In what she calls a “celebration of undergraduate talent,” Toni Dorfman has brought Yale’s undergraduate theater community its first full-length play festival. Dorfman, a professor in the Theater Studies department, and co-producer Jan Foery have designed their unique concept, which has been a semester in the making, to encourage the writing and sharing of full-length original works.
While Yale has enjoyed two play festivals in the past — organized by the Yale Dramatic Association — the shows focused on pieces only 10 minutes in length. Student-produced, the Dramat festival gave student directors and student playwrights a chance to practice collaborating on original works.
However, despite its successes, the festival had its drawbacks. Playwrights did not have a chance to workshop their original pieces and were restricted to shorter plays. The upcoming faculty-sponsored Yale Playwrights’ Festival hopes to address those faults with its unique format.
The idea to start a full-length festival came to Dorfman last semester while teaching the undergraduate theater studies class “Director/Playwright Lab.” After seeing the immense talent undergraduate playwrights in her class possessed, she felt that there should be a festival designed to highlight and share their works, as is done in the professional world.
Dorfman immediately found support not only from co-producer Foery, but from fellow theater studies professor Mark Robinson and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead.
“Mark immediately got on board and Dean Brodhead has been more than a generous supporter of the festival,” Dorfman said.
The six plays to be showcased next Friday and Saturday were chosen by a Theater Studies faculty panel consisting of Dorfman, Robinson and David Krasner from 22 submissions received on Dec. 2.
“We wanted plays that were not so far along and that could really benefit from an audience reading,” Dorfman said.
Unlike the Dramat festival, the innovative structure of the Yale Playwrights’ Festival strives to work extensively with the playwrights. Each student playwright has been assigned two mentors — one mentor is a member of the Yale faculty, while the other is a professional playwright.
The in-house mentors have met with their student playwrights at least once since Dec. 19. Both mentors will be present at the readings this week to offer constructive criticism and to guide the playwrights in rewrites.
So far the process has met with only praise.
Rosana Garcia ’03, a featured playwright and author of “Nothing If He Can’t Lie,” said that the experience is different from anything that she has ever done before.
“Since the script is still a work in the progress,” Garcia wrote in an e-mail, “my mentor’s comments have been really helpful in taking the script to the next stage in its evolution.”
Garcia went on to add that the attention paid to the playwrights and to their material has been a welcome change from the Dramat festival, where more time was spent working with the student directors and cast members.
Shira Milikowsky ’03, director of Patrick Huguenin’s ’06 “Role Play,” has found the experience to be extremely rewarding. Used to directing the full-length productions of playwrights either long dead or incommunicado, the festival has given her an opportunity to “find a playwright on your same wavelength and who is thinking similarly about theater.”
In Milikowsky’s own words, this “collaboration is explosive.”
The end hope is that the festival will become an annual production devoted to playwrights.
“Performances may come and go,” Dorfman said, “but the writing is the only thing to survive.”
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