Dr. Muhammad (second from left) with YAA Executive Director Weili Cheng ’77 (far left) and members of the YACOL board

This February, amidst the illuminated marquees and roaring crowds of Times Square in New York City, Yale alumni and friends gathered for a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience celebrating the arts with the vibrant Yale Alumni College community. This event offered attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Broadway while engaging with themes of resistance, joy, and love.

The cast of Purlie Victorius
The cast of Purlie Victorius

The afternoon kicked off at the Music Box Theater with a stirring performance of Purlie Victorious, starring the acclaimed Leslie Odom, Jr. as the titular character and Billy Eugene Jones ’03 MFA portraying Gitlow Judson. First performed in 1961 and written by African American playwright, actor, and activist Ossie Davis, the play explores racism and segregation in the American South through the lens of satire. A vibrant, powerful, and playful exploration of themes still resonant today, the play captivated the audience with its sharp wit and powerful messages.

Following the performance, attendees gathered at the Museum of Broadway for an intimate talkback session with Dr. Hasna Muhammad, daughter of playwright Ossie Davis. Dr. Muhammad provided insightful commentary on the play's historical and cultural significance. She encouraged questions from the group and shared personal anecdotes and reflections on her father's work, emphasizing the play's enduring relevance. 

Dr. Muhammad
Dr. Hasna Muhammad addresses Yale alumni and friends during an intimate talkback.

“What was the message my father was writing to me?” she shared, adding, “My father believed humor could be a tool for resistance. It was important for us to sit together and laugh together.” 

She highlighted how the play addresses topics like gender, religion, and equality, underscoring its significance in contemporary dialogues about black joy and love. “In this version of the play, the love in the relationships is more evident,” she said. “The play is part of that conversation.”

“Now is the time — it's the perfect, perfect time — for the play to be seen,” she said. 

Among the attendees was Heidi Guzmán ’14, who was struck by the timely significance of the play’s themes during Black History Month. “It was just really wonderful to see a Black story played by Black actors who shared this really wonderful story and left it all on the stage.”

Dr. Muhammad at YACOL
The talkback was held at the Museum of Broadway.

Andrew Burgie ’87, remarked on the play's reflection of ongoing societal challenges. “The thing that was interesting when I was watching the show was the sad truth that some of the things that were issues back then are still issues now.” He appreciated the authenticity and insights brought by Dr. Muhammad, adding “It's always nice to have people that have authenticity.”

“And as far as Dr. Muhammad's ability to just talk about how she was experiencing it and then hearing her takeaways. She's passing on this consciousness through just being in the same room with the people talking about it.” he said. “I'm glad to see that there's an opportunity and space for that.”

“The experience was amazing. I thought each of the performances and the collective performance was extremely powerful and a story that was necessary to be retold,” said Tracy Layne ’16 PhD. When asked why others should attend Yale Alumni College events in the future, she noted “This is a great opportunity to not just support and touch base with other Yale alumni, but also a great opportunity to engage with other Yale alumni, including those from the diaspora, at events that highlight diverse stories.”

Broadway Cares quilt
The Broadway Cares quilt on display at the museum features a square from the Yale Rep (bottom row, third from left).

The afternoon concluded with a self-guided tour through the Museum of Broadway. Here, Yale alumni and friends were able to explore the rich history of theater in New York City by encountering dedicated exhibits, costuming, prop pieces, and more. A discerning eye might spot several references to the Yale Repertory Theatre throughout the museum’s collection. 

Reflecting on the day’s events, Lauren Summers, Senior Director of Lifelong Learning & Travel, said “it is a gift to have people among us who know these stories.”

With 40 attendees, the event not only served as a platform for lifelong learning but also fostered a sense of community among Yale alumni who share a passion for the arts. The success of the outing and the enthusiastic response from participants underscore Yale Alumni College's commitment to offering enriching experiences that build connections and spark dialogue.

Yale Alumni College offers events and in-person and online seminar courses led by esteemed Yale-affiliated faculty, open to all Yale alumni, their families, and friends. These programs provide a vibrant intellectual atmosphere for connecting with fellow Yalies worldwide, covering topics from art history to Italian cinema. 

Registration for the 2024 Spring Semester at Yale Alumni College is now open, offering a unique chance to engage in vibrant discussions, explore thought-provoking content, and connect with a community of curious minds.