As Edward Columbia ’18 was writing the play “Fiction” while working as an actor and theater intern in New York City, little did he know that he would have the chance to revisit the piece and personally workshop it with experienced theater professionals and faculty.
The 2015 Yale Playwrights Festival took place on Saturday at the Morse-Stiles Crescent Theater. Five undergraduate playwrights were chosen by a panel of Yale faculty members to debut original pieces in the form of staged readings in front of friends, Yale faculty and theater professionals. Each play was limited to a maximum of four hours of rehearsal in the Crescent Theater before being performed.
“The idea of a staged reading is to give you the chance to hear your play and see if it works and what you want to change,” said Natalie Rose Schwartz ’17, who directed Crystal Liu ’16’s “Dream of a Dragon Woman.”
Each play was followed by a talkback session in which students and mentors could provide constructive criticism for the play after its staging.
Theater Studies professor Toni Dorfman, who has organized the playwriting festival each year since its inception in 2003, noted that this year saw the largest number of script submissions in the history of the festival. The five plays that were read at the festival were chosen from a pool of 35 scripts.
Dorfman added that she has noticed an increase in the number of original student plays produced at Yale over the past 15 years, including plays put on in college theaters by the Yale Dramatic Association as well as curricular productions in the Whitney Theater. Dorfman cited the Shen Curriculum for Musical Theater and the Dance Studies curriculum, which is housed within the Theater Studies Program, as examples of programs that contribute to the increase of original theater pieces on campus.
Theater Studies professor Deb Margolin, who served as a faculty mentor for the play “Exception to the Rule” by Dave Harris ’16, added that she holds a biweekly cabaret named “Theater of Desire,” which allows students to present new original work in front of peers and faculty.
Dorfman, Schwartz and Irina Gavrilova ’17, who directed Eric Sirakian’s ’15 “Anoush,” pointed to the Creative and Performing Arts Awards as a crucial source of funding for original extracurricular student productions outside of organizations such as the Dramat.
“Yale is a dream workshop for young playwrights,” Dorfman wrote in an email.
Faculty and students involved with the festival added that the festival provides an opportunity for students interested in theater to network with professionals in the field. Gavrilova said the festival provides a rare chance for student playwrights and theater professionals to interact. She added that although the faculty mentors work primarily with the playwrights, her conversations with professional playwrights were some of the highlights of the festival.
Gavrilova also noted that while mentorship for aspiring playwrights is not as easily found outside of the festival, Yale offers mentorship opportunities through the Theater Studies faculty members who teach courses in playwriting — such as Deb Margolin and Donald Margulies — and through visiting professional playwrights such as Sarah Ruhl, who teaches in the program.
The Dramat’s Spring Experimental Production of 2015 will be an original work by Sirakian, titled “Ermeni.”