Three Yale alumni took the stage Tuesday night at Beinecke Library to perform plays written by New Haven youth, in an effort to promote cooperation between the University and New Haven public schools.
The O’Neill at Yale Project hosted The Eugene O’Neill Playwriting Competition, a reading of nine student works written in response to two O’Neill plays, “Ah, Wilderness!” and “Now I Ask You.” The playwrights are all students at the Cooperative High School for the Arts and Humanities, and have been working on their plays with Yale College mentors for the past two months.
The writers of the three plays selected after Tuesday’s readings will work more closely with their mentors during the next semester as they prepare for the plays to be performed by the Yale Alumni Company of the Playwright’s Theater in New York City.
The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus opened the event with their rendition of “Shenandoah,” the song featured in O’Neill’s play “Mourning Becomes Electra.” Readings of the student works followed, exploring a variety of topics including Internet romance, religion and leukemia.
Sally Kazinsky, a teacher at Coop, was honored as O’Neill at Yale’s first annual teacher of the year for her work in connecting her students with the Yale mentors, Eli Clark ’07, Patrick Huguenin ’06 and Amia Srinivasan ’07. Kazinsky said the program was conceived last fall, after she met Stephen Kennedy Murphy, artistic director of O’Neill at Yale, outside of the Long Wharf Theater and began to discuss the possibililty of a cooperative project between the two groups.
“We’re giving birth to this thing,” Kazinsky said. “It’s our first shot.”
The resources of the Yale-sponsored project create a support system for teachers who wish to participate in the program, Kazinsky said. This semester’s project is a pilot version of the program, she said, which will expand to include more schools in the spring.
Srinivasan said the Yale mentors have been meeting weekly to critique the plays but had not met the student playwrights before the reading.
“We’re this objective mentoring group,” she said. “We make suggestions for the development of the kids’ voices.”
Jonathan White, a junior at Coop, wrote “The Civil Wars,” a dark comedy focusing on the conflict that arises between a lawyer and a mysterious stranger when they collide on a deserted highway. He said he was excited to see Yale alumni with theatrical careers performing his work in the Beinecke, because such opportunities are not normally available to him.
“It’s been a great experience,” White said. “I’m just excited to be here with all these professionals.”
Actor Frank Liotti DRA ’02 said he was thrilled to return to New Haven and perform the students’ work.
“When I was here I thought Yale could do more for the kids who live around here,” Liotti said. “That’s what they are doing with this program.”