Cabaret begins 40th anniversary season

While most drama groups on campus are lucky to get four or five shows off each year, the Yale Cabaret has regularly produced a staggering number of productions — for 40 years running.

The Yale Cabaret is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, focusing on themes of “irreverence, relevance and rebellion” for this season’s shows. The Cabaret — a student-run basement theater located at 217 Park Street — features new productions almost every week and began rehearsals last week for four of the 20 shows that will debut this season. The Cabaret will start the year with two kick-off events to celebrate the anniversary — an “Evening of Cabaret” on September 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. and a “Festival of New Work,” which will run from September 26 through September 29.

Students perform in “In the Cypher: A Poetry Slam” in March 2007 at the Yale Cabaret, which is currently celebrating 40 years of theater.
Blair Benham-Pyle
Students perform in “In the Cypher: A Poetry Slam” in March 2007 at the Yale Cabaret, which is currently celebrating 40 years of theater.

The season’s managing director, Jacob Padron DRA ’08, who is studying theater management, said the theater’s longevity is in part due to the fact that students are able to put on productions without much oversight from faculty. The leaders of the theater change every year, so the artistry may not be consistent, but the theater’s purpose will always be the same, he said.

“While the artistic vision may change from year to year, the mission does not: Yale Cabaret will always be the playground for the graduate students of the Drama School,” Padron said.

Rebecca Phillips DRA ’09, who translated and adapted “An Evening at the Grand Guignol,” an upcoming Cabaret production, said the Cabaret is the only place at the School of Drama where students are able to participate in aspects of theater outside their primary area of study. Many students have wide-ranging backgrounds in theater, but when they enter the graduate program, they must choose a single field — such as acting, directing or dramaturgy — on which to concentrate.

Barret O’Brien DRA ’09, an acting student, will see the East Coast premiere of a show he has written and is directing, “Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood,” at the Cabaret this fall. The experience directing and writing for the Cabaret will enhance his career as an actor, O’Brien said.

“Acting is not an insular art,” he said. “Unlike medicine or law, where specialization might place you at the top of your field, the actors I admire are the ones who grow outward. Though my specialization at YSD is acting, the Cabaret gives me a venue to continue cultivating these other aspects of my career.”

O’Brien also said he hopes getting experience in areas other than acting will add longevity to his career, so that he doesn’t “end up 75 and stuck in a WB sitcom.”

Elizabeth Diamond, an adjunct professor of directing at the Drama School, said she has seen the Cabaret allow students to try new aspects of theater while at the school, whether by working outside their concentration or by experimenting with a variety of theatrical genres, such as farce or expressionist drama.

The Cabaret’s co-artistic director, directing student Erik Pearson DRA ’09, said the Cabaret has changed his views of artistic collaboration and the relationship between the artist and the audience.

Rebecca Wolff DRA ’09, a directing student who is the other artistic director of the Cabaret, said her work with Pearson has expanded her own theatrical horizons. While Pearson is more interested in classical works with an interesting twist, she is more likely to support new works.

But the hectic nature of work on the Cabaret can cut into students’ time for class work. Cabaret shows are typically produced on a very short timeline, with the first performance coming after just two weeks of intensive rehearsals, a much shorter timeframe than most other shows on campus.

Diamond said many students “hit a wall” in the middle of the semester when they are in rehearsals or class until 3 a.m. most nights. But that experience provides an education in time management that will be helpful once students embark on professional careers, she said.

“Our Blue Book doesn’t require any of us to sleep, and since professional theatre artists must keep several projects going at once, learning to manage the challenge while in grad school is not a bad thing,” she said.

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