The Yale Dramatic Association may have been formed as a protest, but the world-renowned theater group is now an integral part of the University’s tradition.
Since its first meeting in February 1900, the Yale Dramatic Association has helped make Yale famous for its theater. Its first show, Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale,” has been followed by a long line of memorable performances. The Dramat now has eight performances per year and is an entirely student-run organization that includes more than 100 members.
The Dramat, the largest undergraduate theater organization at Yale and the second oldest college theater organization in the country, began at a time when Yale prohibited its students from acting.
“Drama was against Yale rules,” said Jeffrey Little ’02, Dramat president. “The Dramat started as a rebellion against that.”
Little added that in the productions of the first few decades, all roles were filled by males, but later females were recruited from nearby schools such as Vassar.
It was the resilience of these early actors, writers and directors that made theater thrive at Yale. The relationship was reciprocal — Yale helped launch many great careers. Songwriter and playwright Cole Porter ’13 reached stardom in part because of his zany musicals written for Yale College productions, including the Commencement musical he wrote for his graduating class.
In 1920, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Yale Dramat member Thornton Wilder ’20 published his first full-length play, “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” in the Yale Literary Magazine, which was later produced in 1926.
Since that time, the Dramat has achieved many important milestones, including the premiere of Arthur Miller’s “Of You From the Bride,” and the first English language version of Eugene Ionesco’s “Hunger and Thirst.”
The Dramat’s momentum has not ceased. Over the past four years, the Dramat has put on 32 productions ranging from plays by Shakespeare and Moliere to those written by famous Yale graduates like Christopher Durang DRA ’74.
The official celebration of the Dramat’s 100th birthday was a small-scale celebration, with a champagne party in a Linsly-Chittenden classroom. But more elaborate events also honored the occasion.
In celebration of Yale’s Tercentennial, the Dramat’s 100th anniversary and the 75th anniversary of the Drama Department, a gala show called “Stage Blue” went up in New York and Los Angeles. This bicoastal event included a formal dinner and performances by current Yale students and alumni.
This year’s Commencement musical, “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” is being presented by the Dramat on May 19-21 in the University Theater. Its director, Alex Timbers ’01, and star, Brian Mullin ’01, are both graduating seniors.
“How to Succeed” is a mammoth effort, with a cast of nearly 30 and a crew of nearly 130. The time frame is also an especially tight one.
“We have 10 days to put up a musical that’s going to sell out,” said assistant director Stephanie Brown ’03.
Although there was no theater at all a century earlier, the members of today’s Dramat have the art of putting on a show down to a science. Different groups of performers and technical staff are at work in the University Theater 24 hours a day, making the space ready for the performance to come.
Yet the experience is not without its consolations. In an unintentional response to those long dead figures who envisioned a University without theater, these students are reveling in the experience of theater without school.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy working on the Commencement show,” said Brown. “We’re all doing what we like to do with no distractions.”