If you descended the stairs of 217 Park St. last season, an orderly, rather traditional paint job would’ve met your eye — that was the 40th anniversary of the Yale Cabaret. Repeat the experience this year and notice that the décor has changed. The clean lines are gone, and a layered, rougher color scheme has taken over. Glued to this fresh paint is a collage of about 50 portraits of icons and iconoclasts — Bob Dylan, Barack Obama, Al Gore and others — who guide your progress to the dinner theatre area. These same renegade figures are the guides to the Cabaret’s 41st season.

The tradition of breaking tradition thus continues at the Yale Cabaret. Each year, the halls are repainted to reflect a new mood in the theater company’s ever-changing management. Run by School of Drama Students who cycle out each year with graduation, the Cabaret is a tradition but not traditional.

This year’s playbill pays homage to “icons and iconoclasts” — those figures that have been emblematic in society. The season opens Thursday on theme with “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” directed by Patricia McGregor DRA ’09. This piece is a musical tribute to Billie Holiday — one such iconic source of inspiration.

Following the jazzy notes of “Lady Day” is “Whose Cabaret is it Anyway?” Based on Drew Carey’s classic television sketch comedy show, this piece will feature some of the members of The Purple Crayon, an undergraduate comedy group, as well as students from the School of Drama. The third piece scheduled is “Three Sisters, or The Dormouse’s Tales” featuring music by Brian Valencia DRA ’10.

“He is one of the stars here. It will be an astonishing, musical extravaganza,” said McGregor, who is also the artistic director of the Cabaret, of Valencia’s show. The billing will combine elements of a Chekhov play and a Lewis Carroll story.

The Cabaret prides itself as a space at Yale that can house experimentation with such varied works. Shows here are less formal than most main-stage acts, and the theater has a much more personal environment.

The space itself — a simple, low-ceilinged black box theater — suggests this intimacy. Wooden bar tables and matching chairs can be rearranged for each seating. The set’s location within the room can be changed for each show. Because of this flexibility, there is greater artistic freedom here, McGregor said, than in a traditional space.

This year’s Cabaret continues another of the defining house traditions: Food is served. Evolution continues, however, with a new menu from the chef of Anna’s Catering.

“We have everything from a three-course meal to a little snack,” said Aurelia Fisher DRA ’09, the theater’s managing director.

Pricing is also reasonable, especially for students. Dinner, dessert and drinks are separate from the cost of admission, but the tab can be kept under control. In response to the current economic crisis, the theater plans to offer recession-themed meals that are cheap and filling, along with a more comprehensive menu. The creative menu in tough economic times is just one way the 2008 Cabaret is trying to relate to the community as a whole.

Along with regular productions, the Cabaret will begin a Sunday Tea program this semester. Based on the Yale College Master’s Teas, these gatherings will utilize the theater’s space to talk about topics relative to either the work just performed or something pertinent happening outside the School of Drama. Combining the energy of a new team of directors and the excitement of a new season, the Yale Cabaret is continuing a tradition of change.