This season, three Yale School of Drama students are looking to conclude their degrees with new interpretations of classical works.
As part of the Drama School’s 2014-’15 season, Jessica Holt DRA ’15, Sara Holdren ’08 DRA ’15 and Andras Viski DRA ’15 are directing productions of “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov, Edward Kemp’s stage adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita” and “Don Juan” by Moliere, respectively. Holt, Holdren and Viski are the three School of Drama students graduating from the school’s directing program in 2015, and staging the productions is a requirement of their department. These performances will mark the end of a roughly year-long process during which the directors read dozens of plays before deciding on the ones they wanted to stage for their thesis productions. Directing Department chair Liz Diamond said this season’s shows all reflect a heightened sense of urgency for exploring modern-day social and political issues.
“For each of the directors, the play reflects themes that are central to their contemporary concerns about the world,” Diamond said.
Holt said she thinks that while “The Seagull” is set in the 1890s, the characters’ obsession with enriching their lives materially and emotionally has striking parallels with today’s society. Given the advent of social media and other technologies, Holt explained, there are many who still exhibit the narcissistic desires that Chekhov’s characters did. Viski described his show’s title character Don Juan as a revolutionary thinker who exposed the moral hypocrisy of the Christian order during his time. He said that he chose to propose the play as his thesis production because he was interested in exploring the connection between Don Juan’s free-thinking ideology and modern consumerist culture.
While “The Seagull” was written in 1895 and “The Master and Margarita” was written in 1940, Moliere’s “Don Juan” is nearly four centuries old. For his production, Viski is cowriting an adaptation of the play with Brendan Pelsue DRA ’16 and Samantha Lazar DRA ’15. Lazar said that the team is creating the adaptation with the aim to make the play appear more relevant to modern audiences, noting that several characters and scenes are so unique to 17th-century France that audience members might feel they are watching a historical play instead of one whose themes are pertinent to their lives.
Diamond said that a defining feature of the Drama School’s thesis productions is their degree of technical complexity. She explained that the productions’ sizable budgets, in combination with the school’s resources, allow directors to create highly elaborate designs for their shows. Diamond added that Drama School faculty strongly encourage their student directors to stage productions that are artistically and technically ambitious for all ensemble members, not just the directors themselves. These directors’ projects have an enormous impact on all drama students, she noted.
All three directors said they hope to incorporate a wide variety of technical effects into their productions. Holdren said that “The Master and Margarita,” whose setting alternates between 20th-century Russia and the Jerusalem of 2000 years ago, contains scenes set in 19 different places, requiring complex technical design. The play also features many supernatural elements such as talking animals and the undead, Holdren noted. Holt said her production will feature plenty of music, as well as live video feeds to display enlarged images of the characters.
The first thesis production of the season, “The Master and Margarita,” will open on Oct. 21.