Student productions vie for space

No caption.
No caption. Photo by Alison Greenberg.

Ari Berkowitz ’12 planned to stage her production of “Twilight: A Britney Spears Musical” at the Off Broadway Theater — the largest undergraduate performance venue and the only one with a professional quality dance floor. But when her application for the space was rejected, Berkowitz, like hundreds of other students each semester, had to scramble for one of the smaller residential college performance spaces. She put on twice the number of performance to accommodate audience demand.

“Yale has a very strong theater community, but there just aren’t enough spaces to support it,” Berkowitz said.

Today is the deadline for applications to stage performances at the OBT for the spring semester, and the process has left student producers and directors worried about securing one of the limited number of performance spaces on campus, 10 students interviewed said. The current system requires students to submit separate applications for each space. Though students said a centralized application process would save time and effort, Jonathan Holloway, chair of the Council of Masters and master of Calhoun College, said this is not a feasible solution because colleges want to retain control over their respective facilities.

The OBT will book about half of the 25 to 30 applicants seeking its highly equipped space, said James Brewczynski, supervisor of undergraduate productions and special events. The rejected shows, along with shows whose producers prefer smaller venues over the OBT, must then approach residential colleges individually for their spaces.

“We’re always trying to find the space to fit these projects,” Brewczynski said. “But someone inevitably ends up scrambling.”

Alexis Del Vecchio ’11, producer of the musical “And Nothing But The Truth,” which is slated to premiere Feb. 11, has applied to use the OBT, but if his proposal is not accepted, he said he will be forced find a smaller and less equipped theater in a short amount of time.

“I won’t find out about the space until two weeks before the show goes up,” Del Vecchio said. “It’s always a guessing game.”

With 100 to 110 undergraduate productions vying each year for just 15 venues, Yale’s student directors and producers must hope to make the best case for their shows to space managers and then be prepared to adapt to the stage they ultimately secure, Brewczynski said.

Though students interviewed said a common application for residential college performance spaces might be beneficial, they added that college theaters are under masters’ control and are generally only available to students in those colleges.

Berkowitz, for example, said she managed to secure the Davenport College auditorium largely due to the involvement of her stage manager, who was in the college and applied on her behalf to stage the production there.

Though there are merits to a centralized application, each college prefers to give priority to its own students, said Kate Berman ’11, stage manager for the Calhoun Cabaret.

“A centralized system would benefit the whole community,” Berman said. “But it’s more important to me that when a Calhoun student wants to put up an event, I can do everything possible to support them.”

Yale Drama Coalition co-president David Eisenman ’11 added that residential colleges like to retain autonomy and would therefore be reluctant to participate in a common application process.

“These spaces are semi-private,” Eisenman said. “[Associate Dean for the Arts Susan] Cahan once told me in a meeting that they are like a living room in someone’s home. But I still voiced discontent to her with the fact that the college a student’s in could be a disadvantage in theater at Yale.”

Eisenman and his co-president, Oren Stevens ’11, approached Cahan with the idea for a new system last summer because of their dissatisfaction with the current decentralized space-booking process. Their proposal — an online master calendar of all bookings at undergraduate performance spaces — would ease some of the scheduling woes of student directors, producers and space managers, the co-presidents said.

Cahan said in an e-mail that she plans to explore their proposal, but that implementing the interface is “not a done deal.”

“The calendar format will certainly be helpful,” said Allison Collins ’11, the manager of Trumbull’s Nicholas Chapel, who has directing experience. “But it’s certainly not the end of the issue.”

The Off Broadway Student Selection Committee, which screens applications for the semester, will meet at 4:30 p.m. today.

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