The Dean’s The Thing

Anne Bogart wants to be dean of the Yale School of Drama. After a day
packed
with a Master’s Lunch, a Master’s Tea, and a lecture and
dinner
sponsored by the Dramat, she seems too tired to hide her desire for the
position.
“This is the only position I would consider any place in the United
States. There’s no other institution I would have been interested
in,”
she reveals. She sips her coffee and, sighing, admits to the feelings that
arose as she walked past the University Theatre and the Yale Repertory
Theatre
to the coffee shop. “I’m disappointed that the searchers were
not more adventurous.”
Bogart is not some forlorn dreamer who has set her sights too high. She
is the artistic director of New York’s Saratoga International
Theatre
Institute (siti) and an associate professor of directing at Columbia
University.
She directed her first play, Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, at
the
age of fifteen. Her method of theatrical training, known as Viewpoints, is
extremely influential in the theater world. She has received two Obies and
a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other awards. Robert Wildman, managing
director
of The Connecticut Repertory Theatre and former marketing director of the
Drama School and the Yale Rep calls her “a brilliant theater
artist.”
And she was a candidate ten years ago when the last search for a Drama
School
dean took place.
But Bogart has not been offered the position. While her ideas about
theater
and the changes necessary within the Drama School’s programs set her
apart from many of the other candidates, a much more striking difference
has
become apparent in the last three months—unlike Bogart, most of the
other theater luminaries recommended by the search committee to President
Richard Levin don’t actually want the job. Two, Oskar Eustis and Jon
Jory, have already turned it down; two others, Mark Lamos and JoAnne
Akalaitis,
withdrew themselves from the short list because they weren’t
interested.
The outgoing dean has been forced to plan a theater season of which he may
not be a part, and he may need to remain at Yale for an extra year as the
University scrambles to find a replacement. Because of a decline in the
Rep’s
popularity and a drop in the Drama School’s reputation, the search
is
much more difficult than it has ever been. While a forward-thinking artist
like Bogart might be just what the Drama School needs, financial concerns
make such a daring choice uncomfortable. At the same time, many of those
who
could help the institution regain its standing are reluctant to come to
New
Haven.

On April 25, 2000, after two five-year terms, Stan Wojewodski Jr.
announced
that he would be stepping down from his position as dean of the Yale
School
of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre at the end of
the school year. President Levin quickly appointed an eight-person search
committee charged with interviewing candidates and submitting a list of
recommendations.
“It was clear to me from the beginning that the intent was to try to
have someone here by the end of the calendar year,” explains
committee
member Gary Haller, a professor of chemical engineering and master of
Jonathan
Edwards College. If a new dean were not hired by January 2001, many
worried
that the planning of the Rep’s 2001-2002 season would be delayed.
The
committee worked through the summer, contacting potential candidates and
reporting
back to other committee members. “Nobody could accuse us of not
hearing
from everybody,” says Haller. “The amount of input was larger
than it has been on any other dean search committee I’ve been on. We
tried to hear from all components of the academic drama and the
professional
drama communities.” Still, the search team did have its own idea of
what they were looking for: “The hope was that we could find some
person
who had professional achievement as a director, a playwright,
choreographer,
or something like that, and had had some academic interaction as
well,”
says Haller. “Not only should the person actually work
professionally
but they should also have a sense of management so that they can manage
not
only the repertory theater part of it but also the academic
programs.”
Although some committee members were unsure of Bogart’s management
skills, she made the short list.

Throughout the fall, the potential deans came to New Haven for interviews.
Two of the top candidates, Akalaitis of Bard College and Lamos, formerly
of
the Hartford Stage, quickly bowed out. Both apparently decided that they
didn’t
want to become academic administrators. “I’m not sure I want
to be the dean of anything, although I think the Yale School of Drama is
very important and it is essential that they find a wonderful
person,”
explains Akalaitis.
In both her interviews, in September and November, Bogart articulated a
vision for the Drama School and the Rep that involved huge changes.
“I
said that I didn’t think that the Rep should be a regional theater
anymore, but that it should be an international theater,” Bogart
recalls.
        “I wanted to radically change the kind
of training for actors and directors. The training would be influenced
from
other cultures throughout the world. Actors would not necessarily be
trained
for the regional theater, but would train, in a way, to be ‘poets of
the theater’ with physical and vocal virtuosity and
rigor.”
In December, the committee met with Levin. According to Haller,
“essentially
the work of the whole committee was conveyed to the president.” The
final decision was left to Levin himself. According to sources, the top
choices
were Oskar Eustis, artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company of
Providence
and former head of the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco, and Jon
Jory,
former artistic director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville and a founder
of New Haven’s own Long Wharf Theatre. Bogart was apparently too
radical
for the staid Drama School: “[Their choice was] essentially an
articulation
of a very different concept of theater,” Bogart says. “It
became
clear that I was not what they were looking for.” Phone calls
between
New Haven and Providence commenced–Eustis was the first choice for
the
position. On December 21, the Hartford Courant ran the headline
“Trinity
Rep Director Likely Yale Successor.” The short article included only
the unsourced assertion of the likelihood of Eustis’s selection as
dean
and a summary of his career. The leak of Eustis’s name would make
the
replacement process infinitely more difficult.

The search quickly became as much a matter for the press as for President
Levin. The Courant continued to cover the story, while the Providence
Journal
took up the question even more intensely. On January 13, it confirmed that
the job had been offered to Eustis, posing the question “Will Oskar
Leave?” to its readers, and fretting that “being head of a top
company such as Trinity is an important post, but Chief at Yale? That is a
world-class position.”
This commotion surrounding the current process contrasts sharply with the
1990 search that resulted in Wojewodski’s appointment. In that
search,
newspaper stories included all the names being thrown around and suggested
that the process was moving forward too slowly, but the selection of
Wojewodski
was kept under wraps until officially revealed by Wojewodski and the
University.
According to Wildman, who had to handle the University’s
announcement
of the hiring, “I was only told a week before the announcement

The process was almost entirely leak-free.” Bogart, a candidate at
the
time, confirms this. “That was done very effectively, particularly
as
it was announced. I don’t think there was mu
ch buzz at all
beforehand.”
In 2000, press leaks changed the dynamics of the situation entirely. Now,
Yale was at a disadvantage—any potential candidates knew that they
were
not Yale’s first choice, information that was bruising to
theater-sized
egos. According to Haller, “It’s turned into such a public
search
that now everybody’s gun-shy. I’m convinced that the reason we
lost one of our candidates had to be one of the publications.” While
Haller, as a member of the search committee, is not allowed to comment on
specific candidates, sources speculate that Jon Jory, the second choice
for
the deanship, turned the position down because he discovered that Eustis
was
the first choice.
Both the city of Providence and Eustis himself used the increased media
attention to their advantage. For Providence, the coverage helped keep
Eustis
in town. “One thing is for sure,” the Journal wrote.
  
      “If Eustis leaves, it would have a major impact
on Rhode Island’s arts scene. Not only has his regime seen Trinity
go from oceans of red ink to black, it has seen a revitalizing of the
mission
of the old theater … Eustis has had a remarkable reign here. He has
matched up with this community better than any other artistic leader
I’ve
seen in 25 years covering the arts. He has placed Rhode Island back on the
map and it will be a shame if he moves on.” The paper’s
coverage
also reminded Eustis of past promises: “2.132 years ago, he
volunteered
to [article writer Bill Gale] in an interview that he had pledged to stay
at Trinity for five more years, to see through the upgrading he was
beginning.
You don’t have to have gone to Yale University to see that half that
commitment remains.”
However, the benefits of the publicity to Eustis were even more immediate.
Bogart sums it up: “He used [the media coverage] brilliantly. It was
a great political act.” According to the Journal, Trinity’s
 
board “met with Eustis after he had talked with Yale,” agreed
to an early contractual salary increase, “and recommitted their
support
of some of his favorite projects at the theater, including higher salaries
for actors and others, more warehouse and shop space, a program with Brown
University, and an increased emphasis on Trinity’s training arm, the
conservatory.” The public relations bonanza provided by the
newspaper
coverage was topped off by a press conference at which Eustis announced
that
he would not be accepting the job from Yale. “It is unusual for
somebody
to publicly announce that they’re declining an offer,”
observes
Haller. This peculiar pr choice was accompanied by an attempt to play up
the
importance of his current job. He said that he hoped his rejection of Yale
would “let a lot of people here recognize that we have a national
jewel,
one of the top places in the country.”
While an early salary increase may seem to be a strong benefit of the
media
coverage, sources say Yale was offering even more. A more important
advantage
is revealed by Eustis’s language at the press conference, in his
previous
words regarding the Trinity Repertory Company, and in the projects to
which
his board recommitted. At the press conference, Eustis observed,
“The
[Trinity] conservatory is very good now, but in five years I want people
turnturning
down Julliard, Yale, and nyu to come here.” By connecting Brown to
Trinity in the same way that Yale is connected to the Yale Rep, Eustis
hopes
to move his theater into Yale’s place at the top of the American
theater
scene, a goal he set at the start of his tenure.

Eustis’s contention is simple: “Yale Rep is not a better
theater
than Trinity Rep.” While Yale’s offer of the deanship to
Eustis
may have inadvertently strengthened one the University’s competitors
in the world of drama, many remain skeptical about Eustis’s
statements.
Wildman believes that “five years is an awfully short timetable to
get
from nowhere on the map to the top of the map. I think it’s entirely
possible that they could emerge as another exciting program, but that
quickly,
I don’t know.” Still, many already see the transition taking
place.
“[Trinity is] in better shape than the Yale Rep,” believes
Bogart.
“Oskar’s put it back on the map.”
More importantly, many say Yale’s reputation has declined overall.
“As in any theater school, it has its ups and downs, and I think
it’s
more in a down than an up right now,” says Bogart. “Probably
the
strongest program is design, and I think that people will go for
management
and take it seriously, and dramaturgy has a good reputation, and technical
theater has a great reputation, but the rest of the school and the Rep
have
slipped.” The committee was also concerned about just such a slip.
“The
committee certainly was not unaware of the perception about the stature of
the school and repertory theater and certainly … subscription rates
to the Yale Rep have declined,” admits Haller. “In a
competitive
sense, the school wasn’t 100 percent the way people wanted it. There
was a clear recognition that maybe we weren’t in the catbird
position
that the school had been in not so long ago and everybody agrees that we
wanted
the school back in it.” Frank Rizzo of the Courant says, “The
Rep has had less of an impact beyond New Haven … Whatever one
thought
of the work being done, the overall profile of activities was decidedly
low.
In an informal survey taken at a gathering last summer of nonprofit
regional
theater leaders, the consensus was that the Rep no longer generates high
interest
among theater people, certainly in New York, much less
national.”
The evidence of this drop in importance is apparent not only in
declining 
subscriptions to the Rep, but also in declining appliations to the school.
Both of these changes may be due in part to the programming choices made
by
Wojewodski over the last ten years. Under his leadership, the Yale
Rep’s
programming has shifted from a mainstream focus that fed many plays to
Broadway
to a more experimental type of theater. However, the criticism of
Wojewodski’s
tenure has not been limited to conventional consumers interested only in
mainstream
theater. Bogart believes that Wojewodski is unadventurous and
uncharismatic.
The New York Times has heavily criticized many of the plays that
Wojewodski
has directed, calling one of his efforts, the Rep’s 35th anniversary
play, “an academic exercise in stasis and an invitation to
clock-watching.”
However, Bogart also feels that some of the blame for the Rep’s
slide
rests elsewhere. The Yale Repertory Theatre was founded by Robert Brustein
in 1966 after  Yale President Kingman Brewster took the bold step of
ignoring the academics recommended by his own search committee and
selecting
Brustein, a professional theater-writer, for the job. Upon his arrival,
Brustein
founded the Yale Rep as part of the regional theater
movement––a
movement of anti-New York theaters throughout the country. According to
Rizzo,
“Under Brustein, it was a dynamic, controversial, exciting,
enraging,
exasperating, provocative theater, offering students a chance to work side
by side with theater professionals on stage.” These theaters were
usually
built, as Bogart describes it, “out of the huge artistic brains of
certain
artists.” Brustein and many other founders of these regional
theaters
eventually left them—an exodus that left behind institutions that
today
are “continuing [their] regional habits and a little bit out of
touch
with what’s going on in the [international] theater world,”
according
to Bogart. Offering the dean’s job to Eustis, the head of another
prom
inent
regional theater, represents an attempt on the part of the administration
to stick to the “meat and potatoes regional theater” that
Bogart
sees as the unfortunate wake of this exodus.

Although the University is no longer the sole center of the American
theater
scene or the most important training institution in the country, Anne
Bogart
still wants to be the next dean. However, following a dean under whom
subscriptions
and entrances to the Yale Rep dropped drastically, the University seems
wary
of hiring someone, like Anne Bogart, even more radical than the current
dean.

     After all, she professes a belief that financial
concerns
should never enter one’s thoughts when planning a theatrical
undertaking.
This same focus on the decline of the Drama School and the Yale Rep may be
at the heart of the decisions of the other candidates, since no one 
need fret that he or she is turning down the most important position in
theater.
Carey Perloff, artistic director of San Francisco’s American
Conservatory
Theater, is one of the few names still floating through theater circles as
a potential successor to Wojewodski. However, many in the theater scene
believe
that if she were to become the next dean, the move would be a lateral or
downward
one on the ladder of us theater.
In 1966, Kingman Brewster set a radical precedent by ignoring his search
committee, forging an entirely new direction for the Drama School. That
selection
would help place the Drama School and the Rep at the pinnacle of American
theater for the next 30 years, making subsequent searches much easier.
However,
the fall in reputation and financial concerns of the last ten years make
both
of these examples difficult to follow.         
 
           

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