Rebecca Leah "Bekah" Brunstetter (born June 13, 1982) is an American writer. Her published plays include F*cking Art, which won top honors at the Samuel French Off-Off-Broadway Short Play Festival, I Used to Write on Walls, 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.
Brunstetter at the 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival
|Born||Rebecca Leah Brunstetter|
June 13, 1982
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.
|Residence||Los Angeles, California|
|Relatives||Peter S. Brunstetter (father)|
Early life and education
Rebecca Leah Brunstetter was born on June 13, 1982, 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 three 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 initially pursued creative writing through poetry, but feedback from her creative writing professors convinced her to try playwriting. She wrote her first play as a first-year student and decided to pursue playwriting as a career. By the time Brunstetter graduated from UNC in 2004 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, the UNC Theater Department had fully staged several of her plays. 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. I Used to Write on Walls, her play about three women who fall for a religious man who surfs and draws graffiti, premiered at the Gene Frankel Theatre Underground in New York in 2007, with Gwen Orel of Backstage calling it a "would-be feminist fable" that is "less convincing than cute". Duncan Pflaster of BroadwayWorld observed that the play seemed to "reinforce the stereotype that women need men to feel complete", but praised Brunstetter's writing and character development. Robert Hurwitt's review in the San Francisco Chronicle of the play's 2010 West Coast premiere also praised the quality of the dialogue, but called the lengthy play "a bit too much of one initially good thing".
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 his review of Oohrah!, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times praised Brunstetter as an up-and-coming new playwright, but found the play "generally unconvincing". Joe Dziemianowicz of 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.
Brunstetter's play Miss Lilly Gets Boned, a story about a religious woman whose disappointment in love causes her to plot revenge against a South African man who lost his wife in an elephant attack, premiered in 2010 at the Finborough Theatre. Writing for The Guardian, Michael Billington found the development of the main character to be unconvincing, but noted the high quality of the production and acting. In 2019, Rogue Machine Theatre produced the play's West Coast premiere in Los Angeles. Jeffrey Scott's BroadwayWorld review of the Los Angeles production praised the play, actors, and production quality, particularly the performance of Larisa Oleynik in the lead role, but also suggested that the story could be split into three one-act plays in future productions.
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. Writing for the The New York Times, Adam Hetrick reviewed the play positively, praising Brunstetter for writing straightforward dialogue and genuinely emotional characters. A review by Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune was less favorable to a 2011 Collaboraction staging of the play, calling Be a Good Little Widow "sincerely meant but structurally immature". Kathleen Foley later reviewed the Los Angeles premiere positively in the Los Angeles Times, 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 theater 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 seasons.
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. Anita Gates of 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 Nelson Pressley of 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. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Philip Brandes 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 Jesse Green of 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 Neil Gaiman's novel of the same name. 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 Oliver Sava singled out in Vulture 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 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 a "heartbreaking" scene in This Is Us in which an overweight young girl is excluded from playing with the other girls. The show debuted in 2016, and received the highest ratings among new shows on American broadcast television in its first season.
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 a terminally ill woman who comes to believe in heaven, leading her to abandon further medical treatment against the wishes of her spouse, who does not believe in an afterlife. It is based in part on conversations Brunstetter had with her father's atheist parents about death and heaven. In the Los Angeles Times, Daryl Miller 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 Juliet Wittman in Westword as a saccharine remix of elements from This Is Us, and at Theater Alliance of Washington, DC, where John Stoltenberg of DC Metro Theater Arts called it "an extraordinary exploration of love in life and loss in death".
Brunstetter was one of several writers to receive an inaugural $5,000 Writers Alliance Grant from the Dramatists Guild Foundation in 2018, with Brunstetter's grant supporting a new commission from Theater Breaking Through Barriers. The resulting play, about a woman who borrows money from her politically conservative father under false pretenses to pay for an abortion, premiered the following year at Clurman Theatre in the Theatre Row Building under the title Public Servant. In The New York Times, Laura Collins-Hughes criticized Public Servant for its character and plot development, observing that the play's story seemed "grafted to fit" its politics. While lauding the inclusive casting of Public Servant, Deb Miller of DC Metro Theater Arts expressed disapproval of Brunstetter's "signature TV style", noting particularly her handling of the play's various dilemmas with "forced, overly sentimental, and unbelievably contrived" resolutions.
Brunstetter was hired in 2017 to adapt the bestselling self-help book The Secret for film. Her script adapts the book's ideas about the "law 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 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. In 2017, as a Valentine's Day present, Brunstetter wrote a short film script for Keddie based on a story about his uncle. The resulting film, titled Again, with Keddie portraying the lead role of a man who repeatedly watches the film Groundhog Day, was selected for the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Keddie has since provided the voice of George in the Barrington Stage Company production of The Cake. As of 2017, Brunstetter resides in Los Angeles, California.
- I Used to Write on Walls, Samuel French, 2008, ISBN 9780573651434
- 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". 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". Retrieved March 5, 2019.
- Evans, Suzy (March 2, 2016). "Bekah Brunstetter Wants You to Feel the Joy". American Theatre. 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.
- Horak, Molly (March 20, 2017). "Q&A with UNC graduate and 'This is Us' writer Bekah Brunstetter". The Daily Tar Heel. Retrieved June 2, 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.
- Orel, Gwen (October 11, 2007). "I Used to Write on Walls". Backstage. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
- Pflaster, Duncan (October 8, 2007). "I Used to Write on Walls: The Rippling Mr. Talented". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
- Hurwitt, Robert (January 16, 2010). "Theater review: 'I Used to Write on Walls'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 9, 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.
- Billington, Michael (June 28, 2010). "Miss Lilly Gets Boned". The Guardian. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
- Hetrick, Adam (September 11, 2019). "Bekah Brunstetter's Miss Lilly Gets Boned Sets West Coast Premiere". Playbill. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
- Scott, Jeffrey (October 6, 2019). "BWW Review: MISS LILLY GETS BONED at Rogue Machine Theatre". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved October 9, 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" (Interview). Interviewed by Jennifer Chen. Brit+co. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fierberg, Ruthie (January 31, 2018). "This Is Us' Bekah Brunstetter and 9 Other Rising Writers Earn DGF Grants". Playbill. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Miller, Deb (June 6, 2019). "Review: 'Public Servant' at Theatre Row". DC Metro Theater Arts. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
- Collins-Hughes, Laura (June 11, 2019). "Review: In 'Public Servant,' a Changed Daughter Returns From College". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 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.
- Gonzalez, Sandra (January 3, 2019). "'The Notebook' is coming to Broadway". CNN. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- Brunstetter, Bekah (October 8, 2016). "Again". Retrieved June 22, 2019.
- Brunstetter, Bekah (March 7, 2017). "Tribekah". Retrieved June 22, 2019.
- Lee, Ashley (March 2, 2017). "Tribeca Film Festival Lineup Includes Whitney Houston, ISIS, Rodney King Riots Docs". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
- Aucoin, Don (June 29, 2018). "Rupp brings multiple layers to 'The Cake' at Barrington Stage". The Boston Globe. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
- Myers, Victoria (January 26, 2017). "An Interview with Bekah Brunstetter". The Interval. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
- "I Used to Write on Walls by: Bekah Brunstetter". Samuel French, Inc. Retrieved October 9, 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.