With COVID-19 forcing casting cycles to stray from their usual timelines, the Yale Drama Coalition seeks to further alter its casting cycle policy to make theater more accessible at Yale.
The YDC is an umbrella organization for undergraduate theater that organizes these cycles — periods of casting for interested actors — for all undergraduate-led productions. For each casting cycle, the YDC typically chooses a single day on which all productions will offer roles to actors. Auditions can happen at any point before that day, but actors cannot receive offers until that designated date.
This process has proven inaccessible for some, especially those without prior theater experience. YDC leaders hope to change this process to be more inclusive and are relying on the community to offer its input.
“As the casting policy stands, there are a ton of blind spots in terms of accessibility, in terms of gender inclusivity and in terms of antiracist practices, so we are really trying to revamp and restructure the entire policy in order to address those,” YDC President Eliza MacGilvray ’23 said.
The YDC first introduced casting cycles in 2013 to organize and streamline casting for undergraduate theater productions. Jacob Yoder-Schrock ’22, YDC’s former vice president and casting cycle coordinator, said that despite the support for the introduction of a casting cycle, the YDC’s current policy has had various problems since its inception.
By April 2021, MacGilvray hopes to have a new casting cycle policy that is both reflective of the undergraduate community’s feedback and more inclusive of students with no theater experience.
According to MacGilvray, because the YDC governing board has many blind spots in understanding the shortcomings of the current casting cycle policy, the board is trying to make the restructuring process “community-oriented.”
On Wednesday, the YDC held the first of a series of town halls to gather community feedback on the current policy. Directors, producers, stage managers and others attended the town hall, where they discussed the policy’s current challenges.
Even though MacGilvray intended for the town hall to focus on problems and not solutions, she said attendees suggested several potential solutions. Suggestions included better supporting first-time directors and actors.
MacGilvray recalled her first time working as a director as “incredibly overwhelming,” despite her prior experiences in theater. There is no real support system in place for first-time directors, she said, and as a result, they look to their friends for guidance. This puts well-connected theater community members at a distinct advantage and can exclude newcomers.
Town hall attendees also suggested introducing sets of audition guidelines and workshops to ease newcomers into Yale’s theater scene.
KG Montes ’22, who attended the town hall, is a former member of the Yale Dramatic Association’s executive board and a first-time producer. She said her role as producer was challenging despite the support of her production team. But attempting to cast and produce her show equitably was a lot more difficult.
“A lot of theater — not just at Yale — tends to be oriented around whiteness and higher socioeconomic levels and able-bodiedness and cisness and heteronormativity,” Montes said. “It’s very difficult to make sure you’re taking those things into account.”
Ale Campillo ’21, vice president of the Dramat, said that both increasing the number of casting cycles and delaying the first casting cycle of each academic year has made the process more inclusive in past years. According to Campillo, this has given students with little or no prior theater experience more opportunities to audition and prepare. Campillo said that these changes “literally translate to a more diverse theater.”
Campillo noted that it is important to limit precasting, offering a role to a potential actor who has not auditioned for the production. Producers usually precast their friends, Campillo added.
According to Yoder-Schrock, the YDC can make casting more inclusive by allowing producers and actors to discuss potential roles before making an offer. The current casting policy forbids this, but Yoder-Schrock said these conversations increase transparency and encourage producers to cast people they do not know. In the Yale theater community — described as “cliquey” by Yoder-Schrock and Campillo — this would translate to more roles for students with weaker ties to the community and lesser prior experience.
MacGilvray said the YDC board is intentionally keeping timelines for town halls and modifications to the casting cycle policy vague to encourage the undergraduate community to drive the change.
“We really want this process to be shaped by the response of the community,” MacGilvray said. “If people have suggestions for how we can alter our process — if they have any criticism of how we’re operating our process — we want to hear it, and we want to be able to respond to those ideas.”
Upcoming town halls are the “Actors Town Hall” and “First Years Town Hall,” to be held on Nov. 18 and Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. respectively.
Annie Radillo | email@example.com