Tim Tai, Staff Photographer

A partnership between the Yale Repertory Theatre and the Long Wharf Theater has allowed students from the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale to engage in plays staged in the local New Haven community.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Yale Repertory Theatre has cut its performance schedule to three from its usual five for the 2021-22 season. This move left students from the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale scrambling to find productions to work on, a situation particularly pressing given the three-year active residency requirement for obtaining a master’s degree from the School. Last year, Yale Rep announced a partnership with the Long Wharf Theatre, a professional New Haven theatre focusing on promoting arts in the city through community engagement. 

Florie Seery, associate dean at the Drama School, noted that the Long Wharf Theatre is no stranger to the Drama School and the Yale Rep, and that the two theatres have a long history of collaboration and partnership.

“Long Wharf and Yale Rep are both members of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), which is a national theatre association of 77 professional theatres who bargain union contracts collectively and share best practice,” Seery said. “We are great friends.”

Camilla Tassi DRA ’22 spent the past few months working on the projection engineering for “Fires in the Mirror,” a play written by Anna Deavere Smith. The show is a co-production between the Long Wharf Theatre and Baltimore Center Stage, which provided Tassi the chance to work with communities and theatermakers beyond Yale and New Haven. 

“I love the fact that regional theatres can team up and put on shows,” Tassi said. “It was only made possible through the new partnership with Yale. Students in the graduate program at the Drama School are very much used to designing for Yale and in Yale, so I think it’s beautiful that they’re opening up opportunities for students in their final year to design for the Rep or for regional theatres. There’s a beauty in engaging with communities beyond Yale.” 

Phuong Nguyen DRA ’22 is currently working on wardrobe for “Today is my Birthday” at the Yale Rep and design for “Queen” at the Long Wharf Theatre. Nguyen noted that the partnership between Long Wharf and the Rep aligns with the Drama School’s anti-racism commitments and serves as a means of allowing Drama School students to participate in more diverse productions. Still, she believes the Yale Rep has more work to do in increasing representation and diversity in its shows. 

“The Rep hasn’t really done an Asian show for a long time,” Nguyen said. “It’s really impactful to see Asian actors on stage, telling an Asian story.” 

“Today is my Birthday” is set in Hawaii and features a mainly Asian cast. “Queen” is a co-production between Long Wharf and the National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCo) and features a diverse range of production staff and actors.

According to Nguyen, “Queen” features an all-female and mostly all-Asian design team. “Being able to work in a room with people who look like me, with similar family backgrounds as me, and have them be so nurturing is so nice,” she said.

The new and diverse range of plays made possible by the Long Wharf Theatre and Yale Rep partnership represent a changing landscape in the theatrical canon. As theaters are forced to cancel performances and reduce production showings, many theatermakers are focusing their energy on the stories that matter most to them.

“I went into theater being content with telling stories and being a part of something meaningful, but at some point you feel invisible,” Nguyen noted. “You just want to tell stories that you can relate to, and stories that remind you of home.”

Today is My Birthday” is showing at the Yale Repertory Theatre from Jan. 27 to Feb. 19. “Queen” (May 17 to June 5) and “Fires in the Mirror” (January 19 to February 6) are showing at the Long Wharf Theatre.