The Yale Summer Cabaret is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary by paying homage to the Cabaret’s past and looking forward to its future.
From June to August, the Summer Cabaret will stage 10 plays — six of which will be performed as part of a festival of short plays written by Yale School of Drama alumni and graduating YSD playwrights. Jessica Holt DRA ’15 and Luke Harlan DRA ’16, the YSC artistic directors who will direct all the plays, said they consider this season’s shows a celebration of the YSC’s 40th anniversary, noting that the program will include a wide variety of works by both well-established and emerging playwrights.
“A big part of our mission is to take a look back at the last 40 years to find out where we came from, but also to look ahead to the next 40 years,” Harlan said.
Holt said that while all of the featured playwrights are still active today, some entered the professional theater scene earlier than others. She explained that one play, titled “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them,” was written by Christopher Durang DRA ’74, who participated in the first ever YSC season when he was a student at the Yale School of Drama. Holt added that YSC will also feature playwrights whose names may not be as recognizable to the general public, such as Erin Courtney and Jackie Sibblies Drury. Organizers are hoping to make audiences want to learn more about these playwrights’ work, she said.
Holt said the upcoming season’s plays were chosen around a central theme: the “American experience.” She explained that all the plays explore American identity in the modern age as well as the relationships between people of different backgrounds and lifestyles. Drury’s play, “We are Proud to Present…” centers on a group of actors who try to write a play about the 20th century Namibian Genocide but gradually realize that they are actually portraying racial violence of the kind that has taken place in the United States, Holt noted.
“You would think that this [play] is about another country, but then you realize that this is actually about us and how the politics of racial violence are still embedded in our current society,” Holt said.
Three of the plays this season were written in the last two years, and one — “A Map of Virtue” by Erin Courtney — is having its New England premiere with the YSC. Harlan and Holt said that staging recent work is not uncharted territory for them because they had extensive experience with newly written plays before enrolling in the School of Drama. He noted that during the years he spent working in the New York theater scene, all of the shows he directed were world premieres. Holt, who had been based in San Francisco prior to enrolling at YSD, added that she also worked almost exclusively with new theater before coming to Yale.
Harlan emphasized that from an artistic perspective, the YSC is completely independent of the Yale Cabaret, whose season runs during the academic year. He said that being an artistic director and a play director in the YSC is extremely different from directing a term-time Cabaret show because the directors of individual productions during the term-time do not decide the structure of the season as a whole or the types of plays featured in it. Gretchen Wright DRA ’16, the YSC’s managing director, highlighted several logistical differences between the term-time and summer cabarets. She explained that while both programs are housed in the same building, the YSC’s budget must include salaries for participating cast and creative team members while no such wages exist for students who work on term-time Cabaret shows. Wright added that though half of the term-time Cabaret’s expenses are subsidized by the University, the YSC must cover all expenses through ticket sales, restaurant sales and donations.
The first show of the upcoming season, “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them,” opens on Jun. 5.