Dean Bundy Outlines Goals for Future of Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre

Dean James Bundy

James Bundy M.F.A. ’95 has been reappointed to another five-year term as Yale School of Drama Dean and Artistic Director of the Yale Repertory Theatre. In making the announcement, Yale University President Richard C. Levin said those taking part in the review expressed “unanimous support of his efforts to strengthen the school. Colleagues cited with admiration the dean’s vision, intelligence and commitment, and his gentle yet effective management style. ”

During Bundy’s first term, the School of Drama has made key appointments to the teaching faculty, enhancing the program’s international standing as a leading institution for theatrical training. It also has made significant strides in increasing financial aid and is working within the University’s Yale Tomorrow campaign to raise the funds necessary to build new academic, production, and performance facilities.

Under his leadership, the Tony Award-winning Yale Repertory Theatre has advanced its commitment to new work, producing over a dozen world, American, and East Coast premieres, while increasing attendance by twenty percent. Also during his tenure, Yale Rep has expanded its commitment to young audiences and to the New Haven community.

During a recent interview, Bundy talked about the School’s accomplishments, his goals for the future, and how the Yale Tomorrow campaign will help the School and Yale Repertory Theatre. 

Q: Your recent accomplishments include the establishment of a New Play Program. Why is that an important initiative for a place like Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre?

A: The School and Yale Rep operate not unlike a laboratory or teaching hospital. The new plays are analogous to original research. So, in this particular art form, the University has a special opportunity and role to play in the advancement of American theater and in the creation of new work.

All of us are particularly excited to work on new plays, but not every play is a world premiere. We also value second and third productions of new plays. What’s really exciting is when we see a new play go on to have a broader life in American theater. Not only is it gratifying for us, but it supports the writing of new plays, it improves the quality of American theater, and it keeps us at the forefront of this artistic activity.

Q: Tell us about other recent accomplishments that you hope to build upon in your second term.

A: There are two big initiatives that are not especially visible, but they do and will have a tremendous long-term impact on our ability to do great work.

One of these issues is financial aid. We are making steady and substantial progress, but we still have a long way to go. We’re very hopeful that, along with the other art schools at Yale, our efforts in the campaign will really help us improve financial aid.

We’re also very excited about the prospects for new facilities for the School and Yale Rep as the outcome of this campaign. Like the rest of Yale, we need to have appropriate facilities for teaching and learning. It’s particularly important for the Rep, because it has a role to play as a point of community engagement for the University. For us to have a world-class theater that welcomes people is extremely vital.

Q: You’ve said that one of your goals is to make the School tuition-free. Why is that critically important?

A: It’s important to understand the nature of the problem. The cost of training at this level is extremely high. It results in the average student borrowing over $35,000 during their years here. A: This is a disincentive to talented artists who otherwise might consider training at Yale. B: It’s a financial burden that makes it very challenging for artists to work in the area for which they are training. And C: It’s incumbent that we invest in artistry at the same level that we do in other graduate programs. And, as always, we will need the help of our friends to get to that level of investment.

Q: Tell us about your goals in terms of ensuring facilities available to students are up-to-date and commensurate with being part of the one of the world’s preeminent drama schools.

A: There are so many opportunities. On my list would be acting classrooms that are big enough for people to move around freely, a dramatically larger scene shop, and public spaces where audiences can gather. Engagement with the community is part of what makes us what we are today. We’d really like Yale Rep, in particular, to be a destination that is part of the marketplace of downtown New Haven.

Q: You have been credited with creating an atmosphere of openness at the School, within the University community, and with audiences that have expanded to include more New Haven area residents. Why is that important and what are your plans moving forward?

A: Many of the world’s most exciting theaters are places where the audiences’ engagement begins when they see the building, and then carries on with a sense of social activity into the art. So, if you think about the National Theatre (of Great Britain), or BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), these are places where the scale and sheer pleasure of being in the building is part of the overall experience.  It’s important to have that little café and the ability to spend half an hour with a friend before the show, listening to music in the lobby. These are experiences that enhance a person’s evening at the theater. We need to give people more reasons to come here. We can be so much more engaged within our community. We need to bring people in, provide them with a bookstand where they can read and purchase the plays, and provide them with a place to sit.

Q: Tell us a little more about how the Yale Tomorrow campaign will help you meet the challenges of the future.

A: Well, one of the exciting things about drama tomorrow is that it is at the Drama School today. We have artists who are in training at the School who are, in substantial measure, the backbone of American theater’s future. Their aesthetic is what will be driving American theater culture in a quarter century. That’s a really important role for the School to play. We have the largest production calendar of any theater program in the nation. And we have a cohort of about 185 students who are making the kind of work together that they will be making for the rest of their careers.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: I guess the last thing I’d like to say is that one of the things that been so exciting for me about working at Yale is that the four schools in the arts area, along with the museums and collections, really make it a resource for the University and the nation that is unlike any other array of university-based arts organizations. The shared momentum of all these organizations and the sense of collaborative energy going into this campaign give me tremendous hope both for the University and for the future of the American imagination.

(May 1, 2007) 

May 1, 2007