This year the Yale Cabaret will take you straight from 1928 Russia to 2012 New Haven, and then ask how you feel about dying. And after that? “All the shows are being created from the ground up,” said Yale Cabaret managing director Jonathan Wemette DRA ’13. “I couldn’t really tell you what the rest of the season has in store.”
Wemette can, however, guarantee that it will be full of theater “wildly unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else.” Each play is submitted and created in its entirety by Drama School students, and each week of the season will hold something different, with anything from puppets and mime one week to one man talking alone on stage the next, according to the Cabaret’s artistic director Ethan Heard DRA ’13.
This complete change of both physical and emotional scenery is emblematic of the Cabaret’s risktaking spirit. Heard said the theater itself is “a laboratory for drama students,” adding that those involved “strive to transform the space completely every week.”
The Cabaret prides itself on doing shows that are extremely interactive, and which utilize the Cabaret’s immersive and intimate space to the fullest possible extent. The small dinner theater in the basement of 217 Park St. is a place for experimentation, said Dustin Wills DRA ’14, where students of the Yale Drama School can let go of their classroom training and curricular assignments and put on their “passion projects.”
The Yale Cabaret values its accessibility and inclusivity for audience members as much as it does artistic experimentation, according to Heard. With this spirit of inclusivity in mind, the Yale Cabaret is launching a “University Ambassadors” program this season. The Theater will have a representative in each of Yale’s graduate schools and in the College to promote its shows and recruit new audience members.
The season’s opening show, “The Fatal Eggs,” is adapted from a novella written by Mikhail Bulgakov in the 1920s, which was adapted for the stage by Wills and Ilya Khodosh DRA ’14, who also translated the text from the original Russian. It is also narrated by an ostrich.
The story begins with a scientist who discovers a ray of red light capable of reproducing organisms at a fantastically rapid rate, only to have his discovery fall into the hands of the Soviet government. What follows is equal parts absurd satire and horrifying commentary on both Soviet Russia and today’s world (no spoilers, but there will be gigantic exotic animal puppets featured in this production).
“The Fatal Eggs” also has seven actors playing 62 roles. The production’s incredibly rapid turnover of actors creates a feeling of “anxious movement,” said Wills, which conveys “a time in Russia when it really felt like the world could collapse from under you.” While Wills said that the show has not been “updated,” and remains loyal to its time and setting, its message about a society in the grips of media-fueled hysteria still contains many complex themes that remain relevant, “especially in an election year.”
The next production, “This,” is an ensemble piece based on interviews and emailed stories submitted by members of the Yale and New Haven community. “What’s really vulnerable and exciting and dangerous about the show is that someone next to you in the audience could have submitted one of the stories you’re hearing on stage,” said Heard. The production, said Wemette, is a perfect metaphor for the Cabaret’s constant attempts to “break down the wall between audience and actor, and [to] make the stage a more porous place.” The show is a way of making people feel that they matter, because their stories are being told, said associate artistic director Benjamin Fainstein DRA ’13, adding, “It’s a true offering to our audiences.”
The third show that has been announced thus far, “Ain’t Gonna Make It,” is still very much in the midst of its creation process, according to Wemette. It is a look at dying, but one that is going to be “very rockabilly, musical, vibrant and celebratory,” in Wemette’s words. He also said that there are two designers at the helm of this particular show, meaning one can expect it to be both “visually spectacular” and to tell the story “through images in a way shows don’t always do.”
Going to the Cabaret, said Fainstein, “is a risk not only for the artists on stage but also for the individual audience members.” There is something uniquely communal about both the logistics and the purpose of the Cabaret’s space, he added. By being a dinner theater, he said, it allows audience members to first “engage in the ancient ritual of sharing food and drink and talking to one another,” before the play even begins. “It’s an event and not just entertainment.”