During its 2013-14 season, the Yale Cabaret was led by co-artistic directors Whitney Dibo DRA ’14, Kelly Kerwin DRA ’15 and Lauren Dubowski DRA ’14, as well as Managing Director Shane Hudson DRA ’14. Under their leadership, the Cabaret produced 18 shows that explored themes ranging from apartheid-era racism to oppression in a post-apocalyptic world. Kerwin sat down with the News to discuss her experience with the Cabaret — and the venue’s future.
Q. When you first assumed your position as a co-artistic director for the Yale Cabaret along with Lauren and Whitney, what was your vision for the season?
A. From the onset, when we wrote our proposal, we were interested in works that could only happen at the Cabaret. That could be a variety of different projects, but our slogan was “Here, Now” and we asked all production teams who proposed shows to us to describe why their project fit the slogan. For example, we wanted to see people working outside of their discipline, like we had a dance piece titled “Bound to Burn,” which was proposed by a third year stage manager and a third year theater manager. Both had only been doing dance-related activities on the side. Now they are working as stage manager and theater manager, so this dance production was something they could only do at a place like the Cabaret. Also, people like Dustin Wills DRA ’14, who did a production of “The Maids,” built a house within the Cabaret. You can’t take that kind of risk outside of graduate school, so he needed to experiment with these things before he went out into the world.
Q. Looking back on this experience, since you chose the season’s shows before they were actually staged, how closely did they line up with your vision and expectations?
A. Some of them were very much in line with what we thought they would be. With plays that have already been written and performed in the past, like “The Brothers Size,” we had a fairly good idea of what to expect. But with devised pieces, like “Mystery Boy” by Chris Bannow DRA ’14, the source material was a 126-page novel written by his 11-year old sister. He promised he would make it fun, crazy and wacky. On the proposal, we had no script that we could read over and no idea of what the show would look like, but the play ended up being one of the biggest hits of the season.
Q. What have been the biggest challenges for you and the other artistic directors?
A. In the summer, the biggest obstacle was getting our website together. Deciding on a graphic design that we liked was a really challenging process. We finally hired an undergraduate student to create it for us, but we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what our visual aesthetic would be, which we needed to finalize before we could design spaces like the Cabaret’s interior. Throughout the year, the most challenging aspect revolved around the fact that lot of people wanted to propose shows to the Cabaret but we could not stage all of them. We received 57 proposals and could only produce 18 shows. I am still proud of what we chose in the end, but it hurts to have had to reject some great ideas.
Q. In the past, the Cabaret has been led by as few as one artistic director to as many as four artistic directors. What made you, Lauren and Whitney decide to be a team of three?
A. Since Whitney and Lauren were in the class above me and had one more year of experience under their belts, we wanted to be heavily involved in producing the shows in a hands-on way. One of us was always assigned to each show as a creative producer, where we informed the other directors of how the show was progressing through the production process. As creative producers, we were at every production meeting and we went to rehearsals. We were also there during tech week to give notes and feedback to the teams. I think that in order to be that invested in all 18 shows during the season, you need more than one artistic director.
Q. What is the most important lesson that your experience with the Cabaret has taught you?
A. The most important thing I learned is how much a managing director can save you. Even though Shane Hudson DRA ’14 was chosen by the Yale School of Drama faculty and not by collective application like the artistic directors were, we always say that we were a four-person team in the end. Shane was always there for us whenever we wanted to take big risks, which made me realize how extremely crucial it is to have that kind of trust between artistic and managing directors.
Q. How did working at the Cabaret relate to your studies at the YSD?
A. Since I am a part of the Dramaturgy department, one of the things they have taught me is how to be an effective communicator to directors and playwrights with regard to supporting their projects. They also teach us how to look at patterns in the world and in plays. Look[ing] at world of the play as a world in itself, that can be extremely helpful to a playwright who has created their own world. I have also taken many classes in theater management and those have been helpful because at the end of the day, I am responsible for issues such as the Cabaret’s financial health and its relationships with community members.
Q. What are your hopes for the Cabaret’s new leadership? What are some themes that you would like to see them explore?
A. I would like to see them continue the spirit of our season in terms of having a sense of community and choosing projects that they feel will speak to the wider community that the Cabaret reaches. We have definitely done our fair share of risks during this past year, but I am always excited to see what else is possible. We would also like to see people pursue projects outside of their disciplines. Some of our favorite projects have been directed by people who are not at the YSD to be directors or written by people who are not here to be playwrights.