Yale's Open End Theater Wins Grant for 1997-98 Season
The Open End Theater, created and coordinated by retired Yale professor Thomas Greene, has received a $6,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Funding will enable the ensemble to produce a second season of interactive performances in New Haven’s middle and senior high schools.
The Open End Theater presents plays about urban teenagers who become entangled in painful, realistic moral dilemmas. This season’s play will deal with gang-related issues. When the characters on stage reach an impasse and can’t agree on what to do, the action stops. A moderator steps forward, engaging the student audience in a discussion of the issues and inviting them to advise the characters. The performance is concluded along the lines suggested by the audience.
Cast members are Yale undergraduates and secondary students from local high schools. This year, Charlene Andrade, founder of Youth Theater New Haven, will serve as director. Jim Luse, lecturer in Theater Studies at Yale and former director of education at Long Wharf Theater, will write the script. Richard Squeri will return as discussion moderator.
Launched last year with funding from Yale University President Richard C. Levin, the Open End Theater has earned enthusiastic reviews from students and educators. Keith Cunningham, arts director at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, commented, “Not only were the actors convincing, but the message was delivered clearly and provoked a lot of thought, questions, and general discussion.”
One ninth grader at Hillhouse High School wrote, “I think the play was interesting, different, and unusual. It was different because it had more than one ending, according to the way the character handled the problem, which is the way life is.”
One reason the program succeeds is because it is genuinely open-ended. “We’re not going into the schools to preach or indoctrinate,” Professor Greene says. “Who am I, who spent my life in the 16th century, to tell these kids, who have experienced so much, how to live. We try to create a space for reflection, a nonconfrontational place. We want the audience to walk out arguing about what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Mr. Greene, Frederick Clifford Ford Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, undertook this project as a way of “reinventing himself” as his retirement approached. “After devoting my life to teaching and research, I felt I needed to pay more attention to my role as a citizen in the community. This gives me great satisfaction.”
Since 1928 the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has built a permanent endowment, currently valued at approximately $166 million, thanks to the generosity of donors. In 1996, the Foundation distributed $4.9 million from over 330 different funds supporting grants in health, community and economic development, the arts, culture, and other vital areas. The Open End Theater project will receive its grant from the Foundation’s Arts Fund.