Art on Ikea Beds: The collective mission of ‘Common Room’

Inspiration, right here.
Inspiration, right here. // Creative Commons

Doing theater together makes for intense bonds. But when each show closes, the cohesive team that has formed around it suddenly ceases to exist, and for Jesse Schreck ’14 and Chandler Rosenthal ’14, this was a problem.

“You develop this very strong bond … and then you strike the show and everyone goes their separate ways. There’s not a home base,” Rosenthal explained. “We decided we wanted to start something, to create our own.”

And just like that, the idea for Common Room, a new undergraduate theater organization, was born. Last September, the two discussed creating an ensemble theater group that would operate along a very different model from that of most shows done at Yale, and which would be similar to that of a repertory theater company, Schreck said.

Last night, exactly a year after the group’s first meeting with all of its current members, Common Room’s first show “Bed Play” opened in Trumbull College’s Nick Chapel Theater.

The group has spent the past 12 months growing into a cohesive creative team — from workshopping one another’s plays to playing games in different spaces, explained Paul Hinkes ’15, who plays “Will” in the show. By taking the time to learn one another’s acting and working styles, said Jeremy Weiss ’15 (“Benny”), the group has achieved the level of comfort necessary for truly collaborative work.

“We’re not thinking of writers and actors and directors as such distinct entities,” said Ruby Spiegel ’15, who is directing “Bed Play.”

While official rehearsals only began five weeks ago — a typical time frame for an undergraduate show — the group has been working on “Bed Play” since last March, when they sat down in the Davenport courtyard to read the original draft together. The group continued to revise the show all through this year. This means, Hinkes said, that the actors now know much more about their characters than had they simply been presented with a final version of the piece.

“I’ve known ‘Benny’ for almost a year, since the genesis of ‘Benny,’” Weiss said. “I don’t know where else I would get to do that.”

Weiss said acting alongside writer Michael Rosen ’14, who also plays “Nick” in the show, gave him the unusual opportunity to ask the writer questions about his character throughout the process. “When will I ever be able to talk to Arthur Miller?” he added. “Never.”

Part of the group’s ethos is to create shows that could embrace the limitations of working in a college setting, Spiegel said. “Bed Play” reflects the group’s desire to run with the restrictions of being young and in college by exploring characters around the actors’ own age, who are confronting the adult emotions of love and loss for the first time.

“We wanted to do the kind of theater that’s better if made here and now, and not when we’re older and have more time and money and a better space,” Rosen said. “If someone can’t play 40, then don’t make them play 40.”

In addition to the college-specific subject matter, Common Room strives to take advantage of the physical and financial constraints of producing theater on campus. “Bed Play” takes place around a single set piece — a bed from Ikea — on an otherwise bare stage. In this way, Rosen believes the show has “re-prioritized” actor and text.

Creating undergraduate theater comes with a kind of creative freedom that may be hard to come by in the professional world, Rosen said, adding, “Where else do you have the luxury to create art entirely on your own terms?”

“Bed Play” will run through this Saturday and Sunday, with shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day.

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