When Noam Shapiro ’15 was in high school, he saved his money and waited in long lines to get tickets to theater performances. Now, he is directing them.
Shapiro returned to Yale this semester to direct “Sweeney Todd,” the Yale Dramatic Association’s fall main-stage production. He grew up in New York and watched lots of theater as a child. When he was younger, Shapiro would run to Times Square to buy cheap tickets to Broadway shows. He attended Bronx High School of Science, which had limited opportunities for the arts. Because of this, Shapiro would spend his summers participating in theater programs. Along with his directing expertise, Shapiro brings his passion to tell a story that inspires an audience.
“I didn’t think I would become a professional director until I graduated from Yale,” Shapiro said. “I first came into Yale thinking I would be a chemistry major.”
During his first year at Yale, Shapiro took the introductory theater course Survey of Theater and Drama and fell in love instantly. He then understood it was possible to study theater in college and pursue it professionally, he said.
Shapiro’s first experience directing was during his first year at Yale when he co-founded the improvisation group Lux Improvitas. When he was a sophomore, he started directing because he wanted to create more opportunities for student designers and actors. At the time, a lot of undergraduate productions were extremely small. This drove his interest in ensemble pieces.
“I am so glad to see that there are even more directors and productions on campus today,” Shapiro said.
Bradley Nowacek ’23 is a member of the show’s ensemble. He noted that Shapiro closely attends to detail and focuses on the importance of every element of the show, big or small.
“It is very clear how much work he puts into what he does,” Nowacek said. “He is very charming and a delight to work with.”
The first play Shapiro directed was called “Circle Mirror Transformation.” This experience demonstrated the power of bringing people together to build a vision. By the end of sophomore year, he declared a theater and history double major — while still making sure to take plenty of STEM courses.
For Shapiro, each directing project poses a new challenge. When he was an undergraduate, that meant making each project larger and more complex. For his thesis project, he directed Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” a music cavalry with 26 actors. This show enabled Shapiro to provide acting opportunities to a large number of student performers.
When he graduated, Shapiro considered many different jobs but soon realized he wanted to be a professional director. He started “cold emailing” every name he could find online, sat in rehearsal rooms and met with many directors and producers, he said.
Coincidentally, “Sweeney Todd” was the first Dramat show Shapiro saw as a Yale undergraduate.
“I love being able to revisit the show in the same space with a different vision and a different group of students,” Shapiro said. “Every day — whether in rehearsals, design meetings or during tech — I am blown away by the passion and the talent of the students.”
This time around, the team has decided to modernize the show by setting it in the “distant present,” a time that feels recognizable to audiences. The show was originally set in the mid-1800s.
“I have been working with Noam for about nine months,” said Mikaela Boone ’21, the show’s producer. “He is a very collaborative person. The first thing he did was create a big Google Drive with everyone to see what the other participants were thinking. He makes sure that everyone feels like it is their space, too.”
Shapiro has also collaborated with international artists to evaluate the immigrant experience within today’s political climate. He seeks to use the director’s platform to broaden public knowledge of various lived experiences.
“Being a director is like being a chef in a kitchen,” Shapiro said. “You are preparing lots of dishes all at once, and when one is ready to go, you keep moving the others along.”
When he is not directing, Shapiro works as a college adviser and a copy editor for a small publishing house. Still, “the joy of theater,” Shapiro said, “is that it seems to be a hobby and job at the same time. At its best, it never feels like work.”
Performances of “Sweeney Todd” run from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23 at the University Theatre.
Tamar Geller | firstname.lastname@example.org