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At a moment in our country of deep divisions and harsh judgments, ‘God Hates You’ is that rare play that gives us a window into exploring radical difference and a bridge to understanding each other. ‘God Hates You’ by Emily Dendinger focuses on Laurel, a treasured member of an infamous church akin to the Westboro Baptist Church. She’s the first to volunteer to picket funerals of gay men, knows how to rile up a crowd, and can deftly debate the Bible. Despite opposition, she knows she’s saving the sinners of the world. When Laurel joins social media, she’s faced for the first time with the outside world. Soon everything she believes is called into question. ‘God Hates You’ asks what it means to grow up in a church dedicated to spreading hate, and what happens when the faith you’ve rigorously adhered to your whole life came shattering down around you.
Dates & Times
We live in a very divisive contemporary world. It seems that everyone has a mentality of “us” or “them”. The new play ‘God Hates You’ by Emily Dendinger explores a world where that mentality is so innate, children become adults never knowing another way of thought. Dendinger’s play rigorously asks us to reflect on our own walls of divisiveness by showing us how one woman’s peek outside her box becomes a life-altering experience; how opening up to another opinion can truly and radically change your world.
In November 2015, Emily Dendinger was the playwright in residence at Curious Theatre Company when Chip Walton, Producing Artistic Director, read an article in the New Yorker titled ‘How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs’. Chip passed the article on to Emily, who specializes in plays that dig into the “other” side of issues; Emily was immediately excited and began work on ‘God Hates You’ – titled after Westboro’s Twitter handle.
The article chronicled how Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, expanded her view of the world through Twitter, an outlet she turned to originally to spread Wesboro’s message of hate as far as possible. Dendinger was inspired by the story and in July of 2016, she had a first draft and a reading at Curious.
In December 2016, Dendinger returned to Colorado for a workshop and reading of her latest draft. The play focuses on a crisis of faith for Laurel, who was raised in a church based on Westboro. 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 believes that she’s saving the sinners of the world before the end of days arrives. However, when Laurel joins Twitter, she’s faced for the first time with the outside world, and soon everything she believes is called into question.
In June 2017, Curious was selected to develop ‘God Hates You’ at the Perry-Mansfield New Works Festival in Steamboat Springs, CO. The weeklong workshop brings theatres from across the US together to continue development of works in progress and share them in a festival format. This development opportunity brought significant revisions to the play.
The September 2017 workshop will further hone in on this piece, ending with a free public reading.
The piece is challenging, asking audience members to feel sympathy for a woman and group who spew hate at every chance. The play is not a parody or a docu-drama, but rather a fictionalized account of this church and its members, who genuinely feel like the only way to save themselves and others is by relentlessly and mercilessly attacking the “other”.
The audience is an even more critical component to this play than usual. The tone of the piece is challenging, and we continue to explore the right balance for the play; as such, audience feedback throughout the remaining development process will be critical.
This play and the events that will surround it are all designed to allow us to reach a deeper level of understanding of “them”. When real-life Megan Phelps-Roper realized that those she had always cast aside as “them” were really people, it changed her world and she left the church. We believe that there is no greater need today than to discover ways to engage in healthy and productive dialog that unites us through our commonality as humans, and we also believe that ‘God Hates You’ exemplifies the power of art to accomplish that very goal.