Courtesy of Kim Zhou

Yale Cabaret the David Geffen School of Drama’s student-operated theater ​​ ran “We Fucked Up: A Game Show,” the first show of its 56th season, from Sept. 14 to Sept. 16.

In the play, an admissions officer from the fictitious Generic University realizes that she accidentally exceeded her school’s enrollment cap by three students. She and her assistant host a  competition in which four students take on increasingly ridiculous tasks in hopes of earning back their spot. This is the Cabaret’s first of twelve shows this academic year. 

“Part of the humor that we’re playing around with is that university officials are humans too, and they absolutely drop the F-bomb. They’re usually not allowed to do it on camera in front of other people,” said the show’s lead creative, director and video designer John Horzen DRA ’24. “Look, no other way to put it: we fucked up. But here’s how we’re going to make it right. By a Hunger Games-esque competition for people to see how they can keep their scholarship.” 

The show was semi-improvised and involved the students, the game show host and the host’s assistant portraying exaggerated versions of themselves. Throughout the play, the contestants completed both live and pre-recorded tasks. The latter required the video team to film the contestants individually over a four-day period so they were unaware of how their co-stars had approached the tasks, said Horzen.

Horzen and the other writers came up with 48 tasks in total for the actors, ranging from creating false Tinder profiles to telling the game show host and audience a real-life secret. This allowed the writers to present the contestants with a completely new set of challenges during each of the five distinct performances. 

“[The actors] are as much a part of the experience and the audience as the audience themselves,” Horzen told the News. “The writers’ room has prepackaged a bunch of setups for jokes that people can either slam home or discard and go for another one. It’s a documentary-esque approach to theater where we go in with all the research and all the preparation, we roll, you see what happens.” 

Horzen said that his initial inspiration for the show stemmed from conversations with other School of Drama students about which skills they hadn’t explored in their classes and were hoping to strengthen. 

He noted that actors mentioned not having learned how to act as themselves in front of a camera. Similarly, students in the production program had mainly focused on lighting for theater, rather than lighting for cameras.

“People end up graduating from this school, they go on to these massive careers, and they’re in front of the cameras constantly,” Horzen said. “Often, an actor’s first appearance on a talk show-esque vibe is in front of a fairly large audience. Some of them are directly on Fallon … so there was interest in playing around with being on camera.” 

Yale Cabaret’s co-artistic directors Doaa Ouf DRA ’25 and Kyle Stamm DRA ’25 selected Horzen’s show to usher in the theater’s 56th season, which has the overarching theme of “Sandbox.” 

Ouf said that they picked “Sandbox” as their season’s theme in order to encourage students to explore experimental forms of theater outside of the “strict” confines of their class assignments. 

She also hopes to give students the opportunity to step outside of their specific roles at the school, such as acting or production training. 

“The reason we chose ‘Sandbox’ is to foster a sense of playing and [a] sense of experimentation,” Ouf said. “We’re less focused on getting polished plays and more focused on giving people a space to be able to showcase an idea that they don’t have any other place for.” 

Horzen submitted the proposal for the play in early July and received Ouf and Stamm’s approval at the beginning of August. 

Although Horzen had already assembled a team of writers by the time he submitted the initial proposal, Stamm said that the main focus during the proposal process is whether the proposer has a viable idea, rather than whether they have found people to work with. 

“Some come in with a full team, some come in with nothing and some in between,” Stamm said. “We’re here to help bring the teams together and meet new people, which is how me and [Ouf] got into the Cab for the first time … So that’s a big thing for us, is trying to bring in the whole community and not have the same team do every show.” 

One change Ouf and Stamm introduced this season is having Cab 1, the first show of the season, take place in mid-September instead of the beginning of October. 

Consequently, Horzen experienced the “curse of Cab 1.” Some of his original cast and crew members were unable to participate in the show because the School of Drama assigned them to other productions or their class schedules conflicted with rehearsals. 

Another new aspect of this season is that this is the first time in several years that both artistic directors of the Yale Cabaret are designers, rather than performers. Ouf is pursuing an MFA in projection design, while Stamm is studying lighting design. 

This shift means that Ouf and Stamm will be able to bring in designers from their departments if an approved show is struggling to round out its team, as was the case for “We Fucked Up.” 

Additionally, Ouf and Stamm are implementing four workshop weeks throughout the school year, starting in December. These workshops will aim to teach students various skills that are not necessarily covered in their classes: for example, how to deal with intimacy in theater. 

“A lot of these skills are taught to … a subset of people here at the school, depending on what department you’re in,” Ouf told the News. “But a lot of people have to deal with it, whether they’re on stage or backstage. And so [we’re] opening it up to more people to be able to get that experience and knowledge just from Yale Cabaret.” 

Horzen emphasized the importance of Cab 1, as it sets the tone for the rest of the Yale Cabaret’s season. 

He proposed “We Fucked Up,” a comedic and lighthearted show, in order to push back on the School of Drama’s pattern of solely putting on bleak productions. 

“We’re often called the Yale School of Trauma over here because we exclusively put on sad plays,” he said. “But [comedy is] another thing that is fun to explore. Exploring comedic chops, exploring comedic timing, exploring playful creation and chances to just be a kid again, while also pushing your discipline to the limit.” 

Yale Cabaret’s second show of the season, “The Rasa Jar,” will run from Oct. 5 to Oct. 7.

Maia Nehme covers housing and homelessness and Latine communities for the News. Originally from Washington, D.C., she is a first-year in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in history.