Yale’s Christopher Betts to Lead Two Shows at Hartford Stage as Part of Local Fellowship Supporting Black Artists – Hartford Courant

Christopher Betts, a Yale drama student and NYU professor, led the current Yale Rep show, “Choir Boy.” With a new local grant, Betts will direct shows at Hartford Stage for the next two years as the theater’s first Joyce C. Willis Fellow, which supports the work of black artists.

“I have so many friends in Connecticut,” says New York-based Betts, who has spent most of the past four years in New Haven as a student at Yale’s Geffen School of Drama, “but I never thought I would consider it my second or third home. It became a pleasant surprise.

Bive the Hartford Stage scholarship. He will direct the 1955 drama “Trouble in Mind” by Alice Childress in the spring of 2023 and a second show during the 2023-24 season.enter for Art & Culture. Willis, former vice president of corporate communications at Hartford Financial Services Group, has supported numerous organizations in the Hartford area, either as a board member, patron or long-time subscriber. She died in June 2020 of COVID-19, and scholarships were established in her honor by the Edward C. & Ann T. Roberts Foundation later that year.

Betts is the first artist to receive the Hartford Stage Fellowship. He will direct the 1955 drama “Trouble in Mind” by Alice Childress in the spring of 2023 and a second show during the 2023-24 season.

“Trouble in Mind” is a behind-the-scenes drama about how racial issues affect a Broadway-bound play. It has been embraced in recent years as a prescient debate about diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2021 it received major productions both on Broadway and at the National Theater in London.

In Connecticut, “Trouble in Mind” was performed at the Yale Repertory Theater in 2007 and the Yale School of Drama in 2019. Betts saw the 2019 production, directed by Aneesha Kudtarkar, when he was in his junior year as a student at the Yale School of Drama (now Geffen). Betts calls the piece “a perfect fit” for Hartford Stage.

Betts has just graduated from Yale, having accepted an offer to add a fourth year to her studies when classes at the School of Drama were compromised during the early months of COVID. While at Yale, he directed five shows at the student-run Yale Cabaret, two at the School of Drama, and served as artistic director for a virtual season of Yale Summer Cabaret. Then he got the green light to direct “Choir Boy” at the Yale Repertory Theater.

It’s unheard of for a current student to conduct at Yale Rep, the professional theater associated with the school, but Betts says he had the opportunity when Phylicia Rashad, who was originally asked to direct “Choir Boy”, had to bow. after being named Principal of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts. Betts was suggested by the play’s writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, a former drama school student who now heads the school’s playwriting department.

“Tarell said, ‘We’ve got the best person here,'” recalls Betts, who had previously worked with McCraney as an assistant when the playwright was writing his Oscar-winning “Moonlight” screenplay. “A student has not referred to the rep in over 35 years.”

It’s also unusual for a Geffen School of Drama student to concurrently teach at New York University, where Betts is a professor in the undergraduate drama department at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He has already finished his courses at Yale.

“The balance was delicate,” he says.

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He decided to attend Yale and extend for a fourth year of study, “because I wanted a degree from Yale and I wanted to do great shows with the resources they can give them. The other reason I went there, it’s because there’s been a big cultural shift there in terms of access and dismantling problematic systems” in school.

Her experience at Yale bodes well for her residency at Hartford Stage. “Choir Boy” attracted enthusiastic black viewers.

“We had terrific audiences,” Betts says. “I think the community is just thrilled to see all those brown faces on the poster.”

Keen to direct both classics and new works, Betts is also a “lover of big, splashy musicals,” he says. “That’s how I came to theater in the first place.” He will lead “Dreamgirls” in Illinois this fall.

Betts says he picks his Hartford Stage projects “in concert with the rest of the production team there.” In a statement released by Hartford Stage when announcing his scholarship, Betts mentioned his grandmother who encouraged his creative spirit as a child in Chicago.

“Seeing a community on the South Side of Chicago engage in theater has given hope to many, including myself. It’s a testament to the power of art, and I’m dedicated to making advancing my grandmother’s legacy by illuminating artistic lifestyles.

Christopher Arnott can be reached at carnott@courant.com.

James C. Tibbs