No-judgment theater

“I wasn’t just down there to help drug addicts,” player one said. “I was there to spread the word of God.”

And the scene begins.

Drama enthusiasts gather biweekly in the York Street Ballroom as part of the Theater of Desire, a group that seeks to provide a venue for artistic creativity and freedom.
Charlie Croom
Drama enthusiasts gather biweekly in the York Street Ballroom as part of the Theater of Desire, a group that seeks to provide a venue for artistic creativity and freedom.

Beneath the theater lights in the middle of a makeshift stage, five volunteer performers sit on chairs and peer over shared scripts. They take on roles no one had rehearsed, playing characters without any preparation.

Yet the scenes flow. The audience roars. They finish and then some players rejoin the crowd while others stay to tackle new roles in new groups with new scripts.

It is called Theater of Desire — a biweekly gathering for those who wish to perform in or watch a show — held in the York Street Ballroom. Founded four years ago by associate professor of theater studies, Deborah Margolin, the event has carved out a niche role for undergraduates, drama students and even professors looking for an alternative performance space within Yale’s theater scene.

“This is a judgementless space,” Margolin said. “That is one of the things that makes it so attractive to the people who come — there is not a critic in the room.”

In an e-mail sent to attract prospective performers, Theater of Desire is described as a “wild, fantastic, liberating, exciting and fascinating rumpus-style theater making session” to which all are invited to come with their scenes and urges, their brilliance and failures.

At Theater of Desire, there are no particular rules, no set directors, no unnecessary formalities. Oftentimes, the scripts performed had not previously been read and their writers simply offered vague directions such as “your character is sarcastic” or “just do your best.”

“There always have been people coming to Theater of Desire and sharing work,” said the program’s student organizer Lea Franqui ’09 who has been attending since freshman year. “There’s been music; there’s been dancing; there’s been all sorts of work.”

Amidst the hubbub of activity in Yale’s theater scene, Theater of Desire provides a space for pure performance, whether it be to stand on a chair and change a light bulb, lie on a table like a mermaid, or play a slimy, silver-tongued politician.

“I am mostly an actor here and have very few opportunities to just perform,” said Matthew McCollum ’11, who attended Theater of Desire for his first time last night. “At Yale, even though there’s all this money to put on shows, it’s hard to find a space to just get together with friends and perform.”

Still, at last night’s event he was able to do just that. Towards the end of the evening, he stood up and sang a song he composed two years ago called “Chasing Shadows.”

Margolin said students in her playwriting classes frequently come to have their work read and to see it performed.

When Margolin originally founded Theater of Desire, she said she drew on her experiences in the Split Britches Theater Company — a three-woman feminist theater group that she helped found in 1981, which was named after the undergarments women workers wore in the fields so they could pee standing up. She said she founded Theater of Desire because she felt there needed to be something within the Yale that moved away from theater in the conventional sense.

Just as Split Britches was a manifestation of material its founders had a longing to pursue — as Margolin put it “what we could not die without doing” — so is Theater of Desire now a one-of-a-kind venue for Yalies to perform otherwise unexplored material.

“Theater of Desire is not about what you say but your passionate desire to say it,” she said. “It is that passion that gives dimension to what the audience sees — you see not just that character but the actor’s passionate desire to play that character.”

The Theater of Desire has no rigid structure, and Margolin said she expects the performances to reflect the times and always evolve. Recently, there has been a inclination to be more serious she said, which she attributed to the serious nature of the current political dialogue.

The next Theater of Desire will take place on Monday April 6.

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