I first met David Feldman at a play workshop hosted by Syracuse Contemporary Theatre (SCT). As head of SCT’s new plays reading program, David sat at the workshop listening to the plays and making helpful comments. When the workshop concluded, I spoke with David, and he encouraged me to submit a work. A one-act play of mine was read by SCT a few months later, and I joined the playwrights’ unit.
David at the time was a professor of journalism at Onondaga Community College (OCC). He’d done his undergraduate work at SUNY Albany, and from that he later held a strong interest in William Kennedy’s Albany novels. He went on get a Master’s in English from Syracuse University, and an M.F.A. in playwriting from Brandeis.
At Brandeis, he’d been taught by two famous playwrights: N. Richard Nash, author of The Rainmaker, and William Gibson, who wrote Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker. David had a knack for friendship, and he remained friends with Gibson until the latter’s death a decade ago. Once or twice a year he’d visit Gibson at his house in western Massachusetts.
Over the twenty-plus years of our friendship, David and I had countless talks about theatre. Our tastes differed. Mine moved in the direction of musical theatre. David was a huge fan of Beckett and other experimental dramatists. He spoke often of seeing plays by Albee and Genet in New York.
David was a successful dramatist in his own right. He plays were done on both coasts. Among his producers were Armory Square Playhouse, Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre and off-off-Broadway companies.
But David worked for the good of others. He was a pioneer. At OCC he started not merely the journalism program, but also the student newspaper, The Overview. In 1985 he commenced SCT’s new plays reading program.
When SCT abandoned the program, David, with me and about two other writers, continued it under the name of Armory Square Playhouse. Providing readings to this day, it is probably the longest continuously running new plays program in the U.S.
In 2008, after a vigorous twenty-three years, David stepped down as head of the program. A few years ago he moved to Pennsylvania, and started a play reading program there. We kept in touch by phone, and I’d still see him once a year.
Last fall, he was unable to visit Syracuse. Around that time, he caught Jacob Cruetzfeldt Disease, a rare and swift-acting neuro-degenerative disorder. He died last November, but he’d been active to his last weeks. One of the last times I spoke with him, he told me he was writing a new play.
As a species, we writers are an egocentric lot. When one playwright works industriously to help others, enabling them to get their works heard and often produced, it is worth celebrating.
He will be missed.