A Coalition is Founded
Every year, hundreds of Yale students participate in theater-related activities, spanning from performances and workshops to theater studies classes to career advice sessions and networking events. Between the plethora of channels through which students participate in theater, from the structured major to the liberty of producing independent work, one organization is at the center: the Yale Drama Coalition.
A question on the minds of every theatrically inclined first year is, “What is the distinction between the Yale Drama Coalition, the Yale Dramatic Association and other theatrical groups on campus?”
The Yale Drama Coalition is, in its essence, an umbrella organization, which oversees most undergraduate theater activities at Yale. Founded in 1999, the coalition functions both as a central body for organizing most undergraduate productions (except those run by the theater studies major) and as an intermediary between the University administration and the Yale College theater community. The organization also provides the aforementioned opportunities, such as workshops, panels, career advising and networking sessions.
However, one of the most important focuses of the Yale Drama Coalition is to maintain inclusivity on campus. Yale Drama Coalition President Abbey Burgess ’19 said that the coalition has partnered with groups such as the Yale Dramatic Association to encourage first years to pursue theater at Yale.
“So we want to do a lot to both widen the assistance [for students] in Yale theater, in terms of who can participate and who feels that they can participate, and make [Yale theater] a less exclusive place,” Burgess said.
A critical function of the Yale Drama Coalition is its administration of casting call and audition cycles.
There are four of these casting call days, which fall in early September, early November, early December and late January. According to Burgess, when creative teams inform the coalition that they are producing a show, the creative team is asked in which casting cycle they would prefer to participate. Therefore, even second-semester shows are given the option to cast as early as September, if they so choose.
“This program reduces the stress of the casting process and enables actors to make more educated and timely decisions, while maintaining each production’s control over its respective casting,” reads a statement on the Yale College Arts website.
Yet, a centralized casting call was not always the case for undergraduate theater. It was not until 2013 — 14 years after the founding of the coalition — that the group instituted the current casting process and cycles.
“I wasn’t very familiar with the process but it went really smoothly,” Emily Rodriguez ’21 said, who participated in last spring’s audition process. “I think the YDC has really got it down in terms of communicating with auditionees and facilitating their communication with the teams. I was kept up-to-date with everything as it happened.”
The current system is highly regulated by the coalition, which stresses the rights of performers in a system that may seem daunting for amateur and experienced actors alike. When production teams offer roles to performers, the teams must stress that the actor is within their right to hear back from all the shows for which they have auditioned before committing to a role. Of course, however, all performers are expected to reflect and respond to the production teams by the end of the casting day.
Other rigorous rules include that performers cannot accept role offers before noon on casting day, and that production teams are set to meet with Yale Drama Coalition representatives at the centralized Casting Call location at 11:45 a.m.
One of the biggest qualms students have voiced regarding the Yale Drama Coalition is its website. Burgess said she and other members of the Yale Drama Coalition community, from actors and production team members to board members, struggled with constant site crashes. The original website was made from scratch years prior, and the coding behind the website had grown outdated. Yet, Burgess said, the Yale Drama Coalition could not raise the funds to create a new, fully functional website.
The coalition then decided to partner with University Productions, an oversight group within the Yale administration. University Productions, according to its mission statement, “was established in 2000 to ensure safe practices in the planning, production, and presentation of undergraduate performing arts events.”
The coalition worked with Assistant Dean for the Arts and Director of University Productions Kate Krier to fund a new website, entirely from the ground up. University Productions, in conjunction with other umbrella organizations promoting the arts, worked together to secure funding by proposing that the Yale College Arts page be redone and that its new website incorporate numerous umbrella organizations.
Dean Krier emphasized that the new website is a great accomplishment and reflects Yale College’s strength in the arts.
“We created new digital homes for the Yale Drama Coalition, the Alliance for Dance at Yale and the Yale Film Alliance, where students have new tools to promote their productions, schedule and sign up for auditions and recruit team members to their projects.”
With the website woes behind them, the coalition can focus again on the casting call process. Despite its many conveniences and efficiencies, it still must address two permeating issues: a cappella rush and casting conflicts.
This year’s casting call took place the Sunday before a cappella tap and in the middle of both a cappella and improv comedy rush, leaving many performers uncomfortable committing to a theatrical performance, especially given the notoriously intense schedule of a cappella. Given that performers are asked to respond to casting decisions within 12 hours, the short window left performers and production teams in a bind, Burgess said.
“I think it’s difficult for the productions teams, particularly now that [casting call] is a week later because now it happens at the same time as improv and a cappella rush,” Burgess said. “And we haven’t quite figured out a way to adjust our [casting calls] to coalesce our schedules such that everyone is able to work super well together.”
Furthermore, Burgess said, although the Yale Drama Coalition emphasizes communication between production teams and performers, there could be more between the various production teams as it pertains to casting. Production teams create what are called “casting trees,” or lists of all characters matched with multiple casting options for each role. Many performers, like Rodriguez, audition for two or more shows during a given audition cycle. Therefore, many performers may be on the casting tree of multiple productions, and particularly talented performers will most likely be offered multiple roles throughout the casting call day.
To prevent any overboiling tensions between production teams on casting day, the Yale Drama Coalition enforces certain rules and regulations, the most important of which being that production teams are placed in separate rooms and must meet in the lobby to discuss casting conflicts under the mediation of a Yale Drama Coalition representative. Burgess was supportive of further increasing communication between the production teams, and she said the coalition would consider having each production team share their casting tree in advance of the casting day.
“I think [communication between production teams is] a pretty informal process right now,” Burgess said. “But I’m starting to think that having a centralized place for casting trees might not be a bad thing. Might help with communication.”
Roughly 650 undergraduates are actively involved with Yale Drama Coalition activities each year, according to the Coalition’s website.
Nick Tabio | email@example.com