The current show at the Yale Cabaret follows two kittens cooking, playing and performing original music on their own hit TV show.
“Cat Club,” which opens tonight and runs through Saturday, features Timothy Brown DRA ’13 — whose stage name is Timothy Hassler — and Paul Lieber DRA ’13 as the two cats, who use the show to examine what is most important in life, Lieber said. The show, which did not have anything resembling an actual script until this week, highlights how the extracurricular Cabaret provides School of Drama students with an outlet for creating theater in a radically different way than they do in the classroom, he added.
The show was developed through a process of improvisation and now resembles a “highly structured outline,” Lieber said.
“We wouldn’t in a million years be allowed to do a show like this [at the School of Drama],” Lieber said.
Lieber explained that the school has a set of rules for how students must produce their curricular shows that would never allow for this sort of experimental approach. The school’s production cycle resembles that of most commercial, regional theaters in the United States, which often feature unionized actors and designers and operate on a four- to six-week schedule, with one show in rehearsal and another in development, said Ethan Heard DRA ’13, the Cabaret’s current artistic director.
Dustin Wills DRA ’14 said that in mimicking this structure, the School of Drama is preparing students for the theater world they will enter upon graduation. It would be a disservice, he added, for the school to grant students the freedom the Cabaret allows.
“At the Cabaret, if you want to work on [a show] for seven months, you have the luxury of doing that,” Wills said. “In the real world, it takes a long time before you can start making those demands.”
Still, some students question whether the “assembly line model” production process adopted by the school and regional theaters is the most conducive to artistic ingenuity. Heard said that many recent graduates are hoping to “change the paradigm” of theater production by starting their own companies to develop shows on a longer timeline.
The freedom provided by the Cabaret also allows students to work outside of their chosen departments. Lieber, who studies projection design at the school, developed and will act in “Cat Club.” Acting student Sheria Irving DRA ’13 said this openness to experimentation makes the Cabaret “a wonderland” for students.
“I can do whatever I want to do and I can be as big and as bold and as terrible and as artsy as I want to be,” Irving said.
Solomon Weisbard DRA ’13 said the Cabaret allows students to take risks without worrying too much about success. If an unusual show at the Cabaret — which earns money through ticket sales and dining room revenue — falls flat, the theater will not go bankrupt, he explained. And each year, the team that manages the Cabaret begins with an even balance sheet even if the previous year’s team had failed to cover its production costs due to a reserve of additional funds. Lieber said that the Cabaret also has a safety net in having a loyal audience that expects new and challenging shows each week.
Jack Tamburri DRA ’13 said the traditional training students receive at the School of Drama is necessary and will provide students with a “drilled and polished technique” that will remain with them whatever “wacky thing” they may choose to do later. He added that the Cabaret completes the training drama students receive, calling the theater’s success a healthy reaction against the School of Drama’s “essential aesthetic conservatism.” Wills said that by providing this release, the Cabaret helps attract potential students to the school.
Lieber said that while the School of Drama trains students to work in their given professions, the Cabaret gives them a place to use those tools to explore their artistic passions.
Such passion fuels the late-night rehearsals that are typical at the Cabaret, since the students who work on the shows can only meet after their curricular rehearsals end — rehearsals usually take place between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Irving said students take a unique level of ownership over their entirely optional Cabaret projects.
“There’s a special energy that explodes late at night,” Heard said. “People give the rest of themselves that they’ve been conserving all day — it all kind of spills out.”
The Yale Cabaret was founded in 1968.