Yale undergraduate theater: there’s a lot of it.
On any given weekend you can pay two dollars and see everything from Brechtian anti-epics to student-written adaptations of Roman Polanski horror films.
If there were one word to describe the world of Yale theater it would be “eclectic.” But it’s college — that’s the whole point. People experiment, take risks, come up with new ideas and reinterpret old standards — it’s the perfect environment to make good theater.
Me, I’ve been here two years and have gotten the chance to dabble in almost everything. I’ve done a bit of choreography, a little sketch comedy, one light design, some directing and a handful of acting roles. When I arrived in the fall of my freshmen year, I put my name on almost every audition sheet posted at 254 York St. (the Theater Studies building), and within three weeks I had my first part. There are so many opportunities here that it’s just a matter of time and perseverance before you’re acting in something.
Meanwhile, if technical or design work is your forte you’ll be employed before you get unpacked. Aspiring directors are always looking for people with experience or an interest in light design, set design, sound design, etc. You’re a hot commodity.
OK, so you’re ready to audition or to build some flats, now what are your options? Performances here generally fall into four categories, none of which are mutually exclusive.
The first is our infamous “Sudler” show. The Sudler Fund is the main source of money for undergraduate productions; you apply for some funding, you get approved, you apply for a space, and you put on a show. There are no restrictions to the type of theater you have to make. Anything is valid and anything can get funding — really, I mean anything.
The second most common type of show is the “senior project.” To get their diplomas, those who decide to major in theater studies are required to do some sort of final performance. Whether it’s a play they’ve written, a set they want to design, a show they want to direct, or some role they want to act — they put it up, and they get credit for it. But these shows aren’t made up entirely of seniors; they also provide opportunities for designers, producers, actors and everything else you can think of.
Thirdly, we have the Dramat, Yale’s Dramatic Association — old and illustrious. This student-run organization puts on eight productions each year, two of which are directed by professionals and one of which is an all-freshmen show. The Dramat works out of the University Theater (a mammoth building also located on York Street) and is managed by a board of students elected by members of the Dramat. You get your membership by working on a certain number of Dramat productions each semester. Because of its resources, the Dramat tends to put up larger shows with big casts and ambitious design work (e.g. the on-stage river in one of last spring’s experimental productions. That’s right. A river.)
Finally, there’s the miscellaneous section: all the other organizations and clubs that also offer performance opportunities. The Yale Children’s Theater produces plays throughout the year, from popular musicals to student-written work. They have extensive elementary and high school educational outreach programs as well. The Yale College Opera Company puts on one show every semester, as does the Yale Outdoor Dramatic Association, which performs in (or against) the elements. These and many other groups create a wide variety of productions to work on throughout the year.
So, there you have it, a very basic rundown on theater life here at Yale. Be sure to keep your eyes open; auditions and opportunities abound. I mean, who knows, you might be that star of this semester’s experimental version of “Rent,” set in the Wild West and performed backwards. Anything can happen.
James DuRuz ’03 is a member of A Different Drum and The Fifth Humour — dance and comedy groups, respectively. He has been seen in leading roles in “True West” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and he directed “A Chorus Line” last year.