The playwriting program at the Yale School of Drama will culminate into the Carlotta Festival of New Plays, a series of three shows that runs from May 9 to May 16 and exemplifies the energy and excitement of innovative theater.
“These are new plays by new artists that are thinking toward the future of the field and things they haven’t seen before,” explained Anne Erbe, the associate chair of the playwriting department and the festival supervisor.
At the end of every year, the Yale School of Drama produces plays written by its three graduating playwrights. The plays are directed by graduating students in the directing program and performed by first- and second-year acting students. But, the festival centers around the playwrights’ work.
Caitlin Griffin, associate director of marketing and communications for the Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre, described the festival as an opportunity to launch the playwrights into the professional theater world. Each of the three shows will perform four times over the course of eight days, cycling through in order.
This May, the festival will celebrate its thirteenth year in production. Erbe remembered attending the first festival as a producer. That year, one of the graduating playwrights was Tarell Alvin McCraney DRA ’07, who won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2016 for “Moonlight” and currently chairs the playwriting department.
In addition to talent, this festival presents a diversity of subject matter.
“Usually there’s a theme or two that I can pick out and say all three plays are around this axis, but I can’t do it this year,” Erbe explained.
While Majkin Holmquist’s DRA’18 “Tent Revival” explores the mid-20th century evangelical revivalist tradition in Kansas, Genne Murphy’s DRA ’18 “The Girl is Chained” contemplates racial and feminist issues in Trump’s America. Adding to the variety of setting and theme is Josh Wilder’s DRA ’18 “Marty and the Hands that Could,” which follows the titular character’s life after prison.
The broad range of the plays reflects a striking mix of playwright backgrounds.
Holmquist lived in Kansas her entire life before coming to Yale. She engaged with a “very bare bones” theater program in college, and started a small theater company with her friends after graduation. But for most of her time between undergraduate and graduate school, she worked as a middle school English teacher. She admitted that her background is “radically different from being in the theater industry.”
Murphy is from Philadelphia and worked in a variety of theater industries after studying theater in college. In addition to working in arts education, she hopped around different jobs. Working with nonprofits provided her experience with new plays and young writers.
Wilder, the youngest of the three, is also from Philadelphia. He received a more traditional theater education from Carnegie Mellon University, where he said he “discovered [he] was a writer in an acting program.” After graduation he received a couple of fellowships and spent time building up a body of work in Minnesota.
Wilder and Murphy met in Philadelphia before coming to Yale, a sign of the trio’s immediate and strong bond. He called their group “a tight-knit family since day one.”
Erbe commented on the closeness of the group as well. Majkin, Murphy and Wilder have spent the last three years building their relationship through classes, projects and conversations. Collaboration is an integral part of Yale School of Drama, and one that manifests itself clearly in the Carlotta Festival.
Wilder said he chose Yale’s playwriting program for its interaction with the directing and writing programs. The Carlotta Festival taught him to trust in his directors and actors and ultimately spend less time with them during rehearsals. Majkin said she had not worked with designers until the Carlotta Festival. Murphy called this festival her “most intensive collaboration” so far.
“I had one experience of a professional production in a small theater before I came here, and I had worked with designers in that process,” Murphy said. “But it’s very different here. There’s been more of an opportunity to have deep discussions.”
The three have worked on their plays for most of the year, developing their idea in various ways. Majkin began “Tent Revival” in a workshop class at the end of the fall of her second year. From there, she continued writing scenes and working on it in another class the following spring. Similar to Majkin, Murphy worked on her play throughout classes after conceiving of her idea at the end of her first year. She said receiving feedback from her classmates in other programs helped to develop her piece and to encourage her to pursue it. Wilder, meanwhile, wrote the first pages of “Marty and the Hands that Could” on the train during the second semester of his second year. His moment of clarity — or two hours of a “mad dash,” as he called it — was fueled by the motivation to “not get kicked out of school.”
All the authors felt excited about their work. Wilder described a faith in his piece that the other two shared.
“It’s just a gut feeling that you have when you have something special,” he said. “For me, this is the best play that I’ve written since I’ve been here, and I just had a feeling that it was. I wanted to go with that feeling no matter how scary it was.”
Though the plays diverge in concept, they all take on risks with alacrity. Erbe said her advice to the playwrights is always to seize the opportunity of the Carlotta Festival to take big chances. Breaking away from the constraints of other professional productions enables the festival to offer “pure artistic learning,” she said.
The playwrights value the freedom of the festival. Murphy said that despite the pressure inherent in any theatrical production, the Carlotta Festival is “still a safer place to take risks with such a new work.”
Carrie Mannino ’20, an assistant director of “Tent Revival” and a Weekend editor for the News, noticed this emphasis on experimentation. She explained that Majkin’s work, directed by Rory Pelsue, explores different styles of staging. She described it as a kind of “hyper-theatrical” staging they call “cubism.”
As an aspiring director and playwright herself, Mannino’s involvement has introduced her to new practices, such as character exercises, dramaturgical research and lengthy conversations among director, writer and actors before blocking scenes.
“I’m very thankful that they let me in the room. Just to work with them and hear their process is very inspiring to me,” Mannino said.
While Majkin, Murphy and Wilder spoke of gratitude for the program and the growth it enabled them to accomplish, they look forward to moving into the professional world more fully. Their futures remain uncertain to some degree due to factors like family and jobs, but they all look toward their futures with anticipation.
“I’m excited to go back to my source of inspiration and recharge my creative life,” Wilder said. “To be compelled to write a play rather than assigned a play.”
Tommy Martin | email@example.com