Brunstetter at the 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival
|Born||Rebecca Leah Brunstetter|
June 13, 1982
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
|Occupation||Screenwriter, producer, playwright|
|Residence||Los Angeles, California|
|Relatives||Peter S. Brunstetter (father)|
Rebecca Leah "Bekah" Brunstetter (born June 13, 1982) is an American screenwriter and playwright. Her published plays include F*cking Art, which won top honors at the Samuel French Off-Off-Broadway Short Play Festival, Oohrah!, Be a Good Little Widow, Going to a Place Where You Already Are, and The Cake, a play inspired by events leading to the US Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. She is a founding member of The Kilroys, which annually produces The Kilroys' List. Her television work includes writing for I Just Want My Pants Back, Underemployed, Switched at Birth, and American Gods, and both writing and producing on This Is Us, for which she was nominated twice for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.
Early life and education
Rebecca Leah Brunstetter was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is the daughter of former North Carolina Senator Peter S. Brunstetter and Jodie Brunstetter. She was raised as the only daughter among several brothers in a conservative Christian home. Brunstetter wrote poems and short stories from a young age, and became involved with theater after moving from a private Christian middle school to Mount Tabor High School, a public school. As a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brunstetter changed her writing focus from poetry to playwriting, fully staged several plays, and graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She continued to study playwriting for three years in the School of Drama at The New School, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts degree.
After graduating with her MFA, Brunstetter worked at a corporate job while continuing to write plays. In 2008, her play F*cking Art, about a cheerleader who visits her cancer-stricken classmate, was a winner at the 33rd Annual Samuel French Off-Off-Broadway Short Play Festival, and was subsequently published by Samuel French. The following year she was named Playwright in Residence at Ars Nova, and her play Oohrah!, a story about the family lives of people in a North Carolina town changing as veterans return home from Iraq, premiered off-Broadway at Stage 2 of the Atlantic Theater Company. In its review of Oohrah!, The New York Times praised Brunstetter as an up-and-coming new playwright, but found the play generally unconvincing. The New York Daily News assessed Oohrah! as "about as deep as your average sitcom", while drawing attention to the quality of Brunstetter's dialogue and writing of female characters.
During her Ars Nova residency Brunstetter wrote a new play, titled Be a Good Little Widow, about the relationship between a woman and her husband's mother before and after the husband's death. Be a Good Little Widow premiered at Ars Nova in 2011, with a cast including Jill Eikenberry and Wrenn Schmidt. The New York Times reviewed the play positively, praising Brunstetter for writing straightforward dialogue and genuinely emotional characters. A Chicago Tribune review of a 2011 Collaboraction staging of the play was less positive, calling Be a Good Little Widow "sincerely meant but structurally immature". The Los Angeles Times later reviewed the Los Angeles premiere positively, observing that Brunstetter was adept at manipulating the audience's emotions to good effect.
Expanding into screenwriting
While working as a playwright, Brunstetter started a business writing audition monologues for actors and looked for other writing work to supplement her playwriting income. Her theatre agent introduced her to a television agent in Los Angeles, and she was hired as a writer's assistant by MTV. After spending a season as an assistant on the short-lived MTV show I Just Want My Pants Back, she became a member of the writing staff for another MTV show, Underemployed, before moving to the ABC Family drama Switched at Birth, where she worked as a staff writer for three years.
Brunstetter continued her playwriting while working as a screenwriter, premiering her work Forgotten Corners of Your Dark, Dark Place, which starred actresses in wheelchairs, at the Theater Breaking Through Barriers' annual festival of new plays. The New York Times praised the actresses' performances, but expressed concern that the play was unclear about whether or not it was mocking feminist self-examination groups. Brunstetter also collaborated with other Los Angeles-area writers to create The Kilroys' List, an annual list of plays by female and transgender playwrights modeled on the Black List but intended to promote gender equity. The list featured her own play The Oregon Trail, about a girl who withdraws from social life as she plays the video game The Oregon Trail. The play subsequently premiered at the Women's Voices Theater Festival, with The Washington Post concluding that "even some over-explaining in the final steps doesn’t erase the pleasure of this quest".
The Cake and American Gods
In 2015, Brunstetter began writing The Cake, a play about a baker who is asked to bake a cake for the wedding of her best friend's daughter but refuses because it is a same-sex wedding. The play was inspired by real-life events that eventually led to the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case, and by her father's opposition to same-sex marriage, a view with which she disagrees. The play premiered in Los Angeles, with Debra Jo Rupp in the starring role. The Los Angeles Times praised the play's narrative structure but noted that some of the dialogue "reads like a laundry list of liberal activist accusations". The play has been widely produced, including shows at the La Jolla Playhouse, Houston's Alley Theatre, and an Off-Broadway premiere at the Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center that The New York Times described as "well-baked but not quite filling".
At the same time that she was writing The Cake, Brunstetter started work on the new Starz series American Gods, based on the Neil Gaiman novel. As part of the writing team for American Gods, Brunstetter helped develop the character of the goddess Easter. She was credited as a writer on the first-season finale, titled "Come to Jesus", which Vulture singled out as an exciting standout in an otherwise poorly-paced season.
This Is Us (2016–present)
Brunstetter also joined the NBC series This Is Us, first as a staff writer, then story editor, before becoming a supervising producer; her job entails auditioning actors and rewriting scripts. She is part of a team of writers. She has been credited as sole writer or co-writer on six episodes, and was nominated along with fellow producers for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 2017 and 2018. Her personal childhood bullying experience inspired part of This Is Us's season 1 episode "The Pool". In its first season, This Is Us was the highest rated new show on American broadcast television.
Going to a Place Where You Already Are and later work
In 2016, South Coast Repertory premiered Going to a Place Where You Already Are, a play the company commissioned from Brunstetter. The play follows two couples who discuss whether heaven really exists as they confront health challenges and the possibility of dying. It is based in part on conversations Brunstetter had with her father's atheist parents about death and heaven. The Los Angeles Times called Going to a Place Where You Already Are a "terrific new play", highlighting her simultaneously emotional and entertaining treatment of serious subjects. The play was also produced by the Boulder Ensemble Theater Company, where it was panned by Westword as a saccharine remix of elements from This Is Us, and at Theater Alliance of Washington, DC, where DC Metro Theater Arts called it "an extraordinary exploration of love in life and loss in death".
In 2017, Brunstetter was hired to adapt the bestselling self-help book The Secret for film. Her script adapts the book's ideas about the "laws of attraction" into a story about the relationship between a widowed mother and a handyman who shares his thoughts on how the universe works. In early 2018, Brunstetter was one of several writers to receive an inaugural $5,000 Writers Alliance Grant from the Dramatists Guild Foundation, with Brunstetter's grant supporting a new commission from Theater Breaking Through Barriers. In 2019, singer Ingrid Michaelson announced that she and Brunstetter had been collaborating on an adaptation of The Notebook into a Broadway musical, with author Nicholas Sparks later confirming his involvement in the production.
Brunstetter married actor Morrison Keddie in 2016.
- F*cking Art, in Off Off Broadway Festival Plays, 33rd Series, Samuel French, 2008, ISBN 9780573670367
- Oohrah!, Samuel French, 2010, ISBN 9780573697951
- Be a Good Little Widow: A Funeral, Samuel French, 2011, ISBN 9780573699696
- Going to a Place Where You Already Are, Samuel French, 2016, ISBN 9780573705526
- The Cake, Samuel French, 2018, ISBN 9780573706875
- Brunstetter, Bekah (June 13, 2010). "It's My Birthday". I Care Deeply (Brunstetter's blog). Retrieved March 10, 2019.
- "Biography". I Care Deeply (Brunstetter's blog). Retrieved March 10, 2019.
- "Rebecca Leah Brunstetter '04". Carolina Alumni Review. October 12, 2018. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Menconi, David; Bonner, Lynn (September 14, 2017). "Her legislator father opposed gay marriage. Her complicated feelings inspired a new play". The News & Observer. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Brunstetter, Bekah (December 24, 2013). "Guest Blogger: Jodie Brunstetter". I Care Deeply (Brunstetter's blog). Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Evans, Suzy (March 2, 2016). "Bekah Brunstetter Wants You to Feel the Joy". American Theater. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Ducouer, Nicole (February 8, 2017). "Exclusive: Screenwriter from Triad talks NBC's hit show 'This Is Us'". WXII-TV. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Jones, Kenneth (September 1, 2009). "Oohrah!, Brunstetter's Tale of Military Families, Makes World Premiere in NYC Sept. 1". Playbill. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Hetrick, Adam (July 22, 2008). "Winners of Samuel French Off-Off-Broadway Short Play Festival Announced". Playbill. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Isherwood, Charles (September 10, 2009). "Back From War, Not at Peace". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Dziemianowicz, Joe (September 10, 2009). "Off-Broadway 'OOHRAH!' is a thin slice of Marine life". New York Daily News. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Rooney, David (May 2, 2011). "Learning to Grieve in a Grown-Up World". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Hetrick, Adam (May 2, 2011). "Good Grief: Bekah Brunstetter's Be a Good Little Widow Opens Off-Broadway May 2". Playbill. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Jones, Chris (September 14, 2011). "Be a good little widow? Good luck with that". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Foley, F. Kathleen (April 24, 2014). "Review: 'Be a Good Little Widow' at NoHo Arts Center tears at emotions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Sexton, Scott (December 27, 2016). "Local woman scores big with TV hit 'This is Us'". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Brunstetter, Bekah (May 19, 2018). "How I Landed My Job as a 'This Is Us' Writer". Brit+co (Interview). Interviewed by Jennifer Chen. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
- Goldberg, Elana (August 31, 2016). "From Stage to Screen: A Feature on Writer Bekah Brunstetter". Breaking Character Magazine. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Blankenship, Mark (June 18, 2013). "In NYC, A Play Festival Spotlights Stories Of Disability". NPR. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Gates, Anita (June 20, 2013). "Disabilities and Drama in an Irreverent Mix". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Evans, Suzy (September 17, 2014). "Women Push for Equality On and Off Stage". American Theatre. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Ito, Robert (March 1, 2019). "How the Kilroys Are Beating Theater's Boys Club". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Pressley, Nelson (September 7, 2015). "The game of life, learned on 'The Oregon Trail'". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Ito, Robert (July 11, 2017). "From 'This is Us' to 'The Cake,' Bekah Brunstetter Has a Full Plate". The New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Miller, Daryl H. (June 28, 2017). "The politics of wedding cake: 'This is Us' writer Bekah Brunstetter ices a big year with a timely play". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Brandes, Philip (June 5, 2017). "A Christian conservative baker, a gay wedding and the smart, funny play 'The Cake'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Cunningham, Kimberly (January 29, 2018). "La Jolla Playhouse's 'The Cake' Tackles a Timely Topic". San Diego Magazine. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Chen, Wei-Huan (June 8, 2018). "Review: Alley Theatre's 'Cake' offers more than a simple sugar high". Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Green, Jesse (March 5, 2019). "Review: 'The Cake' Is Well-Baked but Not Quite Filling". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Sava, Oliver (June 18, 2017). "American Gods Season Finale Recap: Don't Cross Easter". Vulture. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Treanor, Lorraine (March 14, 2017). "Playwright Bekah Brunstetter: why NBC's This Is Us is connecting with millions of fans". D.C. Theatre Scene. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
- "69th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners: Outstanding Drama Series - 2017". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- "70th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners: Outstanding Drama Series - 2018". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Otterson, Joe (May 26, 2017). "2016-17 TV Season: NBC Leads Demo, CBS Takes Viewers, 'This Is Us' No. 1 New Show". Variety. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Ostrow, Joanne (April 4, 2018). "A writer and producer of the NBC tear-jerking hit "This Is Us" is bringing her play to Boulder". The Denver Post. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Miller, Daryl H. (March 14, 2016). "'Going to a Place Where You Already Are' is headed toward a really good place". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Wittman, Juliet (April 18, 2018). "Review: Bekah Brunstetter's Going to a Place Where You Already Are Doesn't Go Far". Westword. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Stoltenberg, John (June 6, 2016). "Review #1: 'Going to a Place Where You Already Are' at Theater Alliance". DC Metro Theater Arts. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Lang, Brent (August 9, 2017). "Katie Holmes to Star in Adaptation of Best-Selling Book 'The Secret'". Variety. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Wiseman, Andreas (September 24, 2018). "Katie Holmes & Josh Lucas Pic 'The Secret' Gets Backing From Tri-G, Savvy Media & Shine Box Ahead Of New Orleans Shoot". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Fierberg, Ruthie (January 31, 2018). "This Is Us' Bekah Brunstetter and 9 Other Rising Writers Earn DGF Grants". Playbill. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Gonzalez, Sandra (January 3, 2019). "'The Notebook' is coming to Broadway". CNN. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- "F*cking Art by: Bekah Brunstetter". Samuel French, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
- "Oohrah! by: Bekah Brunstetter". Samuel French, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
- "Be a Good Little Widow by: Bekah Brunstetter". Samuel French, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
- "Going to a Place Where You Already Are by: Bekah Brunstetter". Samuel French, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
- "The Cake by: Bekah Brunstetter". Samuel French, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2019.