Distinguished Yale teacher to her acting students: ‘You can make theater’
There hasn’t been a time almost 40 years that Evan Yionoulis ’82, ’85 M.F.A. hasn’t been on the Yale campus in some capacity — as a student in Yale College and the School of Drama, when she became the first woman to direct at the Yale Repertory Theatre, or as a faculty member in the Summer Programs and later at the School of Drama, including five years as chair of the Acting Department.
The Obie Award-winning director, who is currently a resident director at the Yale Repertory Theatre and a professor in the practice of acting and directing, believes it was her Yale education — and a common thread that ran through it —that set her on her way to a successful life in the theater.
“A hallmark of Yale’s training is that there are teachers who say, ‘Whatever you want to achieve in your artistry we can help you get there. We can maintain a very high bar together,’” says Yionoulis. “I’ve found the same thing as a faculty member. The opportunity that I’ve had to work with these talented and hardworking students has allowed me – and required me – to up my game in every way. The questions that their work has provoked have really forced me to refine my understanding of how one might go about acting truthfully and shaped my practice as a teacher.”
When her students approach her for advice on pursuing a career in theater, Yionoulis tells them that there are many paths to a career but the key is to “find a way to wake up every morning as an artist. Regardless of what survival job you may be doing early in your career, it’s important to find a place in your day to keep yourself alive creatively.”
Yionoulis also advises her students that relationships in the industry are built slowly and it is imperative to initiate projects. “Even if that means that every Sunday afternoon you get together with a group of people and read a Shakespeare play or work on a new play,” says Yionoulis. “Before you know it you are doing a production or you’re devising a piece.”
She adds: “You can make theater.”
Yionoulis says there is one word that comes to mind when she thinks about the time that she has spent at Yale: “grateful.” The word “bittersweet” best describes her feelings on leaving her Yale “home” next year to become the Richard Rodgers Director of Juilliard’s Drama Division.
Yionoulis, whose new position at Juilliard officially begins on July 1, has chosen to stay on through the fall semester to complete the arc of her current students’ training during their third year at the drama school.
Her work with them culminates in an assignment that is inspired by the work of Anna Deveare Smith, the award-winning playwright, actress, and educator. The actors are tasked with interviewing someone and then later giving them voice, taking on their vocal and physical posture while speaking their words.
“The interview projects are a chance to really listen, for the actors as well as the audience. I think this is a time in the culture when the arts can and really must make a difference. There is a recognition that many people have been voiceless for too long and need to be heard. Whether in a ten-minute piece, such as our classroom interview project, or in full production on our stages, we in the theatre have a lot of work to do to bring diverse voices to the fore. But that’s part of what makes this an exciting time for young artists.”
The Yale alumna will continue to teach when she takes the helm in the Drama Division at Juilliard. “I think of myself as a teacher and as a director. That is really important to me,” she says, adding that she hopes her students learn from her “a passion for the art, which is really a passion for human beings, and a capacity for listening. That is something that we all need.”
Yionoulis credits her students with teaching her “everything.” “I love actors for their bravery and their willingness to reveal themselves in this enterprise of telling a story.”
Along with the students, faculty, and staff at the School of Drama, Yionoulis says that she will miss the collaborative way that “all of the theatrical disciplines work together here and how the school interacts with the larger university.”
“Yale has been such a part of my life and will continue to be – and not just because I’m an alumna. The relationships that I have with students whom I taught 20 years ago are ongoing today, just as those I have with the students I teach now will endure, I hope, into the future. I’ll be leaving New Haven, but forever grateful for the legacy my time at Yale has given me.”
Yionoulis is currently in rehearsals for Guillermo Calderón’s play “Kiss,” which will be staged April 27-May 19 at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St.