|The University Theatre, where all performances of A Raisin In The Sun were cancelled in March. Photo courtesy Yale Repertory Theatre.
The stages at the Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale School of Drama will remain dark for the 2020-2021 season in the face of coronavirus. Now, the school has pulled back on graduate admissions, found savings in its budget, and is working to get students, faculty and staff through the next year with as little financial and educational damage as possible.
The two university-affiliated, partner institutions made that announcement Tuesday at noon, in a press release outlining next steps for students, faculty, staff, and potential audiences that won't see a season until at least the 2021-2022 year. The announcement came on the heels of a joint statement from both institutions in late May, vowing to do better in the face of white supremacy and institutional racism.
The decision is the latest step for the theater in the wake of the novel coronavirus. In early March, the Yale Rep was one of the first to close its doors due to COVID-19, as it cancelled performances of A Raisin In The Sun in the midst of escalating public health concerns.
In the months since, School of Drama faculty and staff have turned their attention toward both distance learning initiatives and the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for Yale New Haven Hospital, Connecticut Hospice, and many of New Haven's soup kitchens and retirement communities. Some student-led initiatives, including the Yale Cabaret and Yale Summer Cabaret, have continued online. James Bundy, dean at the School of Drama and artistic director at the Yale Repertory Theatre, has estimated that losses from the 2019-2020 season alone total $500,000.
In addition to pulling both professional and student shows for the 2020-2021 season, the School of Drama will be extending its three-year MFA program temporarily to four years, to accommodate hands-on training and apprenticeship aspects that are part of the curriculum. It has also extended its one-year technical internship program, typically offered through the technical design and production department, by one semester.
To absorb the financial weight of the decision, the school has committed to underwriting additional costs for students, maintaining its commitment to existing financial aid packages and offering a number of new scholarships designed specifically for the fourth year and extra semester. It has made the fourth year "optional, but strongly encouraged" for current graduate students and mandatory for its incoming cohort, which will begin classes in the fall and now graduate in 2024. Students who completed their third year during the most recent spring semester graduated last month, in a virtual ceremony.
In addition, the school has announced a 20 percent reduction in visiting faculty in the coming academic year, as well as a hiring freeze that follows the April 2020 appointment of Florie Seery as Managing Director of Yale Rep (Victoria Nolan, who is currently in that role, announced her retirement last year). Currently, the school has no plans to lay off or furlough "year-round or full-time seasonal staff or faculty" in the coming year.
"The School has identified $3.1 million of savings in its 2021 fiscal year budget, which will be put in reserve to underwrite this endeavor," Tuesday's announcement read. "These savings are realized by the absence of production, as well as sacrifices borne by the entire community in the coming year."
The announcement comes as the larger university continues discussions around whether fall classes will be in-person or online. In a message to the wider Yale community in mid-May, Yale Provost Scott Strobel said that those decisions will be announced and finalized in July. Both the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have suggested that waves of COVID-19 could be cyclical until a vaccine is found.
Before it was circulated to the wider community Tuesday, the news was announced to students, faculty, and staff in an email from Dean and Artistic Director James Bundy, Deputy Dean and Managing Director Victoria Nolan, Associate Dean Chantal Rodriguez, and Assistant Dean and General Manager Kelvin Dinkins, Jr. In part, the announcement also suggested that the decision is reflective of a larger focus on anti-racism work, a shift from mainstream, now-untenable industry standards, and the concept of rest as a form of self-preservation and resistance.
“The coronavirus pandemic demands of us that we slow down as never before, to care for our community while bringing our best selves to theater training," they wrote. "At the same time, the state of our nation and field calls us more urgently than ever to continuous work toward anti-racist pedagogy and practice, in order to prepare our graduates to lead in a more just and joyful profession for which we must altogether take responsibility now."
“We want to emphasize that curriculum and production planning for the coming year has slowed the pace of work, and created more space for reflection," they added. "These adjustments offer our community an opportunity to continue training at a high level, while centering responsible self-care as an antidote to the exhaustion that many people regard as a field-wide norm and manifestation of a culture of white supremacy. Prior to COVID-19, our plan for next year called for spending only five days each week in production, up until technical rehearsals. Our adjusted plans call for similar restraint in pursuit of a new paradigm, and include deeper investment in the anti-racism work that must be at the heart of our training, here at Yale, within our profession, and across the country.”
Read the full announcement here.