The Yale Rep recently announced its No Boundaries Series for 2014-15. The three shows chosen are in the best tradition of the series, which, in its own press-release words, “explores the frontiers of theatrical invention through cutting-edge and thought-provoking performance from around the world.”
It’s a surefire season: one welcome return for a celebrated experimental troupe, one celebrity-anchored modern dance evening and one event from the ever-enticing arts scene of Poland.
• Now Now Oh Now, created by Rude Mechs, Dec. 4-10
• Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, performed by Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, Dec. 20
• Songs of Lear, by Teatr Piesn Kozla (Song of the Goat Theatre), Feb. 26-28
No Boundaries usually consists of one-nighters or weekend runs, but that opening shot by Rude Mechs (who brought their meta-piece The Method Gun to No Boundaries four seasons ago, and is currently commissioned to create a new work through Yale’s Binger Center for New Theatre) spans a full week (with multiple performances per night), and the Polish Teatre Piesn Kozla gets three nights. The other attraction, since it co-stars the host of NPR’s This American Life, could likely run as long as it likes. As it is, Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio host does two performances in a single day.
The return of Rude Mechs is a major event. Method Gun was a revelation—provocative, funny, smart, not-snooty. I liked it even more when I saw it a second time at the Radar Festival in L.A. and realized how deftly the company could tweak its tone based on where the audience was coming from. At Yale, they came from an intellectual place that Rude Mechs could match. One aspect of Method Gun was very human—a heartfelt audience-participation tribute to those who have inspired us. Made me cry.
The relatively long run of Now Now Oh Now is due to the fact that only 30 people can see the show at a time. Self-described as “Inspired by evolutionary biology, the Brontës, and LARP (Live Action Role Playing) communities,” the ensemble-built piece leads viewers beyond the stage, through various areas in the Yale University Theatre. An interesting Indy Week review by an actual roleplaying gamer, Jason Morningstar, is here.
Piesn Kozla’s Songs of Lear premiered in 2012 and won several awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that year. The troupe’s website calls it a “non-linear dramatic event that shows the world of subtle energies and rhythms that govern Shakespeare’s tragedy” where “the ensemble members have chosen crucial scenes from King Lear to weave a story out of gestures, words and music” and “each song is a starting point for another ‘dramatic poem.’”
In Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, the radio host is Ira Glass, whose This American Life series has exposed its listening audience to such diverse theatrical types as David Sedaris, Mike Daisey and New Haven’s own Jack Hitt. The “Two Dancers” in the show are choreographer Monica Bill Barnes and her frequent dance partner Anna Bass. Bass was assistant choreographer for last year’s Yale Rep premiere of These Paper Bullets! Three Acts also includes Glass, Bass and Barnes talking about their lives, This American Life-style. The show is on a national tour that lasts for over a year, off and on, and is also hitting Miami, Long Beach (California), Las Vegas, Boston, Santa Rosa (California), Pittsburgh, Ogden (Utah), Anchorage, Davis (California), Seattle, East Lansing (Michigan), Burlington (Vermont), Cleveland, Dallas and Austin. The show clearly and self-consciously enjoys the alleged incongruity of marrying radio-based storytelling and live modern dance.
None of the three No Boundaries events this year are being held in the accustomed Yale Rep digs at the corner of Chapel and York streets. (Hey! No boundaries!) The Rep has access to several other spaces on campus, and is using them. Both Rude Mechs and Glass/Bass/Barnes will be in the largest of the venues, the Yale University Theatre at 222 York. Songs of Lear will take the smallish Iseman Theater at 1156 Chapel St.
No Boundaries actually began in the undergraduate Yale Theater Studies department. Prof. Joseph Roach (who also teaches in the English, African-American, and American Studies departments) took some grant money he’d been awarded and started an international performance series called the World Performance Project. It was a bracing bunch of shows, many of which dealt with political themes, new performance media or underrepresented-at-Yale genres such as dance. Just as the WPP was looking for a way to sustain itself, the Yale School of Drama was transitioning from its own special events series, which had partly been a classroom exercise for Theater Management students (who negotiated and promoted the shows). The two series quietly and efficiently merged, literalizing the “no boundaries” concept by ignoring any dividing lines between the undergrad and graduate theater programs.
Now, neither school’s name is mentioned when announcing the No Boundaries sched. It’s announced by, and credited to, the Yale Repertory Theatre. The press release is appended with a list of the mainstage shows in the Yale Rep season. Boundaries!
[Addendum: A Yale Rep representative writes: “For the record, at least since 2002 … ‘special events’ (regardless of the series title or lack thereof) have always been presented under the auspices of Yale Rep, not the School (regardless of how some of the administration and marketing have been handled). … We deliberately wanted to make the Rep’s relationship to the series clearer to audiences—but the institutional relationship is not new, just clearer.”]