In “Dwight/Edgewood 2006,” anything goes. Ever watched a six-foot tall talking candle duke it out with a chef? Or talked to a middle-aged diaper factory worker with a bad comb-over and watched seven cat zombies dance onstage? All this and more will be showing throughout this week, as the Cabaret features six of the most original comedies to grace its spaces. The spotlight of the evening, however, does not fall on the actors on the stage, but on six talented young playwrights in the audience.
The Dwight/Edgewood Project, a Yale School of Drama community outreach program, pairs 10 to 12 promising writers from Troup Magnet Academy of Science Middle School with student mentors from the Drama School in an intensive summer theater program. Over the course of four weeks, the students work on acting and writing exercises, creating characters and participating in a weekend camping trip where they write the plays that they will work on for the rest of the time in the program. Every mentor performed in their mentee’s play and also played company roles in the other pieces. The kids have a say in every level of the production, working with a director and designing their own costumes, setting and music. The program culminates with a live production before family and friends.
Though the program usually ends in June, Michael Walkup, a coordinator for the Yale Repertory Theater and one of the two directors from the 2006 Dwight/Edgewood staff, decided to work with the Cabaret this term to remount six plays that represent the entire Dwight/Edgewood spectrum.
“I took the opportunity with remounting to make some things better — as in funnier — and to add some changes that I hope the kids will like,” Walkup said.
He also wanted to give the Dwight/Edgewood staff “a second chance to do justice to these plays,” and to share these stories with the broader Yale and New Haven communities.
The greatest change in the remounting was the use of a completely new space. Walkup and his crew rearranged the Cabaret so that the action takes place along all four sides of the room, with the audience concentrated in the middle. While this set-up occasionally made staging difficult, it succeeded in incorporating the audience into the nonsensical and colorful worlds that the children created.
Throughout the process, Walkup made sure to preserve the character of Dwight/Edgewood. Most of the scenery and stage props are simple two-dimensional larger-than-life-size cardboard cut-outs, a hallmark of the program. Ruth Feldman, manager of education at the Yale Rep, said while they had to make some compromises with the scenery, she was glad they kept the same philosophy in the decor. She also approved of the use of solely primary colors in the setting, because it made the characters and their elaborate costumes pop out.
But the real show-stopper of the evening is the children’s plays. Each piece, though no more than eight minutes long, creates its own universe that immediately grabs and entertains the audience. Ranging from a rivalry of two tweens over a “Libby Magazine” internship to the breakup of a Southern married couple, which was planned by a demonic dog, the plotlines of the plays show no limit in imagination.
Walkup found the innovation and lack of restrictions to be the most refreshing part of working with the kids.
“As theater artists, we can get caught up in putting on pretenses on what we’re doing,” Walkup said. “These children are not confined by what previous theater is ‘supposed’ to be like so they write moments that established playwrights don’t write … Working on this raw and direct material [of the kids], you just have to throw off the pretenses of normal theater.”
For most of its participants, the Dwight/Edgewood project represents a unique opportunity to get attention and recognition for their skills that they might not normally receive at school or at home.
Nyah Macklin, author of “Coulda Got Killed,” one of the six performed pieces, said that she “loved that you can let your imagination run wild.”
The actors and crew involved in the Dwight/Edgewood production treated the children’s pieces with respect and worked to showcase them as much as possible. Feldman stressed that the actors “have such a good time performing for the audience,” which reflects the dedication that the mentors show towards their assigned mentees.
The Dwight/Edgewood remounting was not technically very smooth and occasionally plagued by fumbled lines, off-timed sound effects or defective props. But it is ultimately about the kids and the comedy and tragedy they produce. Audiences are guaranteed delightful surprises and entertainment from the richness of the Dwight/Edgewood pieces — you certainly won’t find animate candles and dancing cat zombies anywhere else on campus.