Sweet homecoming for juggler-clown with unusual one-woman show

No one can accuse Sara Felder of being boring.

She’s a juggler, a playwright and a clown. In one scene from her new one-woman theater piece “Sightings,” the Philadelphia-based Jewish performer dresses up in a 4-foot vagina costume; in another, she lip-synchs the Barry Sisters’ Yiddish version of “My Way.”

“Sightings” makes its Bay Area premiere as part of a series called “Situation Abnormal: Performances You’ll Never See on Broadway” at San Francisco’s Exploratorium on Thursday, Jan. 27.

This is a homecoming for Felder, who lived in San Francisco for 20 years before moving to Philly. But she takes exception to the idea that her show wouldn’t fly on Broadway.

“Broadway audiences can be very receptive to so-called alternative work,” she says. “People are intelligent and they go to the theater to be provoked.”

Which has been Felder’s m.o. all along.

She describes “Sightings” as a collection of “mostly new work that has to do with the art of seeing. The evening is framed by the story of my mother, who lost her eyesight, surrounded by my struggle to see or understand the world.”

The play also introduces a measure of topical Jewish politics, a touchy subject for a proud Jew and Israel-lover like Felder.

“I grew up with this idea that you couldn’t speak negatively about Israel in public,” she says. “But I have questions and concerns, as do many American Jews. One thing I love about Judaism is this virtue of questioning, and I didn’t understand why I was encouraged to question everything else but Israel.”

To make her point about how Jews generally avoid airing their dirty laundry in public, Felder will attempt to juggle a handful of outsized clothespins in “Sightings” (drum roll, please).

Beyond this show, Felder has consistently woven her Jewish background into her work. She’s an accomplished klezmer clarinetist, and a few summers ago she enrolled in Columbia University’s Yiddish immersion program. Among the positive results of this: her performance of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky in a Yiddish translation.

Felder’s resume includes a long stint as a member of San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus, as well as gigs at Yiddish festivals in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.

As a solo theater artist, she drew attention with “June Bride,” her play about a traditional Jewish lesbian wedding staged by Traveling Jewish Theater, and “The Lady Upstairs,” which told the story of the first atomic bomb. She toured the country with her solo piece, “Shtik!” about a turn-of-the-century vaudevillian.

She even taught juggling to inmates at San Quentin.

But Felder’s moorings to the Bay Area came loose when she moved to Philadelphia with her partner, who is now in the middle of her quest to become a Reconstructionist rabbi. After ordination four years from now, the couple is not sure where they’ll go next.

But that doesn’t seem to worry Felder too much, accustomed as she is to the actor’s life on the road.

She comes back to the Bay Area as often as possible and is currently working on a play commissioned by the Brava Theater, entitled “Keeping Up With the Joans.”

And while she may play diva on stage, off stage she’s part of a happy family with her partner and 5-year-old son. Besides playing to audiences across the country with her stage work, Felder gets all the appreciation she really needs right at home.

“I’m a big hit at preschool,” she says.

“Sightings” plays 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Exploratorium’s McBean Theater, 3601 Lyon Street, S.F. Tickets: $12, includes Exploratorium admission. Information: (415) 561-0308.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.