A small group of students from the theater community gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Monday night to discuss the future of Yale theater and to address issues of inclusivity and racial diversity.
Hosted by the Yale Drama Coalition, the open town hall meeting was designed to discuss YDC plans and initiatives for the upcoming year and to address rising concerns among students surrounding representations of race and gender, as well as accessibility and inclusivity for people of color in the theater community. YDC President Michaela Johnson ’17 said the inspiration for the gathering came from a discussion held last semester about diversity in Yale theater amidst calls for greater representation of minority groups in campus performances. But though the hundreds of undergraduates involved in theater on campus are all affiliated with the YDC, only about a dozen attended Monday’s event, and only a handful of participants came from outside the YDC board.
“The YDC Board has sat and talked for a long time about what we need to do, and we need to take action now. We really want to get feedback from the community so we can address these issues and not just talk about them,” Johnson told the News. “We want to take steps to make the current situation better and it matters to us that everyone is involved in every step of the process.”
During the meeting, attendees discussed possible solutions to creating a more racially diverse undergraduate theater community. Some ideas included hosting regular, campuswide discussions on diversity and inviting an ethnically diverse range of theater figures to come speak and teach at Yale. Vice President of YDC Aviva Abusch ’18 said the major purpose of Monday’s gathering was to make the YDC more open while improving the way the organization reaches out to minorities.
Some found the low attendance unsurprising. Dave Harris ’16 — who did not attend the event but who last semester helped to write a show called “Exception to the Rule” which featured an entire cast and production team of people of color — attributed the small turnout to the fact that conversations are meaningless unless concrete action is taken. Part of the reason people did not attend is that they did not have time this week, he said, but mostly it is because the goal and actual advantages of the meeting were unclear.
“The problem of representation and inclusivity in Yale theater is a fairly clear one that we’ve been talking about for my four years here, yet the only ones who seem to be actively taking steps to change this are people of color,” Harris said. “I mean this in terms of putting up shows that necessitate diverse casts and actually create opportunities. The town hall struck me as more of a ‘Let’s talk about this’ rather than a ‘Let’s accept culpability and then actually do better,’ and there comes a point where talking about it becomes only a fraction of the work.”
Harris said the actual issue with Yale theater specifically in regards to inclusivity is one of opportunity and not of talent. When opportunities arise for actors, directors and writers of color, they not only show up but they excel, he said, citing the fact that three of the five winners of the 2016 Yale Playwrights Festival were women of color. He added that one possible solution would be requiring the Yale Dramat — the largest undergraduate theater organization at Yale — to do a certain number of plays written by women and people of color.
Still, attendees were not overwhelmingly discouraged by the turnout. 2016 Yale Playwrights Festival winner and meeting attendee Stefani Kuo ’17 said she came to the event because as an Asian playwright, she does not see others from the same background as her represented in the theater community. YDC Liaison to the Yale School of Drama Hannah Friedman ’17 said the event was a good way to carry over last semester’s conversations on race and inclusivity, adding that theater events in general draw small crowds due to people’s involvement with only specific aspects of the community. Caroline Francisco ’18 agreed, adding that part of the reason for the low turnout is because it is difficult to get people invested in Yale theater as a whole because many are often wholly occupied with individual shows rather than the community at large.
“With this new board, we wanted to think of new ways to create connections with the theater community,” Abusch said. “Our board meetings are usually open but there is typically little to no attendance by the general community outside of the board, and one way we wanted to increase interactions with the community is with these regular town hall meetings.”
The YDC was founded in 1999.