Cookson Lecture to Explore Links Between Musical Theater and Civic Discourse

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“Never discuss religion or politics.”

Given our current political divisiveness, this time-honored adage seems truer than ever. Or is it?  Could such discussions actually make for fun-filled, thought-provoking musical entertainment?

In 2003, award-winning playwright Rob Lauer was commissioned to write “First Freedom”—a musical play depicting the events leading up to the passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

During two years of intense research, Rob discovered that many of the “current” issues dividing the country politically and socially (including the subject of marriage equality) had philosophic roots in the debates between the Founders regarding freedom of conscience.  In the process, Rob became convinced that musical theatre—a highly-stylized, American-born art form—was the perfect vehicle for not only presenting more nuanced depictions of our nation’s founders but also for entertainingly exploring the philosophical concepts that animated them—and showing how those concepts are at the heart of our current political and social divide.

Music videos and reader’s theatre presentations from “First Freedom” will be incorporated into this year’s Cookson lecture in Blocker Hall Auditorium at Virginia Wesleyan University.  The event is free and open to the public. Click HERE for more information.


Photo courtesy Rob Lauer.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning playwright whose works have explored controversial issues in American religious history. His first play, “Digger,” won Brigham Young University’s 1982 Mayhew Award and was greeted with critical acclaim for its depiction of early American folk religion. In 1990, he became the first playwright to win both of the Deep South Writers Conference’s major awards—including Best Play of 1982 for his satire of 1960s Evangelical television, “Tom & Penny’s Yard Party.” 

Other plays include “The Beehive State” (exploring early 20th century Mormon polygamy), the musical “My Jo” (based on the works of Louisa May Alcott), the comedy “Geeks & Gangsters” (inspired by the true story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—the Cleveland teenagers who, during the 1930’s, created Superman) and the critically-acclaimed musical, “A Southern Christmas Carol.” 

Rob has been commissioned to create works for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival and the Cherokee Historical Association. In 2003, he was commissioned to write the musical, “First Freedom,” with Emmy-Award-winning composer Sam Cardon

Rob’s New York City theatrical credits include three years as an actor with The Prince Street Players and four years as Artistic Director of Sail Productions, Inc. From 2002 through 2005, he was the Artistic Director of “Swamp Gravy”—the State of Georgia’s Official Folk-Life Play. He has taught playwriting and acting at University of the Pacific and at Western Wyoming Community College.  As the 2015 Faculty Guest Artist at Colorado State University, he directed the university’s production of “The Hobbit,” which went on to win two Kennedy Center Awards.

Rob currently edits “The Shopper” in Chesapeake and hosts and produces “Portsmouth Insites,” “Portsmouth Now,” and “Museum Moments.”