YDC aims to increase theater space

Visited daily by theater enthusiasts looking for auditions, production opportunities and show listings, the Yale Drama Coalition Web site has garnered a reputation as a vital theater resource. Offline, the YDC maintains a lower profile and strives to serve as both resource and advocate for the diverse undergraduate theater community.

Founded in the late ’90s and reincarnated in fall 2005 by Eyad Houssami ’07, the YDC, an umbrella organization for undergraduate Yale theater, has sought to expand theater resources and unite various components of the theater community. Even though the YDC has persisted over the past two years, members fear that the group’s efforts will not continue unless it can recruit more underclassmen.

The cast of The Tempest enjoyed the use of the Davenport--Pierson Auditorium for its production last semester. On-campus performance spaces are becoming more difficult to secure as demand and restrictions increase.
Lea Yu
The cast of The Tempest enjoyed the use of the Davenport--Pierson Auditorium for its production last semester. On-campus performance spaces are becoming more difficult to secure as demand and restrictions increase.

When he entered Yale as a freshman, Houssami said, he had no idea that Sudler-funded theater existed. As a sophomore and first-time director, he struggled to find actors and a production team, a typical predicament for any Sudler performance. He said because only Yale Dramatic Association members knew how to utilize Yale theater resources, they were necessary for any project.

Houssami said his vision for maintaining diversity in the types of undergraduate theatrical productions contrasted with that of the Dramat, which he perceived to be the only organization with prominent theater projects during his first two years at Yale.

“The YDC promoted the production of all types of theater in all types of spaces, in contrast to the Dramat, a production company, which promotes big budget, technically complex, generally bourgeois theater in big spaces,” he said.

Former Dramat President Katie Reynolds said the umbrella nature of the YDC has contributed to the health of the undergraduate theater community by circulating information.

“I think the more information the better,” she said. “What they’re both trying to do is very different so I don’t think there’s any competition between us.”

Last year, Dramat performances composed seven of the 60-some shows listed by the YDC, while 10 senior projects premiered as well. The rest were individual Sudler shows, which work with $1,200 budgets. The high number of Sudler projects and their limited resources, Houssami said, allow for more diverse and intimate types of theatrical productions.

Houssami said the YDC Web site has helped recruit participants for Sudler shows, and many student directors said Sudler and Dramat productions have drawn equal numbers of auditioning students so far this year.

“I use the YDC Web site a lot to find out which shows are auditioning or looking for technical help,” Isaac Durand ’10 said. “I probably check it at least once a week — it’s much easier than trying to visit every bulletin board on campus, and it’s the most reliable way of finding out what’s going on.”

In addition to maintaining the Web site and holding weekly meetings, the YDC is in conversations with the Council of Masters to make the residential college theaters more accessible for drama projects.

“Theater space on campus is so difficult because for its size, Yale does have a disproportionate amount of theater going on,” current YDC president Susie Kemple ’08 said. “There aren’t enough theaters to support everyone.”

In response to concerns raised about safety a few years ago, the University established guidelines for the usage of various stage materials, rendering it virtually impossible to produce a show in an unconventional space such as a classroom or dining hall. Houssami said a lack of information and centralization concerning these theater space guidelines has made it difficult for students to produce their own shows.

“There’s no central source of authority and many of the rules are irrational,” Houssami said. “[The regulations] could have been an opportunity to promote a more organized and professionally-minded theater community but [...] there hasn’t been a distribution of information and the guidelines aren’t consistent.”

Existing theatrical spaces are insufficient because activities ranging from lectures to orchestra concerts use the theaters, and small spaces such as the Calhoun Cabaret and the Stiles Little Theatre are extremely small and lack lighting grids. As for Yale’s large, well-equipped spaces, the World Performance Project has booked Trumbull’s Nick Chapel for the year, and the Davenport-Pierson and Saybrook spaces only allow two productions per semester, often lying empty for much of the semester.

“The policy of some new college theaters to present only one or two theatrical presentations a semester feels Procrustean,” said Toni Dorfman, director of undergraduate studies for the Theater Studies Program. “I think it’s important, however, for colleges to be in charge of and to make policy for their own theater spaces.”

But Alexander Borinsky ’08 said the YDC’s discussions with the Council of Masters have yielded no results thus far.

Although freshmen like Durand utilize the Web site regularly, YDC members said they would like to see more freshman involvement in the administration of the organization. Borinsky stressed the need for underclassmen to follow in their shoes.

“Right now my biggest worry is keeping the YDC running — we need more sophomores and freshmen to feel that they can and should get involved,” Borinsky said.

The YDC could also continue to help underclassmen by enabling and equipping them to create their own projects and reviving the informal Theater of Desire Cabaret, Houssami said.

“What I think the YDC should work on is making it easier for underclassmen to make theatre, because a lot are really intimidated and think it’s impossible to direct and produce a show,” Houssami said. “They think it’s this mysterious process that only a privileged few have access to and that’s what it seemed when I got here freshman year.”

Mentors from the student theater community are assigned to freshmen during their first semesters, though Kemple said more constant and continual mentorship for freshmen up until the middle of their sophomore years would be useful, since students often change their minds as to what aspects of theater interest them.

“We want theater at Yale to be a warmer and fuzzier experience, where it doesn’t feel like you’re competing,” Kemple said. “We’re hoping to move away from a plethora of very isolated shows to a plethora of shows that are very interconnected.”

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