Courtesy of Mikayla Johnson

Instead of the conventional self-care routine with scented candles, yoga exercises and face masks, the Yale Cabaret’s “Ambient Dreams for Sleep-Deprived Teens” redefines the meaning of wellness, encouraging all to “stay safe, stay well and stay woke.”

The Cabaret performed the show, which was a satire comedy with multiple segments, last weekend. The production ran for approximately 70 minutes and provided humorous but critical commentary on mainstream — and often superficial — aspects of wellness culture.

“I was really interested in the contradictions within the wellness juggernaut,” Samantha Wolf MUS ’21, the creator of the show, said. “There is only so much yoga and meditation can really do when we are staring so many systemic problems in the face.”

Wolf first conceived the show a year ago as a project for a radio history class, where she was tasked with producing two hours of radio content to broadcast to the Yale community. The original audio-only radio show is still available on Wolf’s website. After Wolf enrolled in a sound design class at the Yale School of Drama, her professor, Matthew Suttor — director of the Laurie Beechman Center for Theatrical Sound Design and Music — encouraged her to pitch her radio show to the Yale Cabaret. Months later, the Cabaret notified Wolf about their interest in producing the show as a live theatrical performance.

“Ambient Dreams for Sleep-Deprived Teens” is not just innovative thematically, but also has an unconventional structure with a mixture of eclectic elements. Director Sarah Scafidi DRA ’23 SOM ’23, who is interested in non-traditional theater, compared the production to a “YouTube variety show,” as it retains elements of traditional theater while incorporating newer characteristics of online theater. “It’s kind of its own unique thing,” Scafidi said.

“Ambient Dreams is funny, and it is satire, but it also challenges people’s assumptions,” Scafidi said. “It gets at wellness culture, and the ways [people] often attempt to mask real problems.”

Due to the pandemic, the show was adapted from a live performance to a virtual one. The team only began preparing for the show five weeks ago, but the production processes were intricate.

The online format brought its own unique challenges. The team chose to use a Zoom webinar as their platform for the performance and had to learn to navigate the technology effectively. The production staff also had to determine the right balance between prerecorded and live segments in the show.

Scafidi said the “effective collaboration” between writers, producers, actors, experiential curators and staff members made the show a success. However, according to Scafidi, Zoom made it difficult to communicate, since it was harder to assess how everyone was doing on virtual platforms. She noted that to work around the challenge, the team had to check in with each other more frequently.

Despite these obstacles, “Ambient Dreams” seamlessly integrated different skits — including “Horrorscopes,” “Proletariat Yoga” and “Unboxing with Pandora” — that critiqued aspects of wellness culture. The segments also analyzed discourse surrounding environmental disasters, the coronavirus pandemic, American politics and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

“I created [the project] a year ago, but it has a whole new resonance now with the pandemic and U.S. election results,” Wolf said. Wolf expressed the importance of active engagement with societal issues.

Narrator interludes and selectively placed commercials provided humorous transitions while educating the audience on topics such as environmental issues. Sound also played an important role in emphasizing skits’ messages and establishing different moods. The team incorporated dubstep segments and ASMR — videos and sounds that lead to a euphoric tingling and relaxation — into the show.

“This has been a stressful year for everyone,” Scafidi said. “It was especially stressful recently with the election. [“Ambient Dreams”] became a very therapeutic space to just laugh and have a good time. We acknowledged [topics like the U.S. elections], but it was nice to be able to put those things aside, come together and just spend time with each other.”

Wolf and Scafidi hope to continue their creator-director collaboration. Depending on health and safety guidelines, they would like to have a live performance of “Ambient Dreams for Sleep-Deprived Teens” in the future.

“I hope [the audience] had fun,” Wolf said. “I hope they were able to feel joy from the performance, and that they laughed as much as we did while we were writing it.”

The Hartford Courant described Wolf’s radio project as an “experimentally inclined … satirical health and wellness show” that is characterized by “beautifully modulated laid-back lunacy.”

The next performance in the 2020-21 Yale Cabaret season is “A Voice in the Dark,” a radio play written by Maggie McCaffery DRA ’23 that will take place on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5.

Wei-Ting Shih | wei-ting.shih@yale.edu

WEI-TING SHIH