This article has been updated to reflect the version in print on Jan. 19.
Tim Vasen ’87 DRA ’93, a beloved lecturer in the Yale School of Drama, died on Dec. 28 in his Brooklyn home. Vasen is survived by his wife, his two children and a legacy of passion for the arts and mentorship. He was 51 years old.
“He was a direct, brave and compassionate respondent to students’ work, and an invaluable member of the Directing Department,” School of Drama Dean James Bundy said of Vasen. “A vibrant member of the Yale community for over 30 years as a student, alumnus and faculty member, Tim will be sorely missed.”
After graduating from Yale College summa cum laude in 1987 and the Yale School of Drama six years later, Vasen pursued a career in directing at various professional theaters. From 1997 to 2003, he served as resident director at Center Stage, a professional theater company in Baltimore. He also taught at Princeton full-time beginning in 2003, serving as the university’s director of the program in theatre from 2012 until the time of his death. Throughout this period, Vasen was also a lecturer at the Drama School, where he supervised the production of directors’ theses, taught directing courses and coached graduating actors as they prepared for their professional auditions.
Liz Diamond, chair of the Directing Department at the School of Drama, said Vasen was one of her first students and that she was the one who hired him as a lecturer in directing in 2008.
“Inviting Tim to teach at Yale was something I had dreamt of doing since his student days. He had such an infectious love for learning,” she said. “I felt he would be a wonderful mentor to young professionals. And indeed he was. The word that best describes what Tim gave his students is encouragement — Tim gave his students the courage of their convictions, the courage to explore, to play in rehearsal.”
Diamond said Vasen’s approach to mentoring student directors will have a lasting impact on the Drama School, as the quality of student theses grew markedly stronger under his stewardship.
Bundy added that Vasen helped student actors perform for professionals at their best and became an invaluable “champion and rigorous coach” of student directors.
Sara Holdren DRA ’15 developed her director’s thesis, “The Master and Margarita,” under Vasen’s guidance last spring. She said he advised her to pick a project about which she felt passionate, giving her the courage to select the play that she did despite its intimidating size.
“Tim was an amazing guy in that he didn’t present like an academic at all — there was nothing pretentious or condescending about him,” Holdren said. “As a mentor, he constantly encouraged students to follow our joy — that was a phrase he liked to use.”
Holdren added that Vasen constantly encouraging students to do what made them happy was “necessary and beautiful.” Inviting, friendly and warm, Vasen often felt like a family member to her, Holdren said.
Having first worked with Vasen more than two decades ago, Yale professor of acting Ron Van Lieu said he fostered creativity amongst his students.
“He was the least cynical theater practitioner I have ever known,” Van Lieu said. “There was no cynicism in him. There was simply a true, unabashed love for what he did and for the people who did it. That promoted freedom and release of imagination amongst his students, as well as a lack of fear. There was no fear or judgment in a room he was in charge of. Without fear and judgment, creativity blossoms.”
Van Lieu said unlike many directors, Vasen valued the opinions of his actors. By always supporting his students, Vasen taught them to develop courage and to feel more confident in their instincts, Van Lieu added.
Diamond said Vasen’s fondness for Yale grew over the past three decades.
“Tim loved Yale because he thrived here,” she said. “He saw it as the place that nurtured his artistry, his intellect, his character. And he was always grateful for that. He said he learned how to learn at Yale, how to think at Yale. Yale opened up the world of art and of drama to him.”
Roughly 300 people gathered to remember Vasen on Jan. 3 at a memorial service at Princeton University. The Yale School of Drama will also host a celebration of his life at the University Theatre on Feb. 6.