Preview: Yale Cabaret 49 (the first three shows of the season)
“I’ve grown accustomed to her face,” the song goes. But sometimes, just when you’ve grown accustomed, things change. The change in itself becomes a custom.
Each year, the face of the Yale Cabaret changes as new leadership, drawn from current students at the Yale School of Drama, takes over the helm. This year, the Co-Artistic Directors for the 49th season of the venerable New Haven theater-in-a-basement are Ashley Chang, a 2016 MFA in dramaturgy now working on her doctorate, Kevin Hourigan, a third-year director, and Davina Moss, a third-year dramaturg. They are joined by Steven Koernig, a fourth-year working on a joint degree, MFA/MBA in theater management at the School of Drama and the School of Management, as the Managing Director.
In its 48 years (I’ve been a fan since its 42nd year), the Cab has made a virtue of its intimate, “nowhere to hide” size, its extremely limited runs (3 nights only), its convivial ambiance of food-and-drink followed by a show (Anna Belcher’s ever-changing menu is always intriguing), and its ability to showcase “passion projects”—the work that students do because they believe in it, and not just because it goes with earning the degree. In fact, many times at the Cab, the students are doing things that are not directly related to what they study at Yale.
That, the Cabsters say, is something they very much want to encourage. So much so that this year there are “ambassadors” or Cross-Disciplinary Consultants from the other Yale schools taking part as liaisons, as a means to find collaborators for YSDers in proposing and designing shows—the Schools of Architecture, Art, Arts and Sciences, Forestry and Environmental Science, Law, Medicine, Music, Public Health, all have input.
There are three key concepts, Moss says, that the team agreed on in eliciting proposals from the YSD community: “the line of inquiry”—it should be bold, it should be about something that needs to be explored or expressed; “the rigor of production”—though the Cab is open to all kinds of experimental approaches, the best shows give a lot of thought to how they will be staged; with such short rehearsal times and other limitations, this is not a place for making it up as you go; “formal diversity”—the Cab season never repeats itself, which means that the kinds of theater offered will be surprisingly different week after week.
The point, Moss says, is “not to emphasize the Cab’s limitations, but its opportunities.” What can be done there that wouldn’t work anywhere else?
Another key element, as suggested by the cross-disciplinary emphasis, is on collaboration. One of the team’s questions to proposers was “who do you want to collaborate with,” and there has been a lot of positive outcome from that question.
The first show of the season should give us all a good idea of what the team means by collaboration, as well as inquiry, rigor and formal diversity: Styx Songs, September 15-17, is, according to the team, a “bold experiment” with “high risk,” in the sense of great ambition that may or may not come off completely. The show, described as “drama that transgresses the assumed borders between centuries, civilizations, and disciplines,” presents a collaboration among members of the Schools of Art, Architecture, Drama, and Music. Directed by second-year director Lucie Dawkins with a cast of 15, Styx Songs—which references the mythical river Styx (not the rock band of the same name)—explores the relation between life and death, using texts “spanning two thousand years and four continents.” It also entails stop-motion animation and is conceived as an interactive piece that different audiences will experience differently. “It’s an exploratory, episodic, multimedia piece,” Hourigan says, with dislocations—and continuities—between cultures and temporal spaces, and—since the Styx is the river the dead cross into Hades—between one world and another.
Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. plays September 22-24. Responding to the proposition “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” Birch wrote a play that, Chang says, is “funny and brutal,” looking at “the thorny question, how to define feminism” for our times, and “how contradictory” is the concept today. Using a cast of 15, none of whom are in the acting program, director Jessica Rizzo, a dramaturg who wrote and directed the memorable show Sister Sandman Please in Season 47, chose the cast members “for their honesty as people” and their professed struggles with the concept of feminism. The play—“a playful chaos”—seeks to “galvanize” its audience.
Caught, by Christopher Chen, October 6-8, incorporates the Cab’s interdisciplinary interests into the play itself. Journalism, visual art, theater, all are involved in this questioning of how medium/genre alters our perceptions and relays differing truths. A cast of five, including an art gallery curator, enact a play that makes a stage of an art gallery and an art gallery of a stage. There will be an actual art gallery, with captions, in this telling of the story of Lin Bo (Eston Fung), a “radical artist-activist,” whose subversive approach to art led to his incarceration. The play is directed by Lynda Paul, who directed last season’s very successful pop-opera Trouble in Tahiti.
I asked the four members of the new Cab team what attracts them to the Cab most, and what previous work they either viewed or participated in that cemented their sense of the Cab’s potential.
Davina called the Cab “the artistic heart of YSD” and spoke of its role in helping make their colleagues’ creative dreams come true, even if that means, as she remembered, scrubbing a white floor spotless after each ink-ridden show of Knives in Hens, her intro to what working on theater at the Cab can be like. As an audience member she praised The Untitled Project, a multi-media, mulitform work that threw down a challenge this year’s team would like to meet.
Stephen spoke of the “creative collision of artists and staff and audiences,” all “the most engaged you can find,” and spoke proudly of directing the take-off on the Batman TV show—Catfight—and, as audience member, his love of Mystery Boy, a rapid-fire play strong in the joy of storytelling.
Kevin stressed the team’s job: “to empower our peers” and to tell the stories that aren’t being told; he draws upon his own experience last year with I’m With You in Rockland, a mix of art, poetry, music, film, history, narrative, with some of its tech elements right onstage, as formative to his grasp of the Cab’s possibilities—he wrote, directed, acted and provided elements of set design—and reacted positively to last season’s Dutch Masters “for the quality of the work and the conversation it provoked.”
Ashley said she’s interested in how the Cab can “frame questions and provide a platform” for theatrical inquiries that take risks and “resist the kind of structures” theater often assumes. She pointed to the performance piece Run, Bambi, Run, in Cab 48’s Satellite Festival, because it “made the air different” in bringing into play a “different set of assumptions” about performance.
All four are committed to work that pushes beyond the usual bounds of play-based theater, a view suggested on the Cab’s new website: “The Cab—A Basement Performance Venue.”
In days, it will be time to take in the start of Cab 49. See you there!
217 Park Street
For more information and tickets, menus, season passes, donations, go here.