From a record-breaking pool of applications, and many months of reading and reviewing, ASC is pleased to announce the newest addition to its Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Canon: Thrive, or What You Will by L M Feldman, a response to Twelfth Night. The play will be produced as part of ASC’s 2020-21 National Tour and return to Staunton for its Blackfriars Premiere in April 2021.

Learn more about the selection process, the shortlist, and other SNC activities in our press release here. Learn more about the play and the inspiration behind it from the playwright herself by reading on.

Thrive, or What You Will

L M Feldman
Response to Twelfth Night

An epic tale of the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, Thrive, or What You Will is a wry, sometimes raw look at how we carry—or cast off—the burden of our labels. Seen through a feminist lens and told in the vernacular of today, the play follows gender-nonconforming 18th-century herb woman Jeanne Baret on an 11-year voyage across lands and seas and 6,000 plants. Thrive is a funny, gripping, and inventive theatrical journey that sparks a cross-centuries conversation with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night about love, identity, and where they can take us.

When I first encountered Jeanne Baret’s story blurb, I thought it sounded like what I’d been craving: a swashbuckling adventure quest THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, starring an androgynous woman WHO ACTUALLY EXISTED. And it evoked Viola and the shipwreck and the world of sailors and seas and a young woman who finds herself without family, and falling love, and who’s thrust into having to hide her sex and pass herself off as a man in the world in order to survive it. So I started writing it with Twelfth Night in mind, inspired by some of its tropes. There’s even – true to history – that scene on the dock where Jeanne (disguised as Jean, her male persona) and Commerson really do and did play-act a scene of meeting as if for the first time and Jean/ne offering her services to him as his assistant.

But the more I researched, the more I realized how dark and violent and problematic her story was. I realized we only know about her because of the journals of the 4 men who knew her. I realized their accounts contradict each other, each one informed and manufactured by their own agenda. I realized her perspective was lost to history. I realized her gender identity – were she to live today and have options – could, gosh, be anything from woman to man to trans to nonbinary to anything else. I realized I couldn’t possibly know.

So Thrive was written with Twelfth Night as its launching pad – but also, in a way, as the ghost of the story that Thrive isn’t, the ghost of a world that Jeanne’s wasn’t, of an equity and a fulfillment and a happy ending that hers wasn’t. But both plays draw on a similar performative style, a buoyancy, a comedy, and tropes around love and gender and seafaring and “cross-dressing.” But where Twelfth Night stops, Thrive hopefully continues, subverts, and interrogates in terms of gender, feminism, misogyny, transmisogyny, queerness, sexuality, identity, mis-gendering, mis-categorizing, and what the very real historical costs of these are. Also in terms of agency – how much control one has (based inescapably on one’s gender, race, class, etc.) over HOW AND WHETHER one can thrive in the world – as if “What you will” were in your control.

The play’s about other stuff too. Important other stuff, timely other stuff. So though it’s not an adaptation of Twelfth Night, it’s dancing with it. It’s vaulting from it.

L M Feldman is a queer, feminist playwright who writes theatrically adventurous, physically kinetic, ensemble-driven plays that are both epic and intimate – usually about outsiders, often about searchers, always about the human connection. Her plays include THRIVE, OR WHAT YOU WILL (Page 73 & New Georges Residencies, InterAct Core Playwrights); ANOTHER KIND OF SILENCE (Colorado New Play Summit, FEWW Prize Honorable Mention, Magic Theatre Virgin Play Festival, PlayPenn & Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, Playwrights Realm Fellowship); AMANUENSIS, OR THE MILTONS (Emerson Stage, Georgetown University, Northwoods Ramah Theatre commission); THE EGG-LAYERS (Jane Chambers Honorable Mention, New Georges/Barnard College co-commission); GRACE, OR THE ART OF CLIMBING (Denver Center, Brown Paper Box Co., Art House Productions, Nice People Theatre, ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award Nomination, Barrymore Nomination); and A PEOPLE (Orbiter 3, YiddishFest, Jewish Plays Project); as well as a half-dozen devised works and a baker’s dozen of short plays. She has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwright Award, the New York Innovative Theatre Award, and the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award. She’s a recent MacDowell Colony fellow and InterAct Theatre Core Playwright. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama and the New England Center for Circus Arts, L is also a performer & dramaturg of contemporary circus. She has performed at festivals around the world, and she’s an artistic coach for circus artists around the country. She loves theater that moves, and circus that tells stories. L has lived in seven cities and is now based in Philadelphia, where she teaches and is writing two very different new plays: commissions from EST/Sloan (a play about the Mercury 13) and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte (a theatrical adaptation of Margarita Engle’s verse novel Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba for ages 8+). //