Review of Untitled Ke$ha Project, Yale Cabaret
Subcultures are almost always interesting. The most recent offering at the Yale Cabaret combines attention to two kinds of subculture: that of spectator, in the fans of pop-star diva Kesha (formerly Ke$ha), and that of artist, in the life of grad students at the Yale School of Drama.
Conceived and directed by—and featuring—the Cab’s co-artistic director Latiana “LT” Gourzong, Untitled Ke$sha Project adapts songs by Ke$ha to a loosely rendered story about life in the three-year Masters program at the School of Drama. From orientation to graduation, the students we see are fretting about their standing in the program and in their social life, often simultaneously. A glossary of terms is provided in the playbill, in case viewers can’t identify a reference to James Bundy, the dean of the School of Drama and the artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre, or to Little Mix, a British girl group formed in 2011. More important than such allusions are references to “Beers,” a weekly hangout in a classroom to take the pressure off, and the “semi-occasional dance off,” an event that occurs from time to time at Beers and which serves as the culmination of the show.
For regulars of the Cabaret or of other shows featuring students at YSD, the UKP has the vibe of a glimpse behind the scenes. Just how do students negotiate their schooling when part of the work occurs in classrooms and part in front of live audiences? There’s an element of risk and exposure to theater studies that UKP captures and spoofs. The humor is pointedly good-natured.
Gourzong, a production designer in her third year, keeps the show upbeat and fast-paced, with its main dynamic being focused—at first implicitly and then explicitly—on the factor of popularity. We see a little exchange between Gourzong and Taylor Hoffman that indicates how the bonds formed in orientation don’t necessarily translate into friendship over the long haul. Meanwhile, some students form couples, though with perhaps unequal access to the perks of certain assignments. Alex Worthington plays a tech student who can get lost in the creation of set design rather than make it to class, while Alex McNamara plays his girlfriend stressing about course work. Their duet on the song “Hymn” is a highlight of the show. Then there’s Rachel Kenney as a put-upon student who is not quite sure where she fits in, or if she ever will.
The sound/songs, lighting, costumes, and colorful, logo-like projections are lively, suiting the feel of ad hoc, late night jams matched with surfing the net. Everyone these days tends to go about life with a personally endorsed soundtrack playing on ear buds, and Gourzong gives us dance routines that show us how songs like “Tik Tok” merge perfectly with the lockstep of daily tasks—whether of school or jobs. Many of Ke$ha’s songs tend to be suggestive invitations to party hearty with an edge that implies girls just wanna have fun—even if it kills them. Here, the pace of trying to have fun with the same kind of dedication and passion that one brings to “the work” is part of the challenge of being young, and of theater or creativity more generally. What our musical artists tend to give us is a version of the struggle to be unique and uniquely desired that risks becoming generic in its “we all want the same thing” approach.
So how to incorporate the competitive spirit of the arts—if only as a battle for attention—into the show? The “dance-off” features audience members cavorting to musical clips, or beats, while a panel of three judges—also audience members—looks on and rates the steps, like so many Olympic judges. It’s impromptu—I believe—and plays like a popularity contest slash creative jam, which is what popular art by the numbers is too.
The show ends a little abruptly, as, I suppose, does graduate study. Still, the show’s a lot of fun and we’re all going home satisfied.
Untitled Ke$ha Project
Directed and conceived by Latiana “LT” Gourzong
Producer: Lisa D. Richardson; Stage Manager: Cate Worthington; Technical Director: Kevin Belcher; Set Designer: Riw Rakkulchon; Lighting Designer: Kyra Murzyn; Costume Designer: Yunzhu Zeng; Projections Designer: Elena Tilli; Sound Designer: Megumi Katayama
Cast: Latiana “LT” Gourzong, Taylor Hoffman, Rachel Kenney, Alex McNamara, Alex Worthington
October 11-13, 2018