Yale theaters to raise their curtains for 2022-2023 performance season
Following a two year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale’s theater companies are set to return to the stage for the first full performance season since 2020.
BY ASHER JOSEPH
As Yale’s campus begins to buzz with students fresh off of summer vacation, the university’s theater companies are gearing up to raise the curtain on the 2022-2023 performance season.
Following the coronavirus pandemic and Yale’s shift to online learning in March 2020, the university theaters were left with no choice but to close their doors for the remainder of the spring semester. The protective measure was later extended to the end of 2021. As Yale’s theater companies revise their safety precautions, the university’s thespian community is on track towards a slightly more conventional performance season.
“Yale recommends a distance of 6-12 feet be kept between the performers and audience members,” Maya Li, Yale Dramat social media manager, said. “However, thinking back to how quickly and drastically the school would change COVID-19 restrictions for theater last year, I anticipate (or at least hope) that all these restrictions will only be temporary.”
Live theater at Yale adapted in many ways to accommodate the restrictions the pandemic imposes on large gatherings. During performances, they limit audience capacity to enforce social distancing, implementing mask mandates, and requiring that all participants be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to Ryan Pascal, outreach coordinator of the Yale Dramat, having windows open and fans running is another burdensome procedure taken during performances that extends intermission.
The nuisance of extensive COVID-19 protocols has also affected the Yale Repertory Theatre, where productions have adapted to meticulous safety procedures.
In order to preserve a consistent rehearsal schedule while adhering to the CDC’s ten day quarantine recommendation, managing director Florie Seery explained the company has had to increase the number of understudies, add more costumes, and create a more robust rehearsal process.
The Yale Repertory Theatre has also been working with a COVID-19 compliance manager to monitor frequent testing as required by the actors union, and to establish a course of action each day.
“We have a daily Zoom call with many stakeholders, called ‘Go/No Go,’ to determine whether we can do a rehearsal or performance based on the number of COVID illnesses in the company and present CDC and Yale policies,” Seery said.
For the upcoming season, the Yale Repertory Theatre will bolster its vaccination requirement for audience members and performers alike with the addition of booster shots, as well as continue to mandate masks unless on stage.
Student productions are likely to follow the same regulations.
Although COVID-19 divested theater of its physicality, the virus has added new meaning to the stories once again coming to life at Yale.
“The shows feel so much more deep, and profound, and real,” Pascal said. “Through the pandemic, we’ve all learned that life can change like crazy. And it can, unfortunately, be very fleeting. I think I really realized that there are so many stories to be told; no story is not worthy of having a space.”
The Yale Dramat has made the commitment to amplify underrepresented voices and foster an inclusive environment through the Dramat Plan for an Anti-Racist and Caring Community, and documents on its website containing resources to support actors.
This call to consider the future has also been felt at the Yale Repertory Theatre.
The playhouse’s board has progressively revealed new initiatives to promote inclusivity through institutional comments in alignment with the country’s social trajectory, shaped by movements such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate.
“COVID-19 coincided with a period of racial reckoning for this country and for the theater field. We have changed many of our policies to make our art form more equitable and more sustainable,” Seery said.
Seery cited a robust feedback process for artists, the company’s Indigenous land acknowledgement, and the further diversification of the Yale Repertory Theatre’s season planning group.
Li echoed this statement and attributes these newfound values to the pandemic.
“I found the shows I saw with [ideas of isolation and human connection] to be more relatable, but I know others who connected with their heritage over the pandemic and sought out works that they saw themselves in,” Li said.
Li has noticed an increase in the number of in-person performances as a direct result of artists finally having the chance to produce the stories they have been itching to share.
“The greatest thing that happened last year was the return of our beloved Rep audience,” Seery said. “We opened our first play of the season last January, during Omicron, which severely limited the audiences. By March, New Haven was in a much better place with COVID. Choir Boy was one of our best attended shows in Rep history.”
As the theater experiences a resurgence in patrons, it expects to see its standard numbers turn out for Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which begins performances on October 6.
“[Theater at Yale] looks very different, but that hasn’t deterred the people who love this art from participating in it,” Pascal said. “We see now that it’s back, people are loving it. It’s just as revolutionary as it once was.”
A Department of Drama was founded at Yale in 1924, which later evolved into the David Geffen School of Drama and the Repertory Theatre.