Tarell Alvin McCraney's First Year As Yale Playwritng Head


Tarell Alvin McCraney (The Brother Sister Plays, Head of Passes) won an Oscar for the screenplay for Moonlightand now heads Yale’s playwriting program. His play Choir Boy hits Broadway in January, and next spring he’ll star in his play Wig Out! at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where he’s an ensemble member.

FRANK RIZZO: Having been a playwriting student at Yale, graduating in 2007, what’s it like to be now heading the program? 

TARELL ALVIN MCCRANEY: I’m not in this because I want to be the professor from Dead Poets Society—to get the praise and all. That is not why I’m doing this.

So why are you here?

Because I want to be watching, listening, and learning as the new shapers of the American theatre unleash the waves that are coming. This year has been wildly rewarding.

How did you choose your first class last year?

There is no shortage of talent in America. It’s a relatively simple process, but at the end of the day what you’re really looking for are community members whom you hope will thrive under the auspices of the program here. But narrowing it down through all these wildly talented people—well, that part for me was awful. This coming year we had 180 applicants, from which we chose three writers. The year before, because the deadline was extended, we had 205.

What did these students most want to know from you?

It depends. The third-year writers who were already in the program when I arrived are much more interested in asking career and professional questions. For the others, it’s somewhat different. Sometimes I’d offer [advice] and they’d look at me like, “We didn’t ask.” That’s okay. They’re finding their own voices, and at that moment they don’t want to hear someone else’s voice. But at some point later on, they’ll remember something that I told them. That happened to me....


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