Courtesy Yale University
Tarell Alvin McCraney DRA ’07 has been appointed the chair of the Department of Playwriting at the School of Drama for a three-year term effective July 1.
McCraney is the youngest and only black department chair in the Drama School. He will succeed Paula Vogel as playwright-in-residence at the Yale Repertory Theatre as well as the previous playwriting chair, Jeanie O’Hare.
An accomplished playwright in his own right, McCraney’s script, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” served as the inspiration for the film “Moonlight.” The film recently won four Gotham Awards for best screenplay, best ensemble, best feature and the audience award — the first film to do so in the history of the Gotham Independent Film Awards.
“[McCraney] is someone invested in excellence, and also in the power of the theatre to connect immediately, including with nontraditional audiences,” Dean of the Drama School James Bundy said. “He is a trailblazer in his own right, but he is also someone with a deep appreciation of the power of the canon. I believe he will empower artists both to reinterpret the classic repertoire, as well as to give voice to entirely contemporary concerns.”
Elizabeth Diamond, chair of the Directing Department at the School of Drama and resident director at the Yale Rep, served on the search committee for the chair position in the Playwriting Department. She said that the committee hoped to find an applicant whose artistry, professional achievement and experience in the field would serve as an inspiration for students.
McCraney has received multiple accolades for his works, including a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2007 Whiting Award, the 2013 Windham-Campbell Award and the inaugural Paula Vogel Award and others. McCraney also served on the Yale School of Drama’s board of advisors until 2016 and is a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble and an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
McCraney’s works include “The Brother/Sister Plays,” “Marcus: Or The Secret of Sweet,” “Head of Passes,” “Choir Boy” and “Wig Out!.”
“This return to Yale marks a need in myself to advocate for [numerous] collaborators and their voices, but also to wrestle alongside them with the perplexing and powerful quandaries of the day,” McCraney said in a press release distributed by the School of Drama.
Bundy said that McCraney’s excellence in the field was apparent even before his plays were professionally premiered. He added that McCraney’s “The Brother/Sister Plays,” a trilogy produced at the School of Drama during McCraney’s time at Yale, were “stirring,” which allowed him to feel hopeful about the future and potential of the American theater.
Sarah Ruhl, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and lecturer within Yale College and the Drama School, agreed that McCraney’s presence at Yale would prove enriching, even for those not involved in the Playwriting Department.
“[McCraney’s appointment is] something like the Lupita effect. When Lupita Nyong’o [DRA ’12] won the Oscar, the amount of people of color, women of color especially, who applied to this school skyrocketed.” Tori Sampson DRA ’17 said. “I think that’s going to happen with the Playwriting Department too. People of color are going to see [McCraney] in this position and the application demographic is going to shift a bit and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Sampson was able to meet McCraney in person on multiple occasions last year, notably when he viewed “Some Bodies Travel,” a play she had co-written with Jireh Breon Holder DRA ’16. She said McCraney is an inspirational figure, particularly given his work promoting the voices of black women. She added that she expects McCraney’s influence to extend beyond the Yale community and into New Haven as he has done in Miami, where he was raised and currently works.
Similarly, Diamond said that having an artist of color within an influential position at the school will “enliven” conversations among faculty and students and benefit the Drama School as a whole.
McCraney will begin working part-time this winter to admit the incoming class of playwrights.