YSD Collaborators seek to bridge Yale theater community

The new YSD Collaborators program seeks to strengthen the relationship between School of Drama students and the undergraduate drama community through mentoring, social events and theatrical collaboration.
The new YSD Collaborators program seeks to strengthen the relationship between School of Drama students and the undergraduate drama community through mentoring, social events and theatrical collaboration. Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

For the first time in five years, undergraduate theater students this semester will have the chance to seek formal mentorship from their counterparts at the School of Drama.

The YSD Collaborators program, which was jointly organized earlier this year by Eric Sirakian ’15 and Ryan Davis DRA ’14, kicked off with an ice cream social at the end of last semester. Davis and Sirakian — who is now serving as Yale Drama Coalition liaison to the School of Drama ­— said they hope the program will foster mentorship and collaboration between the School of Drama and the undergraduate drama community.

“A lot of Drama School students have told me, ‘We don’t even feel like we go to Yale.’ This is an opportunity [for School of Drama students] to branch out and feel they are part of the larger community, to offer advice and ideas,” Sirakian told the News in April. “We inhabit the same space, we use the same theaters, we often see each other’s work, and still we feel kind of disconnected.”

The program will pair together School of Drama and Yale College students based on common interests and will encourage them to meet up and learn about one another’s projects throughout the year, in addition to hosting gatherings and celebrations, Sirakian said. Davis said that when he first arrived at the School of Drama in 2008, a “very slipshod” incarnation of a similar program existed but quickly petered out. He added that leadership on the Drama School side was lacking at the time, so the program did not have much visibility among graduate students.

Adela Jaffe ’13, who served as the Yale Drama Coalition liaison to the School of Drama before Sirakian, said that in her last semester at Yale, she and Davis began developing the idea for a mentorship program that would focus more on getting students involved in one another’s productions rather than simply meeting in a social context.

“We wanted something with a little more form than what had been done in the past, where both [undergraduates and drama students] would be making a commitment to each other’s work,” Jaffe said. “I think seeing [School of Drama students’] work is very inspiring. They’re still students, so they’re not as far removed as professionals. Seeing shows [at the Drama School] really encouraged me to think big in my own productions.”

Shannon Gaughf DRA ’15, who signed up to be a mentor, said the two schools’ separate and busy schedules mean she does not normally have much interaction with the undergraduate theater community. Jaffe said that scheduling difficulties, rather than lack of interest, have been responsible for stalling efforts to integrate the two communities in the past.

Davis said about 32 students are already signed up for the program, and more interested students are trickling in. He explained that since the undergraduate theater curriculum focuses on the theoretical side of the discipline, he hopes the Drama School mentors will be able to offer practical advice on anything from lighting techniques to theater-specific resume building. Freddie Ramos ’15, who was matched with another playwright, said he looks forward to the opportunity to work with someone closer to beginning their career.

“The person I’m going to be working with is maybe 10 years older than me, so she has a little bit of a better understanding of where I’m coming from and where I’m going to,” Ramos said. “When you have professors who have been in the field for years and years … that gives me something to aspire to, but I also want to know where I’m at now, and [what that looks] like for me.”

Ethan Heard ’06 DRA ’13 said that while he had attended mixers between the two schools in the past, he feels he has only forged relationships with undergraduates after working with them on his own shows. Heard’s thesis project — “Sunday in the Park with George” — was one of few School of Drama shows to include undergraduate students in its cast and was assistant directed by Sirakian.

“It’s been an ongoing effort and ambition to integrate the schools,” Heard said. “I think these kind of social gatherings haven’t really led to mentoring … but I feel like [Sirakian] and I will have a relationship that will last for a long time because he’s been involved with two of my shows.”

Davis said he hopes the program might eventually involve a more active component, such as a planned theatrical collaboration.

“This is sort of a trial run, and hopefully it will be something that lasts after I go and after [Sirakian] graduates,” Davis said. “Hopefully it’s something that … becomes kind of expected.”

The Yale Drama Coalition was founded in 1999.

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