How a Northeastern student’s ‘crazy’ idea became a Boston-wide student theater festival

Tiffany Jieting Yu, who is studying English and theater at Northeastern, “wanted to make art” with her peers in theater across the city of Boston. When she couldn’t find such a group, she made one. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Tiffany Jieting Yu had a big idea.

She wanted to start a theater festival for young, emerging playwrights, actors, and directors that wasn’t exclusive to just one institution or college—something that she couldn’t find anyone else doing.

“Is this crazy?” she texted a friend.

“Yes. But DO IT,” came the reply.

That was in November. And now, Yu and a team of friends are just weeks from pulling off her “crazy” idea. The Reground Theatre Festival will take place on Friday, April 12 at Club Café in Boston.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Yu, a Northeastern student studying English and theater, was looking for a way to connect with other young creative types when she first had the idea for a festival.

She also wanted to create a platform from which burgeoning playwrights could show work potentially too edgy to perform at established theater institutions in the city.

“We make connections with our peers all the time, and I just thought, ‘I want to make art with these people,’” Yu says. “I was disappointed that there wasn’t really a way for emerging artists to work together.”

That’s when she broached the idea of a festival with Darren Evans, her mentor and a theatre operations specialist in Northeastern’s Department of Theatre.

Evans, who has organized small festivals, had one big piece of advice for Yu. “Just don’t underestimate how big an undertaking it is to wrangle so many different people from so many different institutions,” he told her.

Shortly after meeting with Evans, Yu applied for and received an Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors Award from Northeastern. The award comes with a grant to get students’ ideas off the ground, but Yu says she would’ve forged ahead even without it.

She enlisted fellow students Jenna Goldberg, Maren Flessen, Liam Hofmeister, Desiré Bennett, Meryl Prendergast, Verena Calista Irawan, and Marissa Wolf to manage production, dramaturgy, marketing, and graphic design. Together, these students became the leadership team for the festival.

Throughout December and January, Yu and her collaborators called, texted, emailed, and messaged everyone they knew who was involved in the theater scene in some way.

“From four years in Boston, I had a lot of connections—people I’d met at internships, basement concerts… one person I actually met in a Lyft,” Yu says.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

She and her team worked to establish connections with members of different theater groups and faculty advisors for formal theater departments at colleges and universities throughout Boston to spread the word about the festival and to seek submissions for it.

It worked. Yu and her team fielded more than 50 submissions, and they narrowed it down to seven plays that would appear at the festival. The playwrights hail from Northeastern, Tufts, Harvard, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Emerson, and Boston University. Yu and the team also selected a mass of actors and directors to bring the plays to life.

Evans says the mix of colleges, viewpoints, and backgrounds that are reflected in the final festival lineup makes this festival unique.

“What stands out to me about this festival is Tiffany’s focus on diverse representation,” he says. “That’s something that our students care a lot about, and I think they’re taking the reins now when it comes to making those choices.”

The excitement among these young artists made Yu realize that what she was doing was larger than the festival itself.

“We’re not just building a festival,” she says. “We’re creating a collective.”

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