Creative Writing Lecturer L M Feldman, who spent a portion of the summer at the Fresh Ground Pepper BRB Retreat, was among the artists The New York Times asked to share a bit about their warm-weather residencies.
Feldman writes in The Times:
"O. K. so first: we 16 artists sleep in a row of converted horse stables. It’s strangely cozy, and there’s a thick canvas flap that hangs in the front that you can let down or tie up. Beyond the flap is a looooong wooden table with chairs, candles, wildflowers, and artists. It’s a rustic, intimate, co-working space in rural Pennsylvania where we talk low and feed off the focus and buzz of the art-making right next to us. Nature sounds abound: cicadas, frogs, crickets, rain, thunder, leaves, footfall.
"Nature seems to embolden one’s art. Larissa and I walk the grounds and swat away flies and move through space—lush and teeming—and suddenly we’re uninterested in making our EST/Sloan commission (a play about women pilots and space flight and what it takes to get off the ground) small and tidy; we want to explode it with all the dynamic lifefulness it craves.
"We dream up cast size and doubling and the movement vocabulary of the playworld. We explore a hundred kinds of human flight in every nonliteral way we can think of. We use our bodies. We chop wood. We wash dishes.
"We ask other artists the questions our characters are asking: What have you sacrificed to move through this world with fewer obstacles? How do you know whether or not you deserve something? When you succeed, is it more helpful to be thought of as normal or as exceptional? (Why?) FGP has somehow created a space of collaborative reflection and vulnerability. (How?)
"Cross-pollinating with other artists is alchemical. It shakes up one’s process to spend a couple hours each day communally exploring someone else’s project: glam rock, Google privacy conditions, erotica workshop. Could we create our own structure for cross-pollination among our artist friends back home? What form would that take?
"When I was in grad school, Paula Vogel once told us: As you write, remember the pleasures of the stage. And I’ve held onto that, but I’ve forgotten about the pleasures of the process—how to invite them, insist upon them. How to do this at home? I don’t know yet.
"But I’m leaving with spaciousness in our playworld, and an effervescence I hadn’t realized I’d lost. And I can feel the earth under my feet again—no small thing, given how stressy and ungrounded I was when I arrived.
"We culminated in a reading of new pages with all of us sitting in the grass under the night sky with the actors lit by our flashlights. So fitting and luminous for a play about women pilots fighting to go to space. M, it was magical. And moving. Transient, tender, exquisite. How do we get more of this in our lives?"
L M Feldman is a queer, feminist playwright (and circus artist) who pens plays that are wildly theatrical but deeply intimate. Formally ambitious plays that move, take up space. Plays that are questing, wrestling, asking. Plays without answers. Plays about women and queers, about outsiders and searchers. Plays grappling with voice and agency, opportunity and access, history and its wake. Plays about the human connection. Plays that seek to be a greater, communal, rare theatrical event in which something transcendent transpires—for those both onstage and off. Feldman teaches playwriting at Bryn Mawr.