A tempestuous new direction for Control Group

Control Group, the experimental theater group shown above performing on Old Campus, tackled Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ in a new show.
Control Group, the experimental theater group shown above performing on Old Campus, tackled Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ in a new show. Photo by Christopher Peak.

Attics, off-campus houses and Old Campus yurts have been past haunts of Control Group, Yale’s only undergraduate experimental theater company. But come Saturday, they will break with their penchant for obscure venues, putting up a new production in one of the most public settings on campus.

In a turn for the traditional, the group will present “The Tempest,” their only show this semester and a Shakespeare at Yale production, this Saturday and Sunday on the street in front of Payne Whitney Gymnasium. The group has adapted the text, shortening the show to only 45 minutes and incorporating extensive sound effects and musical elements, said Alex Kramer ’13, one of the group’s co-directors for the semester.

Putting up a Shakespeare production has been a challenge for the group, said co-director Charlotte McCurdy ’13. In using a set text and tackling a larger production than usual, she said, Control Group leaves its comfort zone.

But choosing to stage a classic text does not mean that Control Group is moving away from its experimental dynamic, member Charlie Polinger ’13 said.

“‘Tempest’ is honestly like any other [Control Group production],” he said. “It’s a very famous text we’re using … but we’re still making it our own, taking the pieces we want to explore and devising our own product.”

McCurdy said that the group, which makes decisions based on consensus and the interests of its current membership, wanted to do a show in a big space such as Payne Whitney because members felt that they needed to get out of their “habit” of only performing in small, intimate spaces.

“We know we can [create] beautiful visions and write text in a certain way,” Kramer said. “But when we suddenly have to work from a text, that’s when things get interesting.”

The Shakespeare at Yale festival this semester led Control Group members to consider adapting a Shakespeare text as a challenge they could grow from, added member Josh Evans ’12. Beginning with Shakespeare’s original text, the group began to add in experimental elements such as original music created by Nathan Prillaman ’13, sounds McCurdy described as “wrenching and unsettling.” With the University gymnasium as their backdrop, McCurdy said the group hopes to convey a sense of the synthetic refuge Prospero creates for himself and his daughter on an island.

McCurdy said the group’s approach to productions makes it very different from most Yale theatrical productions.

“It’s very process-based,” she explained, adding that members train twice a week throughout the semester. “We build a shared vocabulary and style because we work together continuously.”

Zach Bell ’14, the group’s producer, added that Control Group’s long-term view enables the development of strong working relationships. Although most shows are planned in a one to two-month time period, he said, the thematic foundations of Control Group shows are built over a period of years as group members practice with and bounce ideas off each other. The group began developing “The Tempest” early this semester, but McCurdy said it incorporates ideas from rehearsals as far back as a year ago.

Kramer said he is particularly excited that a larger-scale show allows for a larger audience than most Control Group productions do. Increased exposure may draw a greater range of audience members, McCurdy said. While the group is often viewed as “experimental theater with a capital ‘E,’ ” McCurdy said that the current membership is not interested in cliches such as audience confrontation or excessive brutality and grotesqueness.

“It’s absurd to think of experimental theater as ‘crazy,’ ” said Kramer. “In the theater community, experimental is the norm.”

The show will run Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2 and 3:30 p.m.

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