Sometimes, people do want more drama in their lives. People, in particular, being the few, the proud — the board members of the Yale Drama Coalition. The YDC has been working to improve the theater studies major since 1999.
The YDC recently held a “State of the Major” meeting with members of the University faculty and administration to discuss possible changes to the Theater Studies Department, as part of Yale’s curriculum review. One of the YDC’s main goals is to add more technical classes to the major, which currently focuses on theater history.
“One of the classes we’re thinking of is a technical training class, because that’s something that basically all Yale theater lacks,” YDC board member Ben Evans ’05 said. “It would be a requirement within the major — that way, everyone is graduated from the major with knowledge of the technical aspects of theater — like a science course, half a credit for this ‘lab’ in training for shows.”
The YDC is also concerned with the quality and rigor of classes already offered in the major.
“If the major is going to be audition-based, then why are they holding auditions and letting everyone into the class?” Evans said. “That’s our hugest challenge at this point.”
The Theater Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies Toni Dorfman said Yale’s academic approach to theater studies excludes the technical aspects of a fine arts school by its very nature.
“I think the major on paper is splendid because it’s an even balance between theater history, literature and criticism and practical courses,” Dorfman said. “This is a bachelor of arts degree of Yale, and it’s not a bachelor of fine arts. When you graduate from Yale, it’s a liberal arts major that prepares you for anything, any graduate school. This is not a conservatory.”
Beyond the scope of the major, the YDC is working to connect Yale’s greater theater community by increasing communication between the major and the Dramat, as well as other groups.
“My major project for this semester has been to work on a Web site for the YDC,” YDC board member Justine Isola ’05 said. “One of the biggest problems people have here is finding out about things. We’ll put resources online, links online, and documents to download, explain the YDC and have links to other organizations. We’re hoping to be an umbrella organization.”
In another change this year, theater studies majors must now produce their senior projects in groups of three, leading to fewer opportunities for actors on campus. This fall season has also seen a lack of shows that have been produced through the Sudler Fund. YDC members are concerned about this inactivity, particularly in regards to freshmen.
“You need a mentor to tell you how theater at Yale works, and if you don’t have that mentor, you’ll be lost,” YDC board member Lisa Siciliano ’05 said. “If you were in a play, the director or an older actor would be that mentor — but younger actors aren’t getting that because there are very few plays going up.”
The YDC recently held an orientation meeting with freshmen to welcome them to the major and explain how Sudler shows work. In an attempt to fill the theater void, members are also working to produce more opportunities themselves by sponsoring the 24-hour theater project.
“The 24-hour theater project came out of dearth of theater,” YDC board member Kristen Pring-Mill ’05 said. “Especially for some of the freshmen who just arrived, because there are so few shows, there are not many opportunities for them to get involved in. This is one performance opportunity we ourselves are offering.”
YDC members said they are also working to provide workshops and meetings to prepare students for professional acting. One in particular, the Professional Forum, will feature professional actors, agents, directors and professors, aiming to prepare students for entrance to drama school.
“[The idea for the professional forum] came from a horrible feeling that I have no idea how to handle my life after I graduate,” Siciliano said. “It’s unfair because if you want to go to law school, [Yale will] teach you how, and if you want to go to [medical] school, they tell you how. Here, they don’t care about the theater kids — they just say ‘ok starving artist go out and starve.’ But it shouldn’t be like that, because we have so many resources.”
Lisa Kant ’06 , who came to Yale originally planning to be a theater studies major, confirmed many of the concerns of the YDC board.
“In the theater major, I was disillusioned by talk of students within the major who complained about the lack of professors, funding and lack of consideration of theater as a real major at Yale,” Kant said. “I was pretty lucky as a freshman in that I got into three shows, but I had a lot of friends who auditioned for a lot of shows and were consistently turned down and didn’t get the opportunities they wanted for a long time.”