For a two-year trial period, the Yale University Dramatic Association will use undergraduate student talent to produce, direct and design the annual Spring Mainstage, bucking its previous policy of hiring professional directors and designers from outside Yale.
The Dramat’s Spring 2002 Mainstage, “Candide” — originally slated as the Fall 2001 Mainstage — was postponed last year due to production problems and what some said were personal tensions between the Yale production staff and the hired professional director and designer. But Dramat marketing director Kelsey Lents ’05 said the problems associated with “Candide” did not influence the executive board’s decision to implement this new policy.
Aaron Lemon-Strauss ’03, a former member of the Dramat executive board and producer of “Candide,” said the new policy benefits undergraduates because it gives them experience working on a mainstage production as well as guidance from outside professionals.
During last year’s production of “Candide,” the hired professionals treated the Dramat as a professional theater company, not as an undergraduate theater company, Lemon-Strauss said.
He said the professionals found it difficult to work with the relatively inexperienced Yale students, and were often angered by their small missteps.
“A lot of these professional directors and designers come in and are not able to adapt to the way things work at Yale,” Lemon-Strauss said.
And although Lemon-Strauss recognized the obvious strengths of having the mainstage directed and designed by professionals, he still thought that “Candide” would have been a better show if it hadn’t been for the tension between the professionals and the Yalies.
“It’s a different experience either way,” Lemon-Strauss said. “On the one hand you have professionals who have more experience and are probably going to produce a better product. But on the other hand, the Dramat doesn’t exist for the professionals — it exists for the students, and the best way for the students to learn about design is for them to actually do a design on the main stage.”
According to the new Dramat policy, the Spring Mainstage will always be a “straight play” — and organized by an all-undergraduate production staff — while the Fall Mainstage will alternate between being a straight play and a musical, directed and designed by hired professionals, said Dramat president William Schleyer ’04. The Commencement show will remain a musical and will continue to be produced, directed and designed by undergraduates.
“[The alternation] allows for both the musical theater community and straight theater community to benefit from professional direction,” Schleyer said.
Lents said that with both mainstages being professionally directed and designed in the past, Yale undergraduates were not able to use Yale’s greatest resource — the University Theater.
“Student actors were able to do two performances on the main stage each year,” Lents said. “But other than the Commencement musical, we weren’t able to offer that same opportunity to student directors and designers.”
Carla Federman ’04, a former member of the Dramat executive board, said that the University Theater “is an amazing performance space,” but pointed out that with the former policy, only a few undergraduate designers and directors have been able to use it.
“Actors have long had the chance to work on the University Theater stage, and this change in policy is a clear sign that the Dramat is reaching out to directors and designers, as well as to the acting community,” Federman said.
Because the Dramat is an undergraduate organization, many Yalies feel that it should use undergraduate talent whenever possible.
“Allowing students to design shows for spaces like the University Theater allows for creativity that is just not possible anywhere else on campus,” said Bobby Kolba ’06, assistant treasurer of the Dramat.