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Yale School of Drama Announces Design Department Reorganization and Leadership Succession

Stage Directions • Industry News • April 7, 2021

Toni-Leslie James and Riccardo Hernández will succeed Michael Yeargan and Stephen Strawbridge as co-chairs in the coming months

Beginning July 1, 2021, Yale School of Drama will align all five Design disciplines—Costume, Lighting, Projection, Set, and Sound—in one department instead of two, to promote the most robust common core offerings for all Design students, and to build upon the School of Drama’s historic practice of training designers who are flexible and fluent collaborators with their colleagues.

The Design Department will continue to be led by two co-chairs, who will also serve as the heads of their respective disciplines. Beginning on July 1, the Department will begin rotating the positions of Chairs more frequently on renewable three-year terms.

“Some time ago, Design Co-Chairs Stephen Strawbridge and Michael Yeargan suggested to me that the School of Drama make a transition to a more inclusive model of leadership in these programs, one that could both undo traditionally problematic hierarchies in the field and promote broad engagement of the department’s brilliant faculty, by rotating the positions of chairs more frequently. For historical context, only five men have chaired or co-chaired the Design program since its inception 95 years ago,” said Dean James Bundy.

Toni-Leslie James

Current faculty members Toni-Leslie James and Riccardo Hernández will succeed Michael Yeargan and Stephen Strawbridge as Co-Chairs of Design on the following schedule:

Yeargan will conclude his term as Co-Chair of Design on June 30, 2021, after eight years of service in that role, continuing as Head of the Set Design Concentration through December 31, 2021; subsequently he will continue his regular teaching and mentoring in the program.

James will become Co-Chair of Design and Head of the Costume Design Concentration, effective July 1, 2021, for a renewable term of three years.

Strawbridge will conclude his term as Co-Chair of Design on December 31, 2021, after twenty-three-and-a-half years of departmental leadership, while continuing to serve as Head of the Lighting Design Concentration and teaching in the department.

Riccardo Hernández

Hernández will become Co-Chair of Design and Head of the Set Design Concentration, effective January 1, 2022, for a renewable term of three years.

Wendall Harrington will continue in her role as Head of the Projection Design Concentration.

Mikaal Sulaiman has been appointed Assistant Professor and Head of the Sound Design Concentration at Yale School of Drama and Sound Design Advisor at Yale Repertory Theatre. He has begun working part-time in order to familiarize himself with the current program and plan effectively for its future, and will transition to full-time on July 1. As Head of Sound Design, Sulaiman will succeed David Budries, who developed and has led the program for nearly 40 years. Budries will retire as Chair on June 30. You can read more about Sulaiman’s appointment as the Head of the Sound Design Concentration.

Mikaal Sulaiman

James commented, “I am honored to serve as the Co-Chair of Design with my respected colleagues, Stephen Strawbridge through the end of the year and Riccardo Hernández beginning in January. Teaching has required me to continually recalibrate how I view my own work and the environment in which that work takes place. The Design Department is committed to working with our faculty to foster a safe, welcoming, and inclusive learning environment that promotes anti-racist practices at the School of Drama and in the profession.”

“Toni-Leslie James and I look forward to building on the incredible foundation first laid by Donald Oenslager and Ming Cho Lee, as we continue the journey and evolution of the Yale School of Drama Design Department,” Hernández said. “Outreach to young artists will be a top priority for us. Our goal is to undertake a vigorous recruitment strategy in order to nurture the tapestry of voices that is so necessary in the American theater today.”

“I am deeply grateful to Toni-Leslie James and Riccardo Hernández for their willingness to step into leadership and extend the legacy of excellence that has been the hallmark of Yale’s training in Design for nearly a century, exemplified today by each and every faculty member in the program,” Bundy added. “Similarly, I want to thank Michael Yeargan and Stephen Strawbridge for their energetic and empathetic leadership over many years, as well as for their thoughtful contributions to this transition and their gracious support of their successors.”

Applications for admittance to Yale School of Drama for the 2022–23 academic year will be accepted beginning in September 2021.

Toni-Leslie James has designed costumes nationally and internationally across all entertainment genres: feature film, television, opera, dance, industrials, regional theatre, and Broadway. For her work in theater, she has been honored with TDF’s Irene Sharaff Young Masters Award, the Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration, and Tony Award nominations for Bernhardt/Hamlet, August Wilson’s Jitney, and Jelly’s Last Jam. Some other Broadway credits include Flying Over Sunset, Come From Away (Hewes Design Award), The Scottsboro Boys, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, King Hedley II, The Wild Party, Footloose, The Tempest, and Angels in America: Millennium Approaches & Perestroika. Toni-Leslie James was the Head Costume Designer for Whoopi on NBC and designed four specials for WNET/13’s Great Performances series. Her work was displayed at The American Museum of Natural History in a 2006 retrospective of her career, “Designing Woman: Inside The Life And Career of Costume Designer, Toni-Leslie James.” She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from The Ohio State University and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sewanee, The University of the South, in 2018. Previously she was Head of Design at the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Theatre and is the recipient of a USITT Distinguished Achievement Award in Education. She joined the Yale School of Drama faculty in 2019.

Born in Havana and raised in Buenos Aires, Riccardo Hernández received his M.F.A. from Yale School of Drama in 1992 and joined the Design Department’s faculty in 2016. He was recently nominated for a Tony Award with Lucy Mackinnon for the musical Jagged Little Pill. His more than 250 U.S. and international theater and opera credits include the Broadway productions of Indecent (Yale Repertory Theatre, world premiere), Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, The Gin Game, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, The People in the Picture, Caroline, or Change (also at National Theatre London); Topdog/Underdog (also at The Royal Court), Elaine Stritch at Liberty (also at The Old Vic), Bells are Ringing, Parade, Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk, and The Tempest; Claudia Rankine’s The White Card (American Repertory Theatre); Oedipus El Rey (The Public Theater); Don Giovanni (Santa Fe Opera); Red Speedo, The Invisible Hand (New York Theatre Workshop); Father Comes Home From The Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3, Assassins, Marie Antoinette, and The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, among others at Yale Rep. His work has been nominated for or received several awards, including an OBIE for Sustained Excellence of Scenic Design, Henry Hewes Design Award, Princess Grace Statue Award, Princess Grace Grant, Drama Desk, Connecticut Critics Circle, Helen Hayes, AUDELCO, American Theatre Wing, Boston Elliot Norton Award, Jeff Award, among others.

Originally from Rochester, NY, Mikaal Sulaiman is a sound designer, writer, and director working in theater, film, and television. He attended the University of the Arts, receiving a BFA in Acting, and later studied the Jacques Lecoq approach to devised theater at the London International School of Performing Arts. He is currently writing for an episodic A24/Amazon show, and recently collaborated with his older brother, Amir Sulaiman, on a short film called Laying Flowers.:.Setting Fires, for which he was the Creative Director and Editor.

Mikaal Sulaiman’s sound designs include work for Ars Nova, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Detroit Public Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York Theatre Workshop, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Signature Theatre, Soho Rep, Trinity Rep, and many others, including such world premieres as Rags ParklandFairview, and Underground Railroad Game. For this work, he has been recognized with nominations for the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, AUDELCO, Lucille Lortel, and Drama Desk awards; he has also been honored with the 2021 CTG Sherwood Award and the 2019 Henry Hewes Design Award for excellence in Sound Design and Composition.

As a theatre deviser, Mikaal Sulaiman has received artist residencies at Space on Ryder Farm in Upstate New York, UCross Foundation in Wyoming, and VoxFest at Dartmouth College. He also hosts a podcast, Black Enso, which can be found on most podcast platforms. He has taught at Montclair State University, Pig Iron Theatre, and the University of California, San Diego.


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