Last week, the Yale Repertory Theatre announced its 2012-’13 season, which features productions with themes ranging from the French aristocracy to American immigration politics. Tied to the School of Drama, the Rep produces six shows each year and has won eight Tony Awards since its establishment in 1966. The News spoke with James Bundy, dean of the School of Drama and artistic director of the Rep, about the its role in the national theater scene and what he hopes next season will bring to theatergoers.
Q What guides the selection process for the Repertory Theatre?
AWe have two primary areas of programming: One is new works and the other is canonical works. We’re weighing subject matter and form and the vision of the artists who are going to be either writing or directing or acting in the work, and we’re weighing the balance of light and dark, of comic and tragic, and we’re weighing modes of theatricality and period. We’re also weighing our production capacity throughout the year. We’re not just producing the six shows at the Rep, we’re also producing six shows at the School of Drama. All of those 12 plays go through our scene and costume shops — the flow has to be regulated.
Q Are your selections informed by concerns about trends in the Rep or the shows from the previous season?
A We wouldn’t produce “Hamlet” in two successive seasons. We would even be unlikely to produce two Shakespearean romances in a row — we’re doing “The Winter’s Tale” this year, so next year’s season will have a comedy or tragedy.
Q What are the highlights of the 2012-’13 season?
A When you program an entire season, you assume that all the shows are highlights. They’re highlighting different elements of what makes theatergoing exciting. The question is about the nature of my excitement. With a play like “American Night,” I’m excited because it’s very funny and about an issue that’s important to literally tens of millions of Americans: immigration. I’m excited about “Marie Antoinette,” because it’s a phenomenally gifted writer coming to terms with one of the most iconic periods in history, and the first ever collaboration between Harvard and Yale — we’re coproducing it with the American Repertory Theater [in Cambridge]. It’ll premiere there, then come here, and we’re sharing the costs of rehearsal and the physical production.
Q That’s a big step. How and why did it come about?
A It’s a very big play, with extraordinary costumes and hair, so it’s the kind of play that really required us to find a co-producing partner.
Q You won the The Acting Company’s Houseman Award last year and have received national media attention for your efforts to promote world premieres and the work of less well established artists. Why have you consistently seen these kinds of productions as part of the ‘right’ mix for the Rep?
A The history of the Repertory Theatre is most distinguished by its commitment to new work. This is a theater that’s produced over a hundred world and American premieres. In every age, the obligation of producers is to the artists who are alive now, which includes living playwrights. Indeed, the field can only thrive if it’s a place where playwrights are regularly being produced, and the ideas of audiences and artists are regularly meeting each other in the theater space. Because the Rep is run by the School of Drama, the nature of the theater’s work is always going to include not only canonical works but also what it means to produce new work today.
Q What role do you think the Rep plays in the national theater scene? It’s not a New York theater, but it’s also a very prominent regional one.
A It’s not a New York theater, but it’s followed by the national press to a meaningful extent. It gives writers a meaningful platform to have their work seen and introduced to a wider audience. A play like “Belleville,” which received significant positive attention here in the fall [of 2011], is [going up next season] at New York Theater Workshop, with the same cast and director. That’s great for the play, great for the playwright and great for the artists involved. We’re able to invest in plays and take risks that other theaters in the country that don’t have the backing of a great university aren’t able to invest in, and so we should be taking artistic risks that are justified by our financial stability.
Q What does that mean for an up-and-coming artist looking to get his or her work produced at the Rep?
A You’d have to ask them what it means! What it means to us is that our goal is to find and advance the voices of artists who we believe have the power to change the theatrical conversation.
Q What do you hope the 2012-’13 season will bring to the Rep, and how will it build on previous seasons, particularly since you started here?
A I guess, for me, it comes down to poetry, that from the very beginning of the theater, playwrights have been thought of as poets. It’s certainly the literary quality of what language can do in the theater, but it’s also other kinds of poetry that are only possible in theater: poetry of space and time and music and big ideas and humanity.
Q Those are the themes that guide you?
A That’s a fundamentally Aristotelian breakdown of what’s possible. My hope is that somebody who comes to all six shows in the season would feel like they’ve seen a remarkable range of human experience revealed in a variety of idioms and that they would have felt that perhaps ideally that they had seen conventional wisdom questioned and had their prejudices disconfirmed. I think there’s a very high correlation between surprises and fun, and one of the oddities of the theater is that we ask people to buy something unexpected — I think that’s the implicit contract of a ticket, that you’ll see something you’ve never seen before, even if you’ve already read the play or seen it a hundred times.