Theatre and Performance Studies Department mounts senior thesis production: “Drinking Games”
The three-character play, written by Gabrielle Poisson, tackles themes of addiction, alcoholism and trauma; it will be performed in the Theatre and Performance Studies Black Box.
Robbie Short, Contributing Photographer
After making it through a pandemic, a software crash and multiple scheduling conflicts, “Drinking Games” by Gabrielle Poisson ’22 finally opened in the Whitney Center’s black box theatre on Sunday.
“Drinking Games” is Poisson’s senior thesis, advised by Drama School professor Deb Margolin, for the Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) major. TAPS allows seniors to “work on a production as an actor, director, designer, dramaturg or choreographer” and combine “creative and critical strategies” in order to fulfill their thesis requirements, according to the department’s website. The play follows a young woman named Joanna who reconnects with her father after years of not speaking due to his alcoholism. The script cuts between two timelines — one in which Joanna reconnects with her father after his brain cancer diagnosis, and another in which she has a turbulent one-night stand with a nurse named Charlie.
“Alcoholism and addiction and the impact on families is a very personal topic to me, and it had been something I had wanted to write about for quite a long time,” said Poisson, the show’s playwright.
According to Mikaela Boone ’22, one of the show’s directors, the production also provides an opportunity to tackle an issue that she does not often see portrayed.
“Themes of alcoholism and addiction [are] so cleanly [swept] under the rug most of the time,” Boone said. In addition, “Drinking Games” tackles topics such as processing trauma and how trauma and addiction can affect those who are not directly impacted.
Poisson began working on the show during her sophomore year summer while at an internship in Los Angeles. While the show ended up being very personal, it was initially written in order to get an arts grant, which provided funding for Poisson to pursue her internship. However, resources such as Margolin’s mentorship allowed Poisson to transform the script into something more than just a summer project.
“I had resources I’ve never had, to try out different things, and then I worked with a bunch of really great collaborators,” Poisson explained.
Extra time due to the pandemic also allowed Poisson to revise and “live in this play as long as possible before it needed to be in a production to move forwards.”
In addition to writing the show, Poisson also plays the lead role, Joanna. She remarked that the inspiration for this character came from her desire to write a role that she would never see herself being cast in, as well as one that would “scare [her] to play and stress [her] out to play.” Boone added that the play’s supporting characters “are so loving in their own ways and so wishing to be loved and not to be forgotten or left behind.”
Still, all the work put into the script has not precluded the production from a variety of scheduling conflicts. This weekend, the Theatre and Performance Studies Black Box will host both “Drinking Games” and “Pancasila,” a senior thesis by Arnold Setiadi ’22. This overlap has caused some struggles during rehearsal, such as not being able to use the theater on days when the other production is rehearsing. “Drinking Games” also premieres just two months before Boone’s own senior thesis, “Grimly Handsome.” These commitments ended up causing the team to bring a second director, Vanessa Copeland ’22, on board. However, the confusion all seems to have been for the best, as Poisson noted that Boone and Copeland’s partnership has “been a gift” for the show.
The process ended up being “very chill” and “incredibly forgiving of people who don’t have a lot of experience in certain positions,” said Audrey Kolker ’25, the show’s assistant stage manager.
“I feel lucky to be able to be in that environment,” she added, despite one “bleak moment” when QLab — a software which contained all of the show’s programmed sound controls — crashed and deleted the show’s pre-programmed sound cues.
For Poisson, these last few months have been her favorite part of working on the play. She explains that the reason she likes theater is because “it becomes this collaborative, living, breathing piece of work and it’s no longer yours in a way.”
Kolker similarly agreed that the best part of the process has been “seeing the work come together, like the design elements, the acting and the direction.”
Ultimately, Boone hopes audiences leave the theatre with “a sense of hope.”
“Issues like these — like alcoholism, like addiction — touch so many of us, even in tangential ways,” she said. “I hope that this is something where people can walk away feeling a little better than they did when they walked in the room. People should feel that “it is okay to feel the way you are feeling, and that is not an attack on anyone else, and there are ways to process that.”
“Drinking Games” is the second TAPS thesis of the school year. Tickets can be reserved on the show’s Yale College Arts web page for upcoming performances on Nov. 9, 11 and 13.
Correction, Nov. 8: This article previously stated that “Drinking Games” will open on Tuesday. The production opened on Sunday. It has been updated.