In Conversation with Circus Dramaturg Lauren Feldman

Long-distance friend of Umbrella Project Lauren Feldman is in town this weekend. We caught up with her on Friday afternoon to hear about her work and what she’s up to this weekend.

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Sara Keats: Hello, Lauren Feldman! Tell us a little about yourself.

Lauren Feldman: I’m a queer, feminist playwright, dramaturg, circus artist, and teacher. I marry my new play work with circus as a circus dramaturg. I love to see and make theatrically adventurous, physically ambitious, intimate, inquisitive, deeply honest plays about outsiders, searchers, and always about the human connection.

Keats: How is circus dramaturgy different than more textbook production dramaturgy?

Feldman: In some ways it’s the same, and in others… Not so much. I discovered in circus school that very few circus artists have a dramaturgical tool set. Some come from a theater background, but more seem to come from gymnastics or dance. And contemporary circus, in contrast to traditional circus or Cirque-style, is pretty theatrical; it’s seeking to do a lot of the things that theater seeks to do: tell stories, show characters, share relationships, ask questions, wrestle themes.

Much of the tool set for making dramaturgical choices is missing from circus, since it didn’t evolve from a codified dramaturgical tradition. I found that sharing these tools and this way of thinking with my circus artist peers was useful and welcomed. So now I teach workshops around the country on dramaturgical tools for circus artists. And it has redefined how I think of dramaturgy: it’s wider than textbook production stuff.

Keats: How does your circus work affect your playwriting and/or vice-versa?

Feldman: In theater, I tend to crave writing and seeing theater that is deeply embodied, that is physical, that takes up space. I crave expressing relationship and story partly through how bodies relate to each other in ways large and small. I’m interested in what can be communicated nonverbally, and I have soft spot for muscularity or athleticism onstage.

And then in circus, I tend to crave seeing relationship and character and theme. I like playing with uncommon ways of including and utilizing text in circus. The circus work I make tends to be particularly theatrical in its ‘turgy and aesthetic, like a play told through the nonverbal language of circus. And I think about things like structure as I would a with play or about the relationship between form and content. When I go to see circus, I’m usually hungry to see it grounded in human need, human expression, I want it to be grappling with a central question, I want to see its soul. It’s happening increasingly in the contemporary circus movement right now.

And as a performer of circus, I find that it balances playwriting for me. I miss connecting directly with an audience from my early actor days, and circus lets me look right into the eyes of others and share things directly – and nonnaturalistically – and in ways that I have more control over. We relinquish that control as playwrights, and that has its challenges and its glories. So this helps balance that out for me. And there’s how dynamic and interactive training circus is, which helps me offset the static-ness and isolation of playwriting.


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Lauren and her partner Megan being totally amazing. Photo by Miki Vargas.

Keats: We’re so excited you’re in Seattle this weekend. What are you in town for?

Feldman: I’m one of an armful of circus coaches from around the country who are coming to town to teach and learn at the Pacific Northwest Circus Workshop Weekend at Versatile Arts. There’s a diverse array of workshops, and these coaches are remarkable and inspiring—I count myself lucky to be in their company.

Keats: Who should come to your workshops? How do they sign up?

Feldman: Any folks interested in the intersection of circus and theater, or circus and dramaturgy, should come out! Folks can sign up and learn about mine and other sessions happening this weekend on the Versatile Arts website.

I’m facilitating a Performance Lab for works in progress on Satuday evening, where anyone can work-in-progress to show for safe, structured, Liz Lerman-style feedback; teaching “Making Circus That Dazzles” on Sunday afternoon, which will be about crafting spectacle, and on Monday, I’m teaching “Performing Queer Identity & Experience” which will focus on how we translate queer story, experience, and identity to choreography using circus tools.

Keats: What’s in the works for you right now?

Feldman: Right now I’m on a break from the academic year. Time I’d usually spend teaching, I’ve dedicated to finishing a first draft of an untitled new play about an 18th century French botanist who was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe but she did it disguised as a man. I’m also trying to find a home for my play ANOTHER KIND OF SILENCE (bilingual, in English and ASL), embarking on rewrites of an older play (AMANUENSIS) before an upcoming academic production, navigating early production logistics for premiering A PEOPLE through Orbiter 3 next year, and doing movement research with my circus (and life) partner for creating a new circus piece. I’m also slowly getting my life and home and inbox back in order after a nutty year


More about Lauren Feldman:

Lauren Feldman is a queer, feminist playwright who loves theatrically adventurous, physically ambitious, intimate, inquisitive, deeply honest plays – usually about outsiders, often about searchers, always about the human connection. Her plays include ANOTHER KIND OF SILENCE (PlayPenn Conference, O’Neill Finalist, Playwrights Realm Fellowship, Drama League workshop); AMANUENSIS (Northwoods Ramah Theatre Company commission); THE EGG-LAYERS (Jane Chambers Honorable Mention, O’Neill Finalist, New Georges/Barnard College co-commission); A PEOPLE (Orbiter 3, Jewish Plays Project Residency); GRACE, OR THE ART OF CLIMBING (Denver Center Theatre Company, Nice People Theatre Company, ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award Nomination, Barrymore Nomination, Kilroys List); several ensemble-devised works, including GUMSHOE (New Paradise Laboratories with the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Rosenbach Museum), AND IF YOU LOSE YOUR WAY, OR A FOOD ODYSSEY (The Invisible Dog, New York Innovative Theatre Award Nomination), LADY M (Philadelphia Live Arts Festival), and THE APOCRYPHAL PROJECT (Yale Cabaret), among others; as well as a dozen short plays. She has been nominated for the Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwright Award, Wendy Wasserstein Prize, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award.

A graduate of the Yale School of Drama and the New England Center for Circus Arts, Lauren is currently a New Georges Audrey Resident, a Foundry mentor, a teacher of playwriting (Bryn Mawr College, University of the Arts, PlayPenn, Lantern Theater, McCarter Theatre), and a creator/performer of theatrical circus. She has performed as a circus-theater artist in festivals and cabarets around the country and abroad, and she is a co-creator and performer of TINDER & ASH (SummerStage NYC, Orchard Project, TOHU Residency). She coaches at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and nationally, often working as a circus dramaturg. Hailing from Miami, Florida, she has lived in seven cities and is now based in Philadelphia – where she is a proud Orbiter 3 playwright and a freelance dramaturg. She is building a new circus piece and writing three new plays. www.laurenfeldman.com

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