The 117th annual Varsity Show has been one of the most exhilarating, demanding, and rewarding theatrical experiences of my life. At first, I hadn’t even planned to audition, but was convinced by Rebekah Lowin and Rachel Chavez, two other first-years in the cast. Little did I know that I would be jumping headfirst into a whirlwind of freshly written Columbia-themed showtunes, draft after draft of cleverly composed scenes, and a process that would push my creative capacity to the limit.
For those that don’t know, the Varsity Show creative process is twofold. The writers and composers create a show over the course of two months, and this show (arbitrarily named the “Turkey Day” performance) is performed for Varsity Show alumni. After the performance, the alumni critique the show, providing the creative team with constructive criticism, and the show is almost entirely rewritten. Due to the nature of this process, the pressure on the writers and composers is immense, but they never fail to provide us with hilarious scenarios and brilliant music.
As a first-year, I am both bewildered by the extraordinarily talented people I get to work with and excited to be part of such a beloved Columbia tradition. For me personally, the Varsity Show has been so demonstrative of the talent and motivation of Columbia students. The show is entirely student written, directed, and produced, yet the professionalism and efficiency of the cast and crew is astounding. I think I can speak for the entire cast when I say that Emily Nagel, this year’s director and fearless leader, has become our second mother. Her hard work, guidance, and dedication motivate each and every one of us day after day.
Before I auditioned, I heard a myriad of negative things about the Varsity Show: the time commitment, the drama-filled and cutthroat nature of the procedure, the frenzy of student-run musicals, etc. Now that I’ve been involved in the Varsity Show process for three months, I can safely say that there is nothing cutthroat, drama-filled, or frenzied about it. We are blessed to have a group of passionate people who work well under pressure and who produce amazing work, no matter what crazy scenario is thrown at them. The time commitment is absolutely mind-blowing, but the rehearsal process is so rewarding that it doesn’t bother me one bit. (And this is coming from someone who is taking seven classes this semester.)
What is most compelling about the Varsity Show is its ability to bring together a sometimes-disconnected university. While so many controversial events have occurred over the past year, the Varsity Show provides Columbia the opportunity to laugh at itself and its tribulations in a positive, entertaining, and enjoyable way. It is unique in that the show contains jokes and characters that are relevant and relatable to every student at Columbia. Though Columbia students may have their differences, the Varsity Show is the one time every year when the entire University comes together to sit back and laugh at itself.
While there are only twelve people in the cast, the Varsity Show is one of Columbia’s largest student organizations, with a creative team, production team, design team, and publicity team that are comprised of what seems to be a million people. Although the twelve of us are the only ones who get our faces on the posters and (hopefully) the thunderous applause after the show, every single person in this production has so much to offer and brings so much to the table. Whether it’s our lighting designer, Camille, who can hang and focus 50 lights and set 100 cues in 20 minutes, or Solomon, our musical assistant, who can transcribe and then memorize almost 200 pages of sheet music overnight, everybody in this process is so valuable and so talented, and I am so extraordinarily grateful and honored to be part of what is sure to be the greatest Varsity Show in years.
The author is a Columbia College first-year. He is a member of the cast of the Varsity Show.