It's that time of year again, when a bunch of Columbia's most talented students collaborate for months to create the annual tradition in which Columbia pokes fun at itself.
The Varsity Show, perhaps Columbia's strongest tradition, will lift its curtains this weekend in Roone Arledge Auditorium. After a lukewarm response to last year's show, the creative team for this year's show, Dial "D" For Deadline, has worked extra hard to remedy the problems inherent in last year's performance, focusing on a cohesive story and solid characters rather than a collection of sketches. "This year's Varsity Show tells a story, a Columbia murder mystery," Co-Producer Peter Koechley, CC '03 said.
The audition process for The Varsity Show is the most competitive at Columbia. Out of the 80 who tried out this year, only nine students were taken, including returning cast members Jenny Slate, CC '04, Michael Barry, CC '04, and Jordan Barbour, CC '06. Students chosen for The Varsity Show must be strong vocalists and possess the improvisation skills that warrant one of the coveted spots in the cast. The combination of improv, acting, singing, and even dancing make those in The Varsity Show the most talented students on campus.
The hard-working creative team is led by director Sheila Dvorak, CC '03, and The Varsity Show's Producers Julie Binder, BC '04 and Koechley. The two writers are Ben Watson-Lamprey, CC '05, and Ashish Shetty, CC '04. The show's composer is Peter Lerman, CC '04, and the choreographer is Raamla Mohamed, CC '03.
This year's V-Show follows nine characters through Columbia's favorite haunts, such as St. A's, Butler Library, Carman Hall, and even the Spectator Office. The characters include some big campus names and institutions, including President Bollinger and University Residence Halls (URH).
The sheer amount of time each person puts into The Varsity Show would frighten most Columbia undergraduates; It ranges from three hours per week at the beginning of the semester, to a maximum of 20 hours per day the week before the show. "All but the completely academically insane take slightly lighter class loads to accommodate the show into their lives," Koechley said. "It is an immense time commitment, but in the end, it is well worth the sacrifice."
The cast members seem to have a genuine respect for the extremely creative and cooperative process of making The Varsity Show what it is. The improvisational nature of the show gives actors and actresses a lot of freedom to adapt the material and to collaborate with each other until the right balance is achieved. "I think you'll be able to tell how tight the cast is, and how much we feel like a troupe rather than cast mates picked to work together," Barry said.
James Moorhead, CC '04, also commented on the closeness of the cast. "There's an amazing relationship between the cast and the creative team. As a collaborative effort, every member of the team is integral. We're always learning from each other."
Regarding the cast's professionalism, Binder commented: "I feel privileged to be among such a talented, ambitious bunch who give so much of their time and talent to this production."
The fact that The Varsity Show chooses to make their script-writing process one of evolution rather than a solid text for the actors to memorize gives the cast and crew only three months to solidify the show. "Other similar shows, such as Harvard's Hasty Pudding, write their scripts in isolation over the summer and fall, and then simply rehearse and perform in the spring," said Koechley. "But we choose our cast first and then write the entire show during the three-month rehearsal process."
The Varsity Show strives to bring the best possible product to the students, coming up with far more material than could fit into two and a half hours. A special preview show is done each year to not only give the students a chance to see a glimpse of the final product, but also to test some of the material with a live Columbia audience.
"The difficulties of presenting 'Columbia,' whatever that may mean to any particular student or to the student body, are formidable," Barry said. "And I think it takes a cast that knows each other and understands how each of us relate ourselves to the school that makes the final product worth watching and makes the rehearsal process fun for us."
"For a campus that supposedly lacks community, the Varsity Show is a production that brings 4,000 students together each year to laugh at a world that only we understand," said Binder. "I can think of no greater experience for a Columbia student than being a part of the Varsity Show."
From great music to some of the funniest skits ever put on a stage, The Varsity Show guarantees to impress Columbia with fantastic wit, dazzling set design, and a dedicated cast. "Putting the show together consumes all of our lives," Moorhead said, "and damn it, we love doing it."