For 20 years Toni Dorfman has taught full-time at Yale, where she is a professor of theater. She holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, earned at Carleton College and the University of Iowa, and a master of fine arts degree in directing from Columbia University. In 2003, she cofounded the annual Yale Playwrights Festival. At Yale in addition to teaching practical classes in acting, directing, and playwriting, she has taught seminars in revenge tragedy and moral ambiguity, biography and drama, and, to come in 2020, representations of the underworld. In summer she’s taught Sophocles’ Antigone in the Yale Warrior-Scholar Project helping enlisted veterans prepare for college.
Since 2009 she has directed seven major productions of 17th-century operas for the Yale Baroque Opera Project, including Cavalli’s Il Giasone, Scipione Affricano, and La Didone, Sacrati’s La finta pazza (American premiere), Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea, and this spring Rossi’s Orfeo. Her interest in ancient Greek myth, epic, and drama – the inspiration for Italian baroque opera – is lifelong. What in particular she loves about early opera is not only the expressive beauty of its music but also its casts of human and divine characters, bringing together two worlds in the same space.
Other recent productions she’s directed include Conor McPherson’s play Shining City in St. Louis in 2016 and Brecht/Steffin’s Mother Courage and Her Children at Yale in 2018 with a new score by Miles Walter ’18.
Her own plays, including Rounding Cassiopeia, Family Wolf, Third Wave Fems, One of the Damned Few (with Bud Thorpe), and The King of the Cimbri, have been developed and presented in London, New York, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Chicago, and in New Haven at Yale Rep and the Long Wharf Theater.
In her twenties she cofounded The Shade Company, a repertory theater in New York and a charter member of what is now the Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York. She’s served on the editorial board of Shakespeare Bulletin and the national board of the University/Resident Theater Association. As an actor she’s played Lady Macbeth, Titania, Helena, Aldonza, Grusha, Dorine, Hesione Hushabye, Pirate Jenny, Kagekiyo’s Daughter, Mother Courage, and Clytemnestra, among scores of other roles; in film she’s played Queen Marie in Ionesco’s Exit the King (1973) and Candace in Edward Columbia’s Plain Fiction (2019), with dozens of television commercials in between.
She is married to Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis. They live in East Rock with a pollination garden, designed by Eliza Shaw Valk, her daughter, in the front for butterflies and bees.