Dramaturgy student works on new GRCT production


GVL / Meghan Landgren

Mary Racette, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The Grand Rapids Civic Theater (GRCT) performs relevant themes in the classic production, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Part of the production team is Grand Valley State University student Chavala Ymker, who is using skills learned in GVSU classes for her role as a dramaturg, or one who works on the interpretation of a playwright’s work. 

Tennessee Williams’ 1947 Broadway play “A Streetcar Named Desire” is set in New Orleans during the post-World War II era. The many themes in the play have dual relevance to the historical context of the play and 21st century issues. 

Artistic Director Jean Bahle said, “(The play) is a classic that people think they know, but we were surprised about how much of this play is still relevant today. It doesn’t feel like a museum piece at all.”

GVL / Meghan Landgren

Domestic abuse, mental health, addiction and conflicts between classes are all issues which characters in “A Streetcar Named Desire” face. Almost three-quarters of a decade later, these issues are still very much alive. Originally, these were themes in the play because during this time period it was, as Bahle puts it, “the way things were.” However, for this production, the director and dramaturg looked at these themes as an opportunity to engage audiences and spark conversations for social change. 

Bahle said the GRCT production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” stays true to the authentic time period of the play. One difference that stands out about the GRCT production is the added interludes with ensemble and music. Bahle said these were added to further establish the setting. 

This production marks Bahle’s first time directing with GRCT. Prior to being offered the role of director, she acted in GRCT productions. While all of the actors are volunteers, Bahle complements her cast and crew for their work ethic and skill level. 

Ymker is one of the key team members which Bahle mentioned for “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Ymker, a junior, is a part of the Integrated Studies Program at Brooks College, with an emphasis on storytelling and social change. In addition to her studies through Brooks College, Ymker is a theater minor. 

Ymker describes her emphasis through the program as finding ways to tell stories through multiple mediums, including, theater, creative writing, history and photography. She said the curriculum for professor James Bell’s production dramaturgy class was the most useful class towards her work with GRCT. 

“All of the different classes I have had about telling stories and how to engage with people has been very influential on my work,” Ymker said. 

GVL / Meghan Landgren

Some of Ymker’s roles as a dramaturg, as described by Bahle and herself, include conducting research to check historical accuracy, looking further into small details within the play and interpreting references and parts of a play in a way that helps the actors carry out themes. 

A GVSU education and dramaturgy work with GRCT are steps Ymker is currently taking towards her goals in furthering her education and pursuing a career in a storytelling related field. She said she plans to pursue a master’s in dramaturgy and playwriting. 

Ymker said she hopes to see more students in the audience for the remaining shows. From Jan. 10-26, performances for A Streetcar Named Desire are at GRCT’s location downtown Grand Rapids.  

“We have the sense that there is a new generation of younger folks who may not be familiar with the play,” Bahle said.