Bundy fits Drama’s unique dual role

In newly-appointed Drama School Dean and Yale Repertory Theater Director James Bundy DRA ’95, many classmates and other observers said the University finally has found — in one of its own — the combination of artistic creativity and political skills crucial to success in the unique dual-role post.

But the long and difficult search process has betrayed the paradoxical nature of Bundy’s new position: American theater directors rely heavily on the Yale School of Drama for its talent and uniformly believe it should have strong leadership, yet the fund-raising and administrative responsibilities unique to the position made it quite difficult for Yale to fill the vacancy.

Over the course of the 18-month search process, several candidates turned down offers from the University.

Bundy, who will assume the position for a five-year term beginning this summer, is currently artistic director of the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland.

Christopher Arnott, a longtime New Haven theater critic and reviewer for the New Haven Advocate, said the Yale post is often respected from afar but not desired.

“[The] job is considered especially tricky because besides being an artistic director, you have to assume a lot of administrative and academic duties that many theater leaders simply don’t want,” Arnott said in an e-mail. “Yale’s an important place, but they were basically going to accomplished directors and artistic directors and saying, ‘You can do exactly what you have been doing, only under more scrutiny, and the shows will have shorter runs than most regional theaters enjoy, plus you have to run a graduate program.'”

Several of Bundy’s classmates said he has the new perspective necessary to revitalize the school — which has seen fewer applicants to its prestigious acting program — and the Yale Rep, which is faced with dwindling ticket subscriptions.

John Bland DRA ’95, a classmate who is currently acting in San Diego, said Bundy rose to the top of his directing classes at Yale and interacted “amazingly well” with actors and administrators when production time came.

“He was really masterful with dealing with people,” said Bland, who acted under Bundy’s direction in a production of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.”

“I hesitate to use the word politician, but he is a great politician. James gets actors what to do what he wants with very little direction. At Yale, he got us to do what he wanted in three words or less almost every time.”

Elizabeth Cohen DRA ’95, now a freelance dramaturge in New York, said Bundy’s success in revitalizing the Great Lakes Theater Festival’s attendance numbers should help him in doing the same at the Yale Rep.

“I think he’s going to be able to marry the Drama School and the Rep in a way that will be beneficial to both of them,” she said. “He’s so well fitted because his skills range from the pedagogical to the artistic and directorial. What the job requires is someone who can do both ends of the candle: administrate and direct.”

But the very combination of skills so necessary to success in the job is what makes many in the theater world hesitant about the Yale position.

Bard College theater professor Joanne Akalaitis, who said Yale approached her about the job, said she did not seriously pursue it because she preferred her current position teaching undergraduates in a small-college setting.

But she speculated that a general lack of suitable candidates and apprehension about the position’s unique responsibilities may have hindered Yale’s recruitment efforts.

“Maybe we’re in an era of theater where there may not be a lot of leadership at the top,” she said. “And then fund raising puts a tremendous burden on a creative person.”

Akalaitis made it clear that as a potential candidate, she did not see anything wrong with the way Yale actually conducted its search.

“I felt I was absolutely properly approached,” she said.

Matthew Frey DRA ’96, a lighting designer who worked with Bundy at Yale and then subsequently in Cleveland, said he was ecstatic about the appointment.

“There were a couple of us who suggested his name early on,” he said. “There were some other great people Yale considered, but James definitely had what it takes. I can’t imagine anyone saying anything bad about him.”

Frey said Bundy landed the job at Great Lakes in part because he was the only candidate for that position who studied the theater’s then-weak finances before his interview.

“It’s hard to make a buck and do experimental stuff at the same time,” Frey said. “The other applicants were strong artistically, but James had both skills. I never see [administrative ability and artistic ability] present together. It’s usually one or the other, but not both.”

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