“I have a personal rule about standing ovations,” confides Toni Dorfman, DUS of Theater Studies. “If during the performance I laugh and cry, I’m on my feet applauding the actors at the curtain call.”
Audiences at Yale this semester can expect to laugh, to cry and undoubtedly to rise to their feet with applause when they are presented with the vast array of theatrical productions that await them this fall. Not for nothing is Yale’s vibrant theater scene respected nationwide.
“Last year there were between 120 and 160 theatrical productions,” Dorfman noted. “And anything goes at Yale.”
It seems unlikely that this semester’s season will prove any less prolific — or diverse. Every fall, the Yale Dramatic Association, or Dramat, produces three of the must-see productions of the year, and this time around, they are as varied as a madcap Tom Stoppard adaptation of Pirandello’s “Henry IV” for Parents’ Weekend; a graphic Sarah Kane reworking of Seneca’s “Phaedra’s Love” the following weekend and Stephen Sondheim’s ironic and macabre musical “Assassins” for the weekend of the Harvard-Yale game.
“I feel that we tend to be fairly evenly distributed,” said Bobby Kolba ’06, president of the Dramat and producer of “Henry IV.”
Will placing an ultra-gritty, vulgarity-strewn Kane production side-by-side with a snazzy modernist Sondheim musical make for an uneven season? Not so, believes Kolba, for whom the vision of a great director and a play’s ability to connect powerfully with an audience can make any production shine.
“It is shows that exploit this connection and leave you feeling something intensely visceral — whether it is wonder, anger, happiness or despair — that I consider great,” Kolba said.
This is not to say that shows are not sometimes chosen specifically for the sake of variety. Recently the Dramat has staged a musical only on alternating years; but the current Dramat board, led by Kolba, intends to reinstate the fall musical as a Dramatic Association tradition.
“Given the number of a cappella groups at Yale and people generally interested in musical theater, we felt that the old system was doing a disservice to the community here,” Kolba said.
Michelle Arkow ’08, an on-campus outreach coordinator for the Yale Undergraduate Musical Theater Company, agreed.
“There’s definitely a place for musicals at Yale,” she said.
In fact, Arkow is set to direct one herself. Her forthcoming show, “The Wild Party,” is a tale of jealousy, passion, revenge — and music — set in the Roaring ’20s.
“Really compelling. Fabulous story,” Arkow described, going down the list. “Music? Amazing. Lots of fabulous female roles.”
“And,” she confided, “it’s got dancing.”
The recently formed Yale Drama Coalition has taken strides to become even more proactive this year in bringing together fellow thespians. According to its Web site, the YDC “was founded in 1999 to foster a union of student voices impassioned by theater.”
“Sometimes it takes freshmen all of fall semester to realize there is theater outside the Dramat,” said Eyad Houssami ’07, president of the YDC, whose new Web site is a treasure trove of information for students trying to figure out how to apply for Sudler funds, reserve a theater space, assemble a crew for their own productions or just spread the word about their shows.
“Students aren’t always aware of what resources are out there. [It’s about] collaboration [and] reaching out to the Yale community,” Houssami said, summarizing the YDC’s goals.
To this end, the YDC has put forth the most comprehensive listing of this season’s theatrical offerings to date.
Navigating its preview, one finds that there are student-written oeuvres like writer-director Eli Clark’s “The Metaphysics of Breakfast.” The show premiered at the three-year-old Yale Playwrights Festival, founded by Dorfman, professor Marc Robinson and alumna Laura Jacqmin. It has since gone on to immense success at the New York International Fringe Festival and returns to Yale this September.
As described on its Web site, www.themetaphysicsofbreakfast.com, it is “a new comedy about Jesus, Woody Allen, figure skating, Thanksgiving, the myriad meanings of eggs and bacon — the thoughts we have instead of the ones we should.”
There are also the operas. This semester, the Opera Theater of Yale College highlights Francis Poulenc’s 1947 opera “Les Marnelles de Tiresias,” directed by Danielle Ryan and musically directed by Stephen Hopkins. Cameron Arens, creative director of the OTYC, described it as “a short but fantastic surreal French opera that deals with a frustrated housewife releasing her breasts, which float off into the air as balloons, and her husband’s subsequent ability to bear children alone.”
40,000 children to be exact.
There are independently produced shows, too, typically Sudler-funded, such as Houssami’s forthcoming study of the notorious “Caligula” which goes up the second week of October. Houssami articulated it as “a story of love, as a study of a tyrant’s mind, as an insight into the contemporary world’s extremisms and tyrants and as a smart comeday.”
And of course there is the world-renowned Yale Repertory Theater, whose newest presentations range from Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” to Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well;” frequent performances by dance groups such as Danceworks, Rhythmic Blue and A Different Drum; upwards of a dozen improvisational and sketch comedy troupes; and more.
Most importantly of all, there is an uncommon passion on campus for the art of performance and for the immediacy of the connection it inspires between audience and performers.
“Theater is about a time and a place,” Houssami said.
The place is Yale — and the time is now.