folds back in upon itself a few times. I think that's fun, but I know some people may say, 'I'm lost.'
My work is very heady, so I want to make sure the audience finds the love stories compelling and the relationships of a mother and daughter true and important. I don't want things clouded over by all of the smarty-pants things I put into my play."