New Morse theater to help alleviate stage crunch

The Crescent Underground Theater is one of the new features of the renovated basement shared by Morse and Stiles.
The Crescent Underground Theater is one of the new features of the renovated basement shared by Morse and Stiles. Photo by David Demres.

While Morsels and Stilesians explore the practice rooms and gym of their refurbished basement, undergraduate theater and dance communities are vying for access to another part of Yale’s most recently renovated college: the Crescent Underground Theater.

Named after the shape of the courtyard above, the new theater in the Morsebasementboasts flexible seating, a shock-absorbing floor and sight lines that allow audience members to see even the feet of performers.

The opening of the Crescent will helprelieve the performance space crunch on campus, especially since the design process of a theater complex next to the new residential colleges remains on hold indefinitely. University President Richard Levin said while a complex on the corner of Sachem and Prospect streetsis still part of the University’s plan for the area, the architects have yet to begin developing the project.

The decision to include a theater in the renovation plans for Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges was geared to accommodate the large number of performances that take place each year, Dean for the Arts Susan Cahan said. About 200 different productions took place at Yale last year alone, Cahan said.

Students interviewed last year complained that the process to acquire a performance space is both tedious and competitive, and directors said they often had to adapt their vision to the space they could secure.

The needs of the students in the colleges were taken into consideration, as were recommendations from the Yale College Dean’s office andProvost’s office, Stiles Master Stephen Pitti said.

The Crescent has a built-in seating capacity of 114, including both non-movable seats and risers that can be put in place or taken out. Several folding chairs have also been purchased to increase audience size, though the addition of extra chairs decreases the size of the stage, creating a trade-off between audience size and stage space.

The fire marshal has yet to determine the total capacity of the theater, Pitti said.

The combination of movable and non-movable seating gives students the opportunity to experiment with different staging methods, Cahan explained. The seats can easily be changed from proscenium staging — in which the audience directly faces the stage — to theater-in-the-round or thrust staging, where the audience surrounds the stage on three sides.

This flexibility stems, in part, from the fact that the theater was built to be precisely that — a theater.

“Most of the college spaces were originally squash courts,” David Eisenman ’11, co-president of the Yale Drama Coalition, said. “They’re too long and narrow for productions with larger casts or dancing.”

Eisenman added that many students have already expressed interest in using the Crescentfor productions this year.

The demand for more space comes not just from Yale’s theater community, but also from students interested in dance. Before the addition of the Crescent, the only option for dance performances was the Off Broadway Theater, said Leah Itagaki ’11, the executive director of the Alliance for Dance at Yale. The OBT was the only theater open to undergraduate productions with a sprung floor — a type of floor that absorbs shock and gives it a softer feel.

“You can’t dance on non-sprung floors because there’s an injury risk,” Itagaki said, adding that high-impact dancing is a liability on unsprung floors.

But while the Crescent is equipped with a sprung floor, Itagaki said she is not sure whether the stage will be large enough to accommodate dance performances. Rather, she said, the space will free up the OBT for dance groups.

“Plays are more likely to go up in Morse and Stiles,” she said. “I hope that this will decrease the competition for time slots in the OBT.”

Stiles Master Pitti and Morse Master Frank Keil e-mailed students in the colleges Sunday, announcing that they will be accepting applications from students who want to use the space.Preference will be given to students in Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges, but all undergraduates will have access to the theater.

“We’re still finalizing some small details, but everything will be done in the next few days,” Pitti said. “We feel we’re really ahead of schedule.”

Correction: Sept. 7, 2010

An earlier version of this article misquoted Leah Itagaki ’11, the executive director of the Alliance for Dance at Yale, saying high-impact floors are a liability for dancers. Itagaki actually said high-impact dancing is a liability on unsprung floors.

Comments

  • lhi3

    I was misquoted in this article. To say that “high impact floors are a liability” makes no sense. High impact **dancing** on unsprung floors is what is a liability.

    Thank you,

    Leah Itagaki

    Executive Director of the Alliance for Dance at Yale