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Interview

The Interview Project: Emily Feldman

Interview by Will Arbery
April 27, 2020

"7 pm cheer squad. You can’t tell, but I put on jeans for this." —Emily Feldman

What fills your days? 

I am very fortunate that I get to live a shrunken version of my semi-regular life inside my apartment. The days seem full, though my memory is a bit short-circuited. I heard someone describe time right now as a Salvador Dali clock and that seems about right.

Sitting indoors comes very naturally to me. A nice thing about living in New York pre-pandemic was that it forced me to walk. I’m working on walking just for health and fresh air, which I think will serve me well in the future.

I’m a playwriting fellow at Juilliard and I’m grateful that our school year continues on video conference. I miss being in the classroom very much, but I like that Wednesday afternoons are still sacred in the midst of chaos.

I’m also spending time checking out local animal shelters online. So far, the application process for rescue-dog adoptions has proven quite competitive—such is New York.

What is your relationship to work during crisis?

I keep regular quiet hours. I take a lot of comfort in routine. I’m a to-do list person and I’m still making them every day. Things like journaling and reading used to happen in stolen moments on the train or idle time between things, but now everything makes the list.

I read a letter that George Saunders wrote to his creative writing students. He encouraged them to keep a good record of this moment so that in fifty years they will be able to write about this in a way that makes it real for someone who hasn’t been born yet. Paying close attention to what it’s like to live here and to how our government responds to our calls for help feels as important as new work right now.

What or who is inspiring you right now? What or who is beautiful?

- My sister is a newly-minted doctor in the first year of her residency training in internal medicine at a large hospital. Learning on the job during this major medical crisis is very inspiring!

- People who live across the street from me blast Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” every night at 7 pm. Everybody sways and cheers from their roofs and windows. The other night, I saw a man come out of his apartment with a pot and spoon, bang it once, and then go back inside. I thought that was beautiful.

- I purchased a pay-what-you-can ticket to view a video of my friend Jeff Augustin’s beautiful play, WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE SEA, directed by Josh Brody, dramaturged by Sarah Lunnie, with stunning music by the Bengsons. (All of those names in the same sentence makes me smile.) The show would have premiered at this year’s Humana Festival. I’ve been reluctant to watch theater online. I thought it would make me too sad. But, the spirit of this show translated so well through the screen and I loved watching it.

- After a friend sent me a video of her infant speaking full sentences, I promptly downloaded an app called MyTalkingPet, drew faces on objects around my apartment, and made videos of them talking in helium voices. An afternoon of dizzy laughter is pretty beautiful right now.

What are you dreaming of making, once we can gather in rooms again?

I’ve been having a lot of actual dreams that take place in rehearsal rooms and theaters.

I was two weeks from starting a rehearsal process when New York hit pause. I’ve been collaborating with Daniel Aukin on the piece for almost two years and we’ve been working with a crew of brilliant designers and actors. I had one dream in which the play opened but we never got a chance to rehearse it… which I guess is technically a nightmare.

In the daytime, I’m musing on future theater projects. This devastating moment only intensifies my appetite for making plays that can’t be anything but plays.

What would you say to your younger self — the one without many connections in theater, the one without a Playwrights Horizons commission — if your younger self were confronting or considering a future as an artist during this time of tremendous uncertainty?

The bewilderment of this moment does remind me of being younger and less steady!

If I could speak to my younger self, I might give her a little bit of tough love. I’d tell her that even when she has nowhere to go, and when she’s not even required to get dressed in the morning, she will still feel like she’s running out of time. I’d warn her that she will always go back to square one and that her doubts and desires will always run in lockstep. But, I’d remind her that she already knows how to survive it all. She knows what it’s like placing one word after another, writing into the unknown. So, she already has everything she needs.

 

Emily Feldman is the recipient of a Kate and Seymour Weingarten Commission.