The Yale Repertory Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary this Friday with a panel discussion titled “50 Years of Yale Rep: A Conversation with Theatre Makers Present at the Creation, Along the Way and Today.”
Panelists included Artistic Director of the Yale Repertory Theater James Bundy, who began his tenure in 2002, and the theater’s founding Artistic Director Robert Brustein. The panel also featured Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Jane Kaczmarek, Tony Award nominee Kimberly Scott DRA ’87, Resident Dramaturg Catherine Sheehy DRA ’99, original Rep company member Carmen de Lavallade, former Artistic Director Stan Wojewodski, Jr., two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl and Tony Award-winning Resident Set Designer Michael Yeargan. James Magruder, a novelist and playwright, moderated the discussion.
The discussion highlighted turning points in the panelists’ performing-arts careers as well as the role theater plays in the broader artistic world. From light-hearted anecdotes to fond recollections of the Rep’s influence on their respective careers, panelists noted the transformative experience working at the Rep provides Yale School of Drama students — who are given the opportunity to collaborate with leading professionals in the field.
“The fearlessness I was able to gain from working at the Rep was amazing,” Scott said.
Kaczmarek recalled her first Drama School audition, for which she was asked to perform Shakespeare. Since she had never before seen a play by Shakespeare, she said, she went to the New Haven Free Public Library to listen to a recording of the playwright’s work featuring Judi Dench. In addition to memorizing the monologue exactly as she heard it, English accent included, Kaczmarek devised a “little dance” to complement her audition.
“Needless to say, I didn’t get into Yale the first time,” Kaczmarek said.
A common theme among panelists was the Rep’s empowerment of students and performers to take risks. Brustein noted the significance of artistic freedom the Rep provided students and collaborators.
Ruhl expanded on this point, highlighting Yale’s support for its artists.
“A real artistic institution takes care of the artist from the cradle to the grave,” Ruhl said, “and here I had the ability to keep writing and keep experimenting.”
When asked how her experiences at the Rep shaped her as a performer, de Lavallade — who previously worked as a dancer — noted some of the challenges transitioning to life as an actor had posed for her. She said that while dance was “like being in the military,” the Rep gave her the space to voice her opinions and influence the artistry of productions she worked on.
The discussion quickly turned emotional, as many panelists recalled meaningful moments from their time at Yale. Tearing up, Scott described her epiphany after watching a performance at the Afro-American Cultural Center.
“That afternoon changed everything I ever thought about what actors were,” Scott said. “I understood we were not pretenders, but professional truth tellers … This is our job as part of humanity.”
Current students elaborated on the culture of involvement and experimentation at the Rep today. Jeremy Harris DRA ’19, who is studying to become a playwright, said working at the Rep offered him a comprehensive view of theater that transcended the script itself. He noted that working hands-on with productions involving numerous costume changes revealed the implications of including these costume changes in his own scripts.
Michael Breslin DRA ’19 emphasized the Rep’s unique role in the landscape of American theater.
“It’s truly fascinating to get to know this model, to see how we can push theater into a new realm.”
Twelve Rep productions have been performed on Broadway.