“Lauren Feldman is a goddess”: 10 Philadelphia playwrights describe a beloved PlayPenn teacher

Lauren Feldman. Photo by Joey Stocks.
Lauren Feldman. Photo by Joey Stocks.

A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Lauren Feldman is also a New Georges Affiliated Artist in New York City, a devised-work collaborator, a teacher of playwriting (Bryn Mawr College, McCarter Theatre, PlayPenn), and a freelance dramaturg.

On her personal website, Feldman describes herself as “a queer, feminist playwright (and circus artist) who loves theatrically adventurous, physically ambitious, intimate, inquisitive, deeply honest plays – usually about outsiders, often about searchers, always about the human connection.”

The informative, open, and unassumingly powerful PlayPenn instructor and dramaturg, collaborator and playwright wrote and/or devised many dramas that span a wide range of topics and formats. Her creative website shows an aesthetic that matches the wide range of her many talents and allows viewers and participants who are willing to take artistic risks to fly high on a creative trapeze and discover whole new worlds—inside and outside the circus world.

Feldman came to Philadelphia with a wide range of teaching experiences all over the United States. Philadelphia’s PlayPenn, dedicated to developing new plays and supporting playwrights, recently hired Feldman to teach her first 7-week course for Philadelphia area playwrights (at the Charlotte Cushman room, University of the Arts). As part of its service for Philadelphia playwrights who are taking its courses, PlayPenn hires six professional actors who stage read the final version of each 10-minute script on the last day of a playwriting course, in this case, Iman Aaliyah, Sam Henderson, Anita Holland, Anthony Mustafa-Adair, Sabrina Profitt, and Twoey Truong. This class, and Feldman’s teaching, had such an impact on the playwrights that they participated in this Phindie interview.

For more information on PlayPenn classes for playwrights in the Philadelphia area, click this link or contact Jaqueline Goldfinger, PlayPenn’s Education Director, via this link.

Phindie: What were your main goals for this course?

Mark Cofta: I wanted to learn more and write more, especially on some scripts that I’ve neglected for a long time. I also wanted to hang out with playwrights.

Julie Zaffarano: Lauren had come well recommended as a playwriting instructor. My goals were simple:  (1) absorb as much as I could from Lauren’s experience and (2) complete a first draft of a play I had in mind.

Haygen Brice Walker: I’ve acted as the PlayPenn/University of the Arts liaison for the past three 7-Week workshops. My goals are always the same:  (1) Absorb everything that I can from the instructor. Literally everything. Bask in their existence. Ask them all my questions. (2)  Start a new play–which I did.

Andy Wertner: To develop a broader set of playwriting skills and complete a first draft of a new play.

Justine Marie Parks: My main goal was to obtain some answers regarding my identity as a playwright. I also wanted to acquire new skills for constructing a dynamic and compelling show for Ethos, the physical theatre company I co-founded with my partner Aaron Rose.

Alex Wilkie: My main goals were to finish a play I had been working on.

Meghan Cary: Inspiration and accountability. I originally signed up for this course to simply “throw my hat over the fence” – once the hat’s in the yard, I have to get myself over the wall to retrieve it. I knew if I signed up for a playwriting workshop, I’d have to jump in and start writing. I knew if I started writing in the company of other playwrights and under the guidance of a master playwright, I would be inspired to continue past any additional obstacles that would inevitably launch themselves in front of me along the way.

Stephanie N. Walters: Perhaps Philadelphia’s first Asian American Playwright—my goals were to further develop a work in process and begin writing a text for my one-woman show.

John O’Hara: My main goal is always to write more.

Henrik Eger: Three goals: (1)To rewrite Van Gogh’s Jewish Daughteras a monologue for a one-woman show and to let the long suffering wife come into her own, both sexually and spiritually. (2) To write my first LGBT play: Rent-controlled apartment in the Village. (3)To learn as much as possible from Lauren Feldman and my fellow playwrights.

Phindie: What were your greatest challenges during the course?

Mark Cofta: Showing up, because my Tuesdays are already very long, and because my lack of production causes a lot of shame and inner turmoil. Establishing a productive writing habit, which I failed to do—again. Finishing a play, which I’ve long struggled to do.

Haygen Brice Walker: My greatest challenges are always staying focused and finishing anything. I’m always writing like 17 plays at once and that often means that my desktop becomes a graveyard of incomplete Microsoft Word documents.

Julie Zaffarano: Lauren provided suggestions of writing techniques and explorations each week. My biggest challenge was allowing myself time to “play”—and consequently grow—instead of trying to plow through my first draft in my usual stubborn, task-oriented way.

Andy Wertner: I found it particularly challenging to delve into my personal life for inspiration as instigated by Lauren’s weekly warmup questions.

Justine Marie Parks: My greatest challenge was having a deadline! I frequently failed to send pages to my “accountabilibuddy” each week. I realized that I’m quite reluctant to write when I’m expected to do so.

Alex Wilkie: I suppose the biggest challenge was finding time to work on the assignments.

Meghan Cary: Creating space was my biggest challenge. As a mother, musician, performer, and songwriter running my own business, it was hard to prioritize writing pages. Just carving out the time to get downtown to class was sometimes a challenge. But I was so inspired by the new tools Lauren had shared that I found the space and the time—even though the kids and my husband had already gone to bed for the night when I returned home to a quiet house every Tuesday night.

Stephanie N. Walters: Feeling confident enough that I could enter a new medium of writing without any previous professional experience as a playwright.

John O’Hara: Greatest challenge? Writing about myself.

Henrik Eger: I concentrated on(1)experimenting with different genres, for example, mixing a monologue with a more traditional approach of protagonist and antagonist interacting directly. (2) Using puppets to handle the sensitive subject of different sexual encounters of a woman who got betrayed by her husband. (3) Reducing text to its essence—staying within the 10-minute time limit—without weakening the play.

Phindie: What did you learn that helped you in moving forward as a playwright?

Mark Cofta: Lauren’s lessons about language, structure, and theatrical approaches were refreshing and challenging, and I’m sure I will return to them again and again.

Julie Zaffarano: So much! Since I was working on a particular new play, Lauren helped me explore the play’s structure and language in exciting fresh ways.

Haygen Brice Walker: I’ve learned much from Lauren, but also from my peers in the class. I think the thing that stays with me most is never forgetting who I am as an artist. As a playwright, I write weird-queer-millenial-fucked up-unapologetic-brash-loud-obnoxious-scrappy-messy plays. That’s me. It’s my mantra. Risk is every fiber of what I create.

Andy Wertner: Lauren’s concise lessons on style and language were particularly engaging and helpful.

Justine Marie Parks: Being read aloud by a group of writers enabled me to feel more comfortable with my natural “voice” as a storyteller. I also loved discovering the Liz Lerman Critical Response Process. It’s a great way to manage feedback so that it is optimally productive for each artist.

Alex Wilkie: I like the tools that she introduced us to. My favorites were probably the Different Kinds of Scenes.

Meghan Cary: I got so much intangible inspiration just from immersing myself in a weekly practice of writing. But a highlight for me was when Lauren explored theatricality as a tool to writing great plays. I had never really considered this gift that the theatre alone gives us. It has given me a new freedom and sense of fun in my writing that I will carry with me from here.

Stephanie N. Walters: Artists with different aesthetics can lead to fuller, critical conversations about the work.

John O’Hara: I learned to be more open, more accepting, more encouraging.

Henrik Eger: I learned to listen to the voices of my characters, helping them to liberate themselves—no longer victims to often oppressive and dysfunctional social norms within their worlds.

Phindie: What did you think of Lauren Feldman’s method of teaching, both in terms of content and pedagogy?

Mark Cofta: Her approach is very positive and encouraging, with the underlying theme that we need to find the ways that help us succeed on our own terms.

Julie Zaffarano: One semester is not nearly enough to learn from Lauren. I hope she will be back to teach another class.

Haygen Brice Walker: Lauren Feldman is a goddess. I really loved the way that she always had a plan, but was never afraid to ask for our input. She is very open as an educator and as a human. She is talented and brave and beautiful and strong. I have found in her not only a mentor, but also a dear friend.

Andy Wertner: Lauren was extremely knowledgeable and provided many opportunities for growth and self-examination.

Justine Marie Parks: Lauren is a thoughtful and deliberate instructor with an unsurprising agility with words that made all class content a pleasure to consume. I also enjoyed the structure of her class: a writing exercise followed by a brief lesson in play craft and then 4-5 rounds of workshopping.

Alex Wilkie: I thought her teaching style was great. She was very positive and lots of her advice was spot on. I was impressed that her feedback was usually succinct but very insightful.

Meghan Cary: Hmmm. I had to look up “pedagogy”—just a fancy word for “teaching style” it seems. I loved them both. Writing is not a science; there is nothing black and white about it, so how can someone “teach” it? Hands on is the only way. Lauren gave us new tools each week and asked us to work with them for the next week. Then, we’d move on to hearing our classmates’ work—a great opportunity to immediately see and discuss the tools in context. It was exciting to learn about these tools that were new to me, but especially to pick them up and use them—successfully or not—just use them. I still have a list of plays to read for more examples of how they can be implemented. Yep. I loved them all.

Stephanie N. Walters: Lauren’s lesson plans were thoughtful and engaging. I particularly enjoyed Lauren’s employment of the Liz Lerman method. It made the discussion of work very productive for the artists presenting.

John O’Hara: I thought Lauren was a great teacher—thoughtful, organized, encouraging—with time for physical writing always at the forefront.

Henrik Eger: Lauren is probably one the most cheerful and upbeat instructors possible, and yet quite determined to put into practice a nurturing feedback system when we reviewed each other’s script. Of all the many fine playwright-teachers at PlayPenn, she was the most organized with detailed lesson plans, covering more than one semester’s work. I wanted copies of all those pages so that I could add comments of our discussions in class. Lauren, I’d be happy to buy your book on Playwritingon a Trapeze whenever it comes out.

Phindie: What are your plans in developing your playwriting skills further?

Mark Cofta: More classes, because I enjoy them and find them inspiring; more writing; more interaction with other writers.

Julie Zaffarano: I try to write every day, even if only a few lines or in my head. Write, go to the theater, read plays, and take more PlayPenn classes.

Haygen Brice Walker: I’m working on my next Fringe show as we speak as well as developing a queer werewolf drama with my writers’ group, Writers On The Rocks. Julie Zaffarano: Lauren had come well recommended as a playwriting instructor. My goals were simple:  (1) absorb as much as I could from Lauren’s experience and (2) complete a first draft of a play I had in mind.

Andy Wertner: I’m planning to attend a Master’s program in Writing for Stage and Screen beginning in January.

Justine Marie Parks: My plan is to write. I’m on deck to pen Ethos’ 2018 Philadelphia Fringe Festival show, so I will be focusing my efforts on that. I also facilitate a monthly writing workshop, EthoStory.

Alex Wilkie: To be honest, finishing this play is top priority. I have no other plans beyond that. I might take another play Penn class.

Meghan Cary: I’ll be participating in the “Writing Autobiographically” workshop next weekend, and intend to do more workshops with Playpenn. I’m also planning to schedule a regular writing session into my week to simply play around with the tools we’ve been given. I’ve also got that list of plays to read—learning more by osmosis, I hope!

John O’Hara: I plan to keep going to PlayPenn and remember the ‘Pop/Questions/Moments’ sequence in analyzing new work.

Stephanie N. Walters: I plan on taking more classes with PlayPenn and hopefully a writing intensive conference for the summer.

Henrik Eger: Four seasons of goals:(1) Fine-tune my existing plays. (2) Write more plays. (3) Submit my plays to theaters and competitions in the English-speaking world. (4) Write plays in German, my mother tongue, for theaters in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Phindie: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Mark Cofta: I love how the PlayPenn classes continue to foster a playwriting community!

Julie Zaffarano: I’m grateful for the opportunity to join in this class with Lauren and my fellow playwrights. Under her guidance and with the team, I experimented, had a blast, and completed 80% of my first draft for my new play. Success!

Andy Wertner: It was very helpful and productive to be paired with a writing partner who served as motivator and cheerleader.

Justine Marie Parks: I plan to serve as a mentor but I also want to take it as an opportunity to gather feedback and refine my play.

Alex Wilkie: It’s been great meeting everyone. Such a diverse and talented group. I feel honored.

Meghan Cary: If Lauren were to do another follow-up or even the same workshop at Playpenn, I would sign up for it in a heartbeat!

Stephanie N. Walters: This class and Lauren’s guidance has allowed me to open myself up to exploring the new world of playwriting. I am beyond excited to continue with this journey.

John O’Hara: Lauren was a GREAT teacher!

Henrik Eger: Lauren carries more worlds within herself than most people I have met in the theater world—not only as an actor, playwright, dramaturg, instructor, or circus artist (I’m not making that up), but as a mensch. Lauren, many thanks, vielen Dank. Shalom and Schalom.

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