On Nov. 7, the cast of “Spring Awakening” — the Dramat’s Fall Mainstage production — will take the Yale University Theatre stage.
But one week prior to the musical’s premiere, about 20 transgender students and students of color, some of whom have never previously participated in theater at Yale, will perform a cabaret entitled “Spring Arising” as a response to what they perceive as a lack of diversity in the musical’s cast.
Students organize the production in the hopes of inspiring a broader dialogue about diversity in Yale Dramat casting. Ale Campillo ’21 spearheaded the project because they were disappointed with the “Spring Awakening” casting process. According to Campillo, the production crew of “Spring Awakening,” including professional director Ivey Lowe, advertised their casting process as “color conscious” and said that they were open to casting LGBTQ+ and gender nonbinary actors. Still, the cast includes just three students of color. Lowe did not respond to request for comment on the record.
“Art is supposed to be universal, and we often don’t cast it in a way that is,” said Aïssa Guindo ’21, who will perform in one of the “Spring Arising” productions.
Campillo emphasized that the production is not meant to directly protest “Spring Awakening” or even the Dramat organization. They said that the Dramat board has been “very helpful” in their communication with the leadership of “Spring Arising.” This communication has led to a collaboration resulting in a celebration of transgender performers and performers of color rather than a production of protest.
The Dramat introduced a community outreach coordinator position on its board last year in order to make the theater community more accessible to all students at Yale. Branson Rideaux ’20, the Dramat’s president and Noelle Mercer ’21, the current outreach coordinator, both expressed enthusiastic support for “Spring Arising.”
“I think that [the Dramat board members] are in an institution that historically was not designed to meet the needs of a diversified Yale,” said Campillo. “So I think that’s where the problem lies — it’s not them.”
Elayna Garner ’20, a “Spring Arising” performer, maintained that much work must be done to improve inclusion and diversity in the Dramat. Garner said that the organization does a poor job of reaching out to cultural houses and spreading audition information to minority groups on campus. Garner also expressed frustration with the “segregation” of Dramat shows, noting that shows directed by students of color tend to feature more diverse casts.
Guindo said that Dramat tends to show “a POC show and then a majority show.” The casts of “Dreamgirls” in Fall 2017 and “Filling Basins” in Fall 2018, for example, were predominantly people of color. Yet, according to Guindo, shows that do not explicitly call for minority representation generally lack diversity.
“[“Spring Awakening”] really would have really been a great opportunity to show a bit more of what Yale looks like,” said Campillo. They added that “Spring Awakening” is a pop musical and could have been accessible to students of diverse backgrounds.
Rideaux and Mercer said that conversations with the leadership team of “Spring Arising” have been helpful in determining how to best approach increasing inclusion in their organization. They are now focused on making audition processes more accessible to all students, regardless of theater background. Before the Mainstage auditions for “Spring Awakening,” the Dramat ran an audition workshop that drew about 40 students. But Rideau and Mercer recognized that they might not have adequately prepared students for the callback process.
“The Dramat can learn a lot from [“Spring Arising”] but also we can support what is a really amazing thing that they’re doing,” Rideaux said. “What I’ve seen this year that’s different from my first year is that we’ve been able to support the ‘Spring Arising’ team.”
“Spring Arising” will play in the Hopper Cabaret on Nov. 2 and 3.
Lindsay Daugherty | firstname.lastname@example.org .
Correction: Due to misinformation provided to the reporter, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that there are two students of color in the cast of “Spring Awakening.” In fact, there are three students of color in the cast of “Spring Awakening.”