Putting Yale drama in a global context

A new exhibition featuring ephemera from the Yale Repertory Theatre and the Yale School of Drama opened on Aug. 27 at the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library.
A new exhibition featuring ephemera from the Yale Repertory Theatre and the Yale School of Drama opened on Aug. 27 at the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library. Photo by Jacob Geiger.

The Yale University Theatre’s play program on May 14, 1942, causally mentions, right at the end, a paragraph titled “Air Raid Instructions,” politely informing audience members to remain in their seats should a siren go off in the middle of the play. This anachronism is what sparked the idea for a collection of similar artifacts titled “Staging History, Making History,” which explores the effects of contemporary global events on the Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre.

Curated by librarian Lindsay King for the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, the exhibition opened on Aug. 27.

The show arose out of the library’s collection of ephemera, said King, and includes pamphlets, tickets and notices printed for the Repertory Theatre and the School of Drama that the library has collected over the years.

Upon going through boxes of papers that the Haas Arts Library inherited from the School of Drama Library when the two were combined, King said she was inspired by the air raid instructions pamphlet to highlight other such finds in the ephemera. The exhibition, organized chronologically, comprises play scripts, dean’s memos and AIDS benefit posters, all with the common theme of showcasing how issues in the outside world influenced theater at Yale.

The 1942 play program including the air raid instructions, for instance, also explains how props were minimized to cut costs during wartime. The Vietnam War, Chernobyl, Watergate and apartheid all influenced a number of plays performed at the Yale Repertory Theatre, the scripts of which are displayed and available to interested students for further perusal. The exhibition also includes a section on the pageant theatre collection of the first chairman of the Department of Drama at Yale, George Pierce Baker. Pageantry plays were based on historical events and with this exhibit, King said she wished to show the interest in history that the Yale School of Drama has always had.

Continuing the theme of global influence in the theater, the first Yale Repertory play of this season, “American Night,” deals with modern-day immigration.

“Staging History, Making History” will remain on view until Dec. 18.

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