Thursday, April 28, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 826: Emily Feldman

Emily Feldman

Hometown: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia

Current Town: San Diego, CA (for a couple more months)

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m in rehearsal at UC San Diego for a play called GO. PLEASE. GO. It takes place in an empty, beige, shag-carpeted box. It follows two young lovers over 70 years and has a repetitive form that’s inspired by Beckett and Thornton Wilder. It has a few dance numbers and a tap break— which you can’t hear because of all the carpet.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  My 92 year-old grandma died at my Bat Mitzvah. I was reading from the Torah and she put her head on my sister’s shoulder and didn’t wake up. I couldn’t believe that something so sad could happen on a day that I had looked forward to for so long. It must have been most difficult for my Dad, who lost his mom while his friends were doing the electric slide.

My best friend wore the same purple dress that I wore and I wish I could say that at that point— it really didn’t matter who wore what dress— but I was twelve.

Something about this family heartbreak on a day that was supposed to be filled with joy has infiltrated my writing and my sense of humor. I’m sure that if I ever get married it will rain on my wedding day.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I’d like there to be more places for longer forms of theater criticism. Writing that isn’t a thumbs-up or thumbs-down kind of review—but an inquiry into the intentions of the artists and the style of the performance. I think this is happening in a couple of places, but I’d love for more playwrights to write publicly and in-depth about the plays they see— the way that novelists review or blurb each other’s work.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Reading Beckett, Ionesco, and Chris Durang when I was in college got me excited about writing plays. Karen Hartman was a great mentor to me when I was living in New York and trying to balance work and playwriting. My heroic playwriting teachers/women who give me excellent advice are Naomi Iizuka and Deborah Stein. I think Adam Greenfield is also a theatrical superhero.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I get excited by plays that move like dances—that are beautiful and that make inventive use of space and bodies. I love when design and text and performance play like instruments in a symphony and when making theatre looks like painting on a canvas— every element placed in a specific relationship to everything else. David Greenspan’s Go Back To Where You Are at Playwrights Horizons was one of those experiences for me. I saw it four times.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Naomi Iizuka always reminds me to be kind to everyone I meet working in the theater. Everyone is there for the love of the game and today’s intern could be tomorrow’s artistic director. And you never know who will end up being a great ally or whose couch you might need to spend a night on. I’m haunted by that thing George Saunders said at a commencement in 2013: “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness."

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  If you’re in Southern California in May, come see the Wagner Festival of New Plays at UC San Diego!

And my love Jeff Augustin’s beautiful play The Last Tiger in Haiti at La Jolla Playhouse, directed by my BFF Josh Brody!

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