Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Spotlight On...Emily Feinstein

Name: Emily Feinstein

Hometown: Syosset, New York (Lawn Guyland, represent!)

Education: BA Theatre from Barnard College, Columbia University

Favorite Credits: Taming of the Shrew (New York Classical Theatre, Asst Dir), The Group (Alchemical Theatre Lab – Rhapsody Collective), The 120th Annual Varsity Show: Morningside Nights, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Last 5 Years (Columbia University).

Why theater?: The audience. The audience is the final collaborator – a spectator, a character, a soundscape, an unpredictable energy that contributes something new to the show every night, and allows a show to continually grow and change in a way many art forms cannot.  Theatre is the temporary – it is fleeting, ephemeral, and it only exists before this audience in this moment. No one show is exactly like the next, and no one audience is ever like the next. Theatre is the work of bodies onstage – the shapes and images they create, the sounds and images in real time of humans, their imperfect breath and exhaustion that varies performance by performance – and doing it for and with and to and upon an audience.

Tell us about Plath.: Plath. is a new musical that follows the college years of prolific author and poet Sylvia Plath. The play centers around her struggle with depression and how it affected her time and relationships at and around Smith College - we track her story from leaving home to her first suicide attempt at age 21, and use it as a lens to examine mental illness. It is a play about insecurity, self-doubt, jealousy, sexual desire, friendship, family, and the power of words told through the world and words of Sylvia Plath.

What inspired you to direct Plath.?: I saw a workshop of this show (previously titled Mad Girl’s Love Song) at Columbia, and fell in love with this story and the unique and creative way it was being told.  I knew next to nothing about Sylvia Plath when I came to this play, but once I started reading, I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of her intense and magnificent writing. She was such a brilliant and troubled young woman, a feminist before her time and an eloquent, unbelievable artist - but she was trapped in her own mind, unable to escape her thoughts. For this bright, extraordinary young woman to be so plagued by depression in a time where it was not only stigmatized, but misunderstood – Sylvia, like so many who struggled with mental illness at the time, was sent to electro-shock therapy for treatment – gives us a very specific set of circumstances through which to discuss depression and mental illness. That she kept meticulous journals and published an almost unfathomable amount of poetry allows us to examine the topic from the words and thoughts of Sylvia herself, an opportunity and privilege I treasure greatly. This play is beautiful, this story is important, and this woman should be known and remembered for the whole, imperfect, and bright young woman she was.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love messy theatre – theatre where chaos descends – stages that begin pristine and end in destruction.  Movement is paramount in any piece of theatre, in my mind, and that is why musicals are where I find the most inspiration – but I am strongly invested in shows that incorporate strong dance or movement, and doubly if they incorporate acrobatics or circus arts. Conventional stories told in unconventional ways, impossible stage directions, stories by women about women, productions that make you lean in rather than sit back.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Oh, the list is endless. But in a fantasy world, probably Elizabeth Streb. I am obsessed with circus arts and her dance & movement pieces are so brave and beautiful – I would love to incorporate her company into an imaginative, whimsical production of Alice in Wonderland, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I am constantly discovering new soundtracks and plays I love and recommending that friends give a read or listen, but sadly I haven’t had much time to see theatre these past few months as I’ve been rehearsing every night. So my cliché and unoriginal answer is – Hamilton, a show so unbelievably brilliant that nobody can stop talking about it and I could barely breathe when the lights came up.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Didn’t you hear? There’s already one – it’s called “Enchanted” and it stars Amy Adams.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original production of Merrily We Roll Along. That play is so thoroughly impossible to do well – a director’s dream/nightmare. It played for only 16 performances and was a critical disaster, but the music and recording is so brilliant, and I would just loved to have had the opportunity to see it.  It was a strange, non-linear, impossible little play – and also, of course, Jason Alexander at his prime!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I feel no guilt about this, but I have brought all the Zoombinis to Zoombiniton on more than one occasion, thank you very much.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Kiss today goodbye. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I’d be teaching theatre to kids. I’d be working at a box office. I’d be ushering. I’d probably run away with the circus, but it’s hard to say that’s significantly different from theatre.

What’s up next?: I’ll be directing small revue at Columbia University for the First-Year class directly after Plath. – then I’ll be taking a very long nap and probably a bubble bath or two.

For more on Plath., visit