Directed by Chip Walton
Laurel has always been the apple of the church’s eye. She’s the first person to volunteer to picket funerals of dead soldiers, knows what to say to strike a nerve in a crowd, and can debate the Bible with the best of them. Despite the constant hate mail and death threats, she knows she’s saving the sinners of the world before the end of days arrives. However, when Laurel joins social media she’s faced for the first time with the outside world, and soon everything she believes is called into question. #GodHatesYou asks what it means to grow up in a church dedicated to spreading hate and intolerance, and what happens when the faith you’ve rigorously adhered to your whole life came shattering down around you.
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 Laurel who grew up in Westboro Baptist Church and later left the church. I was immediately captivated by her journey and began to research others who grew up in similar churches and have since left evangelical faiths.
One thing that struck me was that from a young age, children who are brought up in the WBS church are taught everyone in their church is good, and everyone else is bad. Children start picketing at the age of five. Often their first encounters with people who aren’t churchgoers is on the picket line, where they are threatened, have profanity shouted at them and things thrown at them, essentially reinforcing everything they have been taught. There is so much hate in their lives, and ultimately, what makes most of them walk away is often a simple act of kindness from a stranger.
My plays have always been the products of questioning dictated by a persistent need to know. I’m driven by my desire to learn about people, to see them from all angles in an attempt to understand what makes them tick. I’m often drawn to outcasts. I’m interested in stories about radical empathy and compassion and forgiveness. I approach my plays from a place of perpetual curiosity, wrestling with the big, burning questions plaguing us as a society that we desperately want to talk about, but are often afraid to.
Both our country and our world in 2018 were marked by deep divisions and ugly disparagement; #GodHatesYou is that rare play that helps us explore just such radical difference in America. To ignite conversations across the proverbial aisle, we require plays that replace judgment with insight and ridicule with understanding; this is the magic of #GodHatesYou.
Curious Theatre Company has been involved with this play since 2015, while Emily was our National New Play Network Playwright in Residence. I had read an article in The New Yorker about a young woman who grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church and later left her Church. Her journey—what led to her decision to leave, and all that followed—was both fascinating and incredibly moving. I sent the article to Emily, who was equally intrigued; thus began our journey together on this provocative play. Emily’s curiosity as a playwright is unique and remarkable; she also has an exceptional gift for “climbing into the skin” of characters who normally seem foreign or forbidden.
Not so long ago, people at any point on the political spectrum denounced the Westboro Baptist Church for their hateful language, lack of any true moral compass, and the deep hatred and animus spewed toward anyone not agreeing with them; now that all seems rather passé, since the same behavior (or worse) streams daily out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Have we really become that desensitized? Or do we just not care any longer? And how in the world did we get here? #GodHatesYou offers a unique perspective on at least part of the answer to these important questions.
*Appearing through an Agreement between ANPF and Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Emily Dendinger is a Brooklyn-based writer by way of Virginia. Her plays include Hideous Progeny (LiveWire, Holland Productions and North Park College), No Home for Bees (20% Theatre), God Hates You, Little House in the Big City, and Pocketful of Sand (winner of the 2016 Activate Midwest New Play Festival and a 2015 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Award finalist). She is a two-time winner of Theater Masters National Play Competition 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, The Lark, Sideshow Theatre, The Alliance, NNPN, Route 66, Jackalope Theatre, Curious Theatre Company, NJ Rep, TimeLine Theatre, Orlando Shakes, NNPN, collective unconscious, UCF, and others. Emily was the 2015-2016 NNPN Playwright-in-Residence and is an alumni member of TimeLine’s Writer’s Collective. She currently teaches at Rutgers.
Chip Walton co-founded Curious Theatre Company in 1997 and has served as Producing Artistic Director ever since. Named Denver’s “2005 Theatre Person of the Year,” he has directed over 50 shows for the company, garnering more than 100 local and national awards.
He has been president and vice president of the National New Play Network; a Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Livingston Fellow; a Visiting Professional at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center; and a member of the Leadership Group for Imagine 2020: Creating a Future for Denver’s Culture.
He has directed in the National New Play Network Showcase of New Plays; the Kennedy Center’s MFA Playwriting Festival; and accepted a National Theatre Company Award for Curious Theatre Company from the prestigious American Theatre Wing.
Currently, Chip is on a Leadership U grant from Theatre Communications Group and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.