As asked "How to take a portrait with dramatic bokeh circles when the subject is close to the lights?" the answer is: be even closer.
Basically decide how large you want your bokeh circles to be. Draw one around one of the pertinent lights in the 3D scene. Now from this circle you put a cone with its tip in your focused object and opening up again towards your camera. The diameter to which it has opened up again when reaching your camera is your "entrance pupil", focal length divided by aperture. Or effective focal length divided by aperture and crop factor.
Looking at your example image, I see about 20cm of bokeh circle. You used 50mm/1.8 = 28mm of entrance pupil. The distance between lights and portrait was 3 to 5 ft, and to get from 28mm pupil to 20cm bokeh circle, you'll need to be about 7 times closer to the subject than the subject is to the lights. So try for a subject distance below 1 foot.
I might be overestimating the bokeh diameter, but you see the principal problem: you need to get as close as feasible.
Now the funny thing is that you can do better with a longer focal length. While you need exactly the same aperture number for getting the same bokeh diameter in the scene when getting the subject at equal size in the frame, being at a larger distance means that the lights (and thus their bokeh circles) don't shrink as much due to perspective in comparison with the subject as they would on the short focal length.
It's just that, well, with a 50mm/1.8 lens you'll be hard put to find a lens with longer focal length that will retain aperture number.
So the only realistic option is to rearrange the scene. Put some more significant distance between lights and subject.
Or, well, mess with the blur in post-processing.
Or get a large format camera where you can achieve that kind of subject framing at a longer focal length.