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Sopris Theatre discusses art, legacy, and history with new play "Book of Will"

"The Book of Will" by Lauren Gunderson, tells the tale of the artists and friends who worked together to publish Shakespeare’s plays three years after his death.

The play will be performed by the Sopris Theater Company at the Spring Valley campus of Colorado Mountain College in April.

Brad Moore, the artistic producer of the Sopris Theatre Company is also acting in the show.

Brad Moore: I'm playing the role of John Heminges. There's the question of legacy and there's the question of mortality and do those mix and what does that mean?

Tom Cochran is the director of the play.

Tom Cochran: I love the line “Plays end and so do actors, but the words live on the words live on.”

Moore: Yeah, on stage that's very much the case, but one of the things that makes live theater so special is that it is just that once in a lifetime opportunity to be in a room with that cast and doing the show at that moment, it's been fascinating for me to really sort of tackle so much about the question of mortality.

Unfortunately, there's been a lot of death the last couple of weeks, just within, you know, the communities of Colorado Mountain College, and also then obviously Thunder River Theater company and Lon Winston's association with Colorado Mountain College and finding out that other people who've been a very important part of my life are not with us now.

(Lon Winston, the founder and executive artistic director emeritus of Thunder River Theatre Company, passed away on March 21.)

So just dealing with that and how do we grieve and how do we mourn, and what is it to step in and try and somehow keep someone's art alive?

My mother was a visual artist. So, after her death, there's a lot of art that I can see, but there's also a lot that I can't see, but I do have the memories of, and the question comes up of, “What is history, and how accurate can it be?” Because memories and history don't always jive.

Cochran: I think we all sort of write our own histories in our brains, and we'll get together and we'll talk about an incident, and they'll go, “Well, that's not the way I remember it.” And we all have our own memories of something and how we felt at that moment, what we thought at that moment was going on. And the communication then between people becomes important.

And the further we go back in history, the less we can have that direct communication. So, trying to figure out exactly, who was Shakespeare, what was he like?

In preparation for this, one of the books I read was Shakespeare's Real Life. And this scholar tried to go into his works and use the works and tried to figure out exactly who was this man, what kind of a person would he have been if you'd met him and worked with him? And Lauren Gunderson has done a beautiful job of creating John and Henry and Rebecca and Elizabeth as real people.

Moore: And it also is wonderful how well Lauren has written about relationships in this and how differently we relate to the different people in our lives, you know, who William Shakespeare was to John Heminges was different than who William Shakespeare was to his daughter Susanna, and different to his wife.

Pax Wild is the assistant director for the Book of Will, and also plays Rebecca in the play.

Pax Wild: I think one thing that really stood out to me is the mortality of physical things when it comes to art.

There's so many artists and authors who didn't have, I guess, quote unquote, fame until after their death. And I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to pick and choose and be like, “This work is so important and people need to know about it and it's making an impact. And this is important to me, but is it important to everybody else? Is this something that is worth sharing? It's so much money. It's so much time. Is it even going to work?”

And just kind of exploring that in that relationship? Yeah, we read Shakespeare when we were in high school and some people are like “blah” but his work is really important and it's really real. The more you kind of sit down and read it's like, “These people are real and these experiences are really real.”

And I think that Lauren has taken those themes of humanism and really expanded upon it where it's like, we are people, and this is just kind of the experience of life through theater and like through those different stories.

And it's really interesting and really, really cool.

Performances of the Book of Will are Fridays and Saturdays, April 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. Matinee performances are set for Sundays, April 7, 14 and 21 at 2 p.m. In-person performances are in the New Space Theatre, CMC Spring Valley, 3000 County Road 114, Glenwood Springs. Livestreaming will be available on April 7, 13, and 19. There will also be post-show conversations on those dates.

Hattison Rensberry has a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Drawing, but has worked for newsrooms in various capacities since 2019.
She also provides Editorial Design for the Sopris Sun.