With student actors bemoaning the dearth of performance spaces and filling out reams of Sudler Fund applications, it seems that Yale is overflowing with University-sponsored theatrical opportunities. But until recently, theater in New Haven rarely stretched beyond the reaches of campus, leaving residents frustrated.
When Nicholas Clarey moved to New Haven in 2004, he hunted for community theater opportunities but was perpetually referred to the big three venues: the Long Wharf, the Shubert and Yale Rep. Unsatisfied, Clarey got to work.
“I did some research and found a Web page that listed close to 50 theater companies in Connecticut, most based in or around New Haven,” he said.
To drive these little-known companies into the public consciousness, Clarey founded New Works New Haven, a collective of various theater organizations that presents works that, as Clarey found, might otherwise remain secrets — a little too well-kept.
“New Works New Haven is a theater group that devotes itself to granting exposure to new plays, playwrights, new takes on old standards and the community theater scene as a whole,” Clarey said. “We offer the community a great night of theater while introducing them to some names, faces and companies that they may not have known existed before.”
Although it presents various other productions during the year, the group’s focus is the New Works New Haven Festival, which began last weekend and runs through Sunday at the Long Wharf’s Stage II. This year marks the festival’s debut, although its creators intend to make it an annual event. Each of the six original works included in the festival feature fewer than eight actors, runs under 45 minutes and is a true collaboration, with the playwright and director working in tandem to prepare each work for its debut.
“The New Works New Haven Festival combines the talents of several … community theater groups hoping to bring the community closer together, instead of working in competition with each other,” Clarey remarked. “Also, this gives exposure to not only our organization, but the organizations that may not have had as much exposure otherwise, helping to make their audience base thrive.”
New Works New Haven attempts to involve the community in the theater-making process. Clarey insisted that this is an integral part of a work’s development.
“We also offer audience members the chance to vote on the one-act plays in [the festival], giving them the chance to offer their feedback and critique, which in turn also educates the playwrights and directors,” he said.
Yale students especially are taking this idea of community involvement to heart, finding the festival to be a new and refreshing outlet for their talents.
Although a number of students are acting in the Festival, John Hansen-Brevetti ’08 is the lone director; his production of “Pleaching the Coffin Sisters” will premiere this weekend. “I’m excited to be directing a mixed cast of Yalies and non and to be involved in a festival so purely dedicated to giving these new works a voice,” Hansen-Brevetti said. “But mostly [I’m excited] to just be part of the world outside Yale, to have a glimpse, and a surprisingly reassuring one, at life without the crutch of Sudler, even without [the] unstoppable Yale experimentalist juggernaut.”
In spite of its mission to unite and promote the dispersed local theaters of the city, the New Works New Haven Festival also plays a critical role in the dramatic town-gown dialogue. “It serves as an important and refreshing reminder that indeed there are theaters, audiences and artists outside our tiny bubble,” Hansen-Brevetti noted. “And for New Haven it’s a reminder … that Yalies can be just as much a part of the city’s theatrical pulse as anyone — in fact, we’d like to be.”