After I explained to my Brown admissions interviewer my plans to study theater, he quickly asked me why I hadn’t applied to Yale. I fed him some carefully constructed reason, to which he replied, “Well, if you want my opinion, you should go to Yale, not Brown.”
One rushed application and four years later, with a Yale degree in theater almost in hand, it’s hard for me believe how little I knew (and how little that interviewer knew). I came to Yale as an optimistic kid from Nebraska with a love of theater, high hopes for what lay ahead, and no idea what I was getting myself into. I am about to leave Yale in the same way.
I quickly found out that things were not what I was expecting. Despite several warnings, I was disappointed to learn how undergraduate theater studies just isn’t the Yale Drama School. (For that matter, even the Yale Drama School just isn’t the Yale Drama School lately). Theater studies is underfunded, the course selection is limited, the classes are overcrowded, and despite the best efforts of some exceptional faculty and staff members, the major is ultimately unsatisfying.
On the other hand, the line I had heard about the large number of plays done at Yale turned out to be an understatement. The extracurricular theater scene is everything it was reputed to be. The 30-odd productions I’ve been involved with through the Dramat and the Sudler fund have been the core of my theater education. Whether I was skipping a lecture to squeeze in an extra rehearsal or forgoing sleep in a futile attempt to save a sinking show, I was engaged in a four-year independent study in theater and life, advised by my classmates.
The last four years were filled with many temptations to abandon theater in pursuit of anything else. Some of my friends have devoted their time to public service and will nobly go on to make a real difference in the world, and others will nobly go on to make a truckload of cash. In theater, money is hard to come by and the impact on the world is hard to see. With the Yale atmosphere fueling hyper-rational tendencies, it’s difficult to simply trust that your work will somehow matter.
Any thoughts of quitting were always quickly swept away. With as many as 20 shows rehearsing at once and a group of overextended but enthusiastic participants, the energy of Yale theater is thoroughly infectious. In the cozy seats at the University Theater, the less-cozy seats at Nick Chapel, and every other nook and cranny at Yale, I saw more shows than I can count. Some were terrible, most were good, and some rank among the best experiences of my life. All in all, I am in awe of the talent that I have seen.
Now, as I leave Yale, I once again face many doubts. I am questioning if theater will make me happy regardless of how I may have to live. I am wondering if theater is the best thing I can do with my life. I am unsure whether theater’s real impact will ever extend beyond the intellectual and economic elite of New York City. Most of all, I am deathly scared that I will fail. When I came to Yale, I pretended I knew how to direct plays and eventually I had most people convinced. Now, I have a whole new world to convince, and I need to work on my poker face.
Theater artists like to think that theater is the most immediately relevant art form because the experience of a play, like all experiences in real life, can never be truly revisited. Commencement bittersweetly marks the end of this particular ephemeral experience. For now, I’ll enjoy our curtain call while I anxiously await seeing everyone in their next performance.
Jeffrey Little served as Dramat president during his junior year. He hopes to pursue a career in theater.