The casts have been chosen, the designers have been found and the directors have scheduled their first few rehearsals: theater at Yale is prepared to begin a new season.
But bringing together the freshmen that are an integral part of that season has been especially complicated this year, students involved in the Yale theater scene said, as the extracurricular activities bazaar was once again held during the second weekend of Camp Yale, meaning that upperclassmen lost one of their limited chances to advertise shows to members of the class of 2016 before auditions take place. Per Yale tradition, auditions for more than half of this fall’s productions took place before the first day of classes on Aug. 29.
“I think we won’t know, probably until later in the year, maybe next semester, exactly how bad for theater auditions it was that the bazaar was moved back a weekend, but I think that it definitely posed some problems,” said Irene Casey ’14, the president of the Yale Drama Coalition. “We definitely had discussions about whether freshmen would know about things like the [Yale Drama Coalition’s annual] season preview and auditions, which all happened before the bazaar … the YDC spoke to a lot of freshman at the bazaar, and a lot had already auditioned, but a lot missed out on the frenzy.”
Meredith Davis ’13, the president of the Yale Dramatic Association, said that the extracurricular bazaar’s timing meant that the Dramat lost its chance to advertise auditions for its three fall productions at the event.
Instead, Davis said, the organization, Yale’s largest undergraduate theater company, relied on advertising as much as possible, holding an information session and asking some members to sit at a desk on Old Campus.
Alyssa Miller ’16, who stars in this semester’s production of “Spring Awakening,” said she might have missed the YDC season preview — held on Sunday the 26th of August — if she had not heard about it from the Dramat members at the Old Campus desk. She added that it was after going to that event, at which each director of a fall season show is given a chance to speak about his or her production, that she realized that auditions would begin the very next day.
“The problem is that if there’s only a certain number of weeks in a semester, you want to start putting up shows as early as you can, because you want to have the maximum time to rehearse,” said Ethan Karetsky ’14, the producer of “Spring Awakening.”
Adela Jaffe ’13, a Yale Drama Coalition board member and the director of this semester’s production of “The Seagull,” said that problem has been exacerbated this year by the fact that theater has had two weekends “taken away”: the weekend of fall break and the weekend of the Harvard-Yale game.
Last year, the Dramat’s mainstage production, “Sweeney Todd,” went up the weekend of the Game.
The concern about maximizing rehearsal time by deciding a show’s cast early is especially pressing for the Dramat, Davis said, because the company’s first production goes up four weeks after the semester begins.
“It really has to hit the ground running,” said Alexi Sargeant ’15, the director of “Measure for Measure,” the Dramat fall experimental production which opens at the end of this month.
Sargeant added that once one production decides to hold its auditions right at the beginning of the semester, most other productions choose to do so as well, to ensure that they get first pick of potential cast and crew members.
“Auditions were literally three days after we got to campus,” said Christian Probst ’16, the lead in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” this fall’s Dramat mainstage. “I signed up for them … they were really hard to fit between ‘sexuality and consent’ workshops.”
Still, Probst added that he is not complaining, as auditioning early gives freshmen a chance to take advantage of opportunities in Yale theater from the get-go.
“It’s … truly incredible to have my first show at Yale be a mainstage by the Dramat,” he said.
Four students involved in theater said they do not see any clear alternative to the current audition scheduling process.
Even for returning actors, Karetsky said, it can be “overwhelming.”
Casey said the Yale Drama Coalition recognizes that the current process can be particularly stressful for freshmen and tries to provide resources to help them better understand how to audition effectively. The coalition is reviving a mentor program, she added, that will pair freshmen with upperclassmen interested in the same field of theater.
This may help fill a gap. Eric Sirakian ’15, who will act in Jaffe’s production of “The Seagull,” said he was fortunate to know upperclassmen in the theater scene who could guide him in his decisions as a freshman, but added that he recognizes that not all freshmen have that opportunity.
Becoming familiar with upperclassmen by doing shows in the fall can be a major boost that opens up opportunities in productions later in one’s career at Yale, said Paul Hinkes ’15, who will act in “Ugly People” later this semester.
Karetsky and Casey both said that, even if freshmen missed the audition process or do not feel ready to make a major commitment to a show this early, they should always feel open to emailing a director or actor working on a project they are interested in.
“The first impression is that it’s a clique, [but] what I’ve realized and I hope other people realize is that it’s very inclusive and … the people here are very welcoming,” Sirakian said. “It’s not hard to find a place and soon you’ll have experiences that help you form those kinds of relationships.”
Last year, when he was a freshman, Sirakian was involved in six productions.
“One year later, you’re on the other side of that fence,” he added.
Auditions for some spring shows, including those staged by the Dramat, will begin during Reading Week.