Interview with Kayla Feldman director of "Lobster"

Kayla Feldman is a new director who recently impressed us with new production Lobster from Snapper Theatre at Theatre 503 in London. We caught up with Kayla to find out more about directing Lobster, her diverse talent and inspiration; as well as to find out what is coming next.

You're quite a talented woman - directing, writing and spoken word as well as teaching.

Wow, thank you! Just so you know – I haven’t done a lot of teaching as such. I ran a series of spoken word poetry workshops for a social justice youth group in Leeds a few years ago, and ran some workshops on spoken word, verbatim theatre storytelling, and Clown for both children/young people/families and adults at Limmud Conference 2016.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your directional style?

There were a lot of early inspirations when I was just getting into theatre towards the end of my school years. In particular, Michael Grandage’s production of King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse in 2011 will always have a special place in my heart as the catalyst. Prior to that, I had always planned to go to university to study psychology. But that day, age 17, something clicked in my head and I knew I would never be content with merely sitting in the audience – I had to learn. Around the same time, I read Katie Mitchell’s The Director’s Craft. That book and her productions of Cleansed and Anatomy of a Suicide have all been hugely inspirational to me in terms of audience experience and the ‘final product’ of a show.

My biggest inspirations in terms of my process as a director have actually been people I’ve worked with or been taught by over the last two years. I recently graduated from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, where I studied M.A. Theatre Directing under Peter James CBE. My training at Mountview gave me an incredibly valuable arsenal of tools and a vital understanding of actors’ processes, which allowed me to find my own way of working. The creatives I worked with whilst training and since graduation – actors, designers, producers, etc. – have all taught me something new about theatre and directing, and I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t think you ever ‘stop learning’. Each project is unique, each one a learning process in itself.

Do you prefer to work on LGBT content?

I wouldn’t say I ‘prefer’ to work on LGBT content. Rather, I would say that being a bisexual woman and being part of the LGBT community means that those are stories I’m particularly passionate about. Lobster was actually originally written for a man and a woman, but over the course of developing the script, at some point we realised that this story could belong to anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality. The sexuality of J and K is never stated in the script because it simply isn’t relevant to the story, and we wanted to actively steer the audience away from projecting their own assumptions onto the characters. In casting two women, we have had the chance to tell this universally recognisable story in a way that shines a light on stories that we don’t often see on stage – a love story between two women.

What are the challenges?

The beauty of Lobster is that it is such a universal story. Heartbreak is something that everybody can recognise – whether they’ve been through it themselves or they’ve helped a friend through it or seen it on TV. When you’re working on a project that hits home as much as this one does – and the themes of mental illness resonate quite strongly with me as well – it does become mentally draining. Because of this I have worked exceptionally hard to make our rehearsal room as safe as possible, and have had to allow myself to be vulnerable as a director in order to make my actors feel safe enough to be vulnerable themselves. This project takes an emotional toll, but it also attracts creatives that truly care about it. Lobster has been the most collaborative project that I have ever worked on, and because it is so personal and special to all of us, we all work incredibly hard to look after each other and support one another and the production. All of the mental and emotional challenges we have faced as a company have, therefore, actually made the work better.

Did you make any changes to the original script?

Julia (producer) and I have worked very closely with Lucy (writer) since the moment we got the first draft back in October 2016, and with every new draft, we’d do a reading with two actors, discuss it together, and Lucy would go away and redraft. When we decided to cast two women, Lucy redrafted the script to change the pronouns, and made some slight changes to a couple of lines here. The main thing that was added with the gender change was a brief mention about same-sex marriage that is now one of my favourite moments in the play (no spoilers!).

What has been your career highlight to date?

Lobster, without a doubt. The entire experience, from first receiving the script fifteen months ago up until this run, working with Julia and Lucy who have become some of my closest friends as well as colleagues and collaborators. I feel so incredibly lucky to be working with these incredible women, with a dedicated and passionate cast and creative team, and with a script that speaks to me as much as this one does. I could not have asked for a better project to work on for my full-length professional debut.

There has been a lot of LGBT productions in 2017 in London. Which did you see and what was your favourite?

Rotterdam by Jon Brittain at the Arts Theatre. I saw it when it first transferred to Trafalgar Studios in 2016 and went back to see it again when it returned from New York. I cannot fully put into words the effect this production had on me, this intensely personal story that tugs right at the heart of its audience. It was also an incredibly important and educational show, that I think marked a turning point in the theatre landscape for discussions of gender and sexuality. Two other LGBT-themed shows that stood out to me this year were Lord, Dismiss Us by Glenn Chandler (at Edinburgh Fringe and subsequently Above the Stage Theatre) and Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks by Sarah Hanly (Theatre N16 and Leicester Square Theatre).

If you could direct anything, what would be your dream storyline?

I plan to write this show one day, so you’ll have to wait and see!

You have a strong interest in mental health, feminism and identity. Do you try to take director roles that allow you to highlight these areas?

What I want to make clear here is that there is no clear or ‘right’ path to get into theatre directing. When I finished my training at Mountview at the beginning of September, I panicked because I was sending off loads of applications for residencies and assistantships, emailing everyone I knew, and not getting anything. I was unemployed, and I wasn’t making any creative work. I had to remind myself of what is essentially the drama-school-graduate mantra, what Mountview’s principal Stephen Jameson said on our graduation day: “If the phone isn’t ringing, make your own work.” So that’s what I did. I pitched an idea for the fifth instalment of Herstory Feminist Theatre Festival, led by feminist powerhouse Nastazja Somers, which was accepted. I chose three of my best spoken word pieces with a feminist focus – ‘Real Women Have Curves’ (a satire about female body stereotypes), ‘Breasts’ (about breasts), and ‘A Person I Know’ (my experience of sexual assault) – and added segues between them to make essentially a twenty-minute one-woman show called ‘Hear Me Out’. I performed it in October to a sold-out audience of feminists at the Bunker Theatre, and that moment, taking ownership of my identity and my experiences, pretty much defines the sorts of stores I want to tell, both in my writing and my directing. These two distinct parts of myself – spoken word poetry and directing theatre – blended together in ‘Hear Me Out’ and I realised then that there isn’t really any difference between the two. Both tell a story. Both have an audience. There are so many ways to tell stories, and I think everyone wants to tell the stories they’re passionate about. So I would say it’s less about trying to take director roles that allow me to highlight my interests, but rather making my own work with people who share my passions, telling the stories that I’m interested in sharing. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had opportunities to tell the stories I’m passionate about.

What do you have lined up in 2018? Anything else our readers would be interested in?

Nothing that I can announce just yet, but keep your eyes peeled!

Director Kayla FeldmanAbout Kayla Feldman

M.A. Theatre Directing, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, 2016-17
B.A. (Hons) Theatre and Performance (International), University of Leeds, 2012-16

Directing credits include: April, May, and June by Lucy Foster, Old Red Lion Theatre, Hear Me Out - solo show, writer/performer (THe Bunker Theatre), Should've Gone to Lourdes by Stephen Kennedy (Arts Theatre Upstairs, 2017), Lobster by Lucy Foster (world premiere, Karamel Club, 2017), Numbers by Kieron Barry (Mountview Academy, 2017), Backstage to Front (devised piece, Stage@Leeds, 2015), and The Aleph by Eli Keren (Stage@Leeds, 2013).

Assistant directing credits include: Stuck by Scott Mullen, dir. Charlotte Donachie (Seven Dials Club, 2017), All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare, dir. Jonathan Firth (Mountview Academy, 2016), As You Like It by William Shakespeare, dir. Paul Rider and Grand Hotel by Luther Davis, dir. Sally Ann Gritton.

Kayla Feldman website: