The Play's the Thing: 50 Years of Yale Repertory Theatre
Beginnings of the Yale Repertory Theatre
The Department of Drama was founded within the Yale School of Fine Arts in 1924, enrolling its first class and opening the University Theatre in 1925. It became a separate professional school in 1955. Until Robert Brustein (DRA ’51) took over as Dean in 1966, the practice had been for student actors to put on productions under the direction of faculty. Brustein wanted to raise the standards for productions, shift toward more experimental work, and have students function as apprentices to professionals. He envisioned a permanent company of Yale-trained theater professionals nurturing those succeeding them.
“Under this program, it is hoped that the university community will not simply be entertained by a disconnected series of plays, but will be part of an organic process of growth, observing some of the more adventurous work being done in the American theatre today, while students will be urged towards more and more experimentation, built on a solid substructure of professional craft… Whether we achieve these goals or not is a matter for the future, but if we fail, it must not be because we set our goals too low.”
-- Robert Brustein, “A Note on Policy,” published in the Viet Rock program
More than a hundred plays have had their world premieres at Yale Repertory Theatre, and many have gone on to successful productions elsewhere—demonstrating the dedication to commissioning, developing, and producing new plays that has characterized the company since its origins fifty years ago.
Viet Rock and the founding season
The program for Viet Rock announced the 1966-67 founding season of Yale Repertory Theatre: the first productions to place students in supporting roles within a resident professional theater company. Brustein wrote: “[T]heatre students should be schooled as rigorously in their craft as musicians or dancers, and prepared as carefully for their careers as doctors, lawyers, or engineers.”
Viet Rock grew out of improvisational workshops with the Open Theatre. Playwright Megan Terry developed the script and staging from that material, along with music composed by Marianne de Pury. Cast members emerged from within a chorus to portray various characters throughout the play. The production script shows line changes and cues.
'We Bombed in New Haven'
Six years after the publication of his novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller wrote his first play for the new Yale Repertory Theatre. Larry Arrick—the first artistic director of Yale Rep, before the role was combined with the deanship—directed the production. According to Brustein’s account in his memoir Making Scenes, the novelist was distressed by actors changing his words. Stacy Keach (DRA ’66) starred as Major Starkey.
We Bombed in New Haven frequently breaches the barrier between the audience and the action onstage: characters confront each other and the audience over their lack of concern about what will become of the men called up to die in the play’s unidentified war. The script specifies that the time of the play is always the present, and the place is always the location in which the play is being performed.
Production materials in the archives include a props list, a description of floor crew responsibilities, and an anti-war memo proposed for distribution to the audience (the archived copy of the program does not include the memo).