For the past five months, the talented cast, crew and production team of the 110th Annual Varsity Show has been working nonstop to make this year's performance a success. Hours of rehearsal, meetings, choreographing, composing, and set design have all been leading up to tonight's opening, when students will pack into Lerner Auditorium to watch Columbia poke fun at itself.
The Varsity Show, traditionally Columbia's best attended theatrical event, promises an even bigger and better show than the highly successful production of 2003. Changes to this year's show include the addition of a chorus, bringing the cast total to 20, and an expanded set that is larger than any previously built.
But the Varsity show has become more than just the four performances this weekend. As part of the ongoing 250th celebration, the V-Show will be honoring Terrence McNally--a Columbia and Varsity Show alumnus--as the recipient of the first annual I.A.L. Diamond Award for achievement in the arts, which will be presented by Dean Austin Quigley Saturday night at a gala reception. McNally, who was a member of the 66th Annual Varsity Show, is best known for his plays Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune and Ragtime.
The creation of this award was described by producer Paul Gelinas, CC '04, as "the start of a shift towards a Varsity Show weekend"; in essence, a celebration not only of the Varsity Show, but of Columbia as well. "This year we have gotten a lot of help from the school, and this has enabled us to pursue other V-Show related projects in addition to just the actual show performances," Gelinas said.
The other major V-Show initiative this year was a Varsity Show history art book. Covering the 110 years of Varsity Show history, the book was compiled by Gelinas as well as former Spectator editor-in-chief Telis Demos, CC '03, and Anand Venkatesan, CC '03. The book will be on sale at local bookstores, but will also be given to alumni and future participants of the Varsity Show.
Every cast and production team has a different vision for the Varsity Show, and this year is no different. The director of this year's V-Show, David Paul, CC '04, said his biggest goal for the production was to "make it a show that makes Columbia students feel good about going to Columbia." Building on the success of last year's production, Paul sought to place Columbia at the center of the story: "It's about Columbia, not just a story that takes place here."
Paul added that this year they faced a new challenge with the addition of a chorus. "Our biggest challenge was the addition of a chorus," Paul said. "We wanted to transform the V-Show into something proper, a pick-up from the grand old days of the Varsity Show when a 30- or 40-person cast was standard."
And the hard work was definitely not restricted to the producers. Writers Chris Wells, CC '06, and Spencer Kaplan, CC '04, said that they faced constant difficulties as they worked to transform their many ideas into the final script.
"Paring a scene down to its bare essentials is never easy," Wells said. "When you have to turn five pages into a page and a half, you learn how to be terse."
"I never knew I could work this hard," Kaplan stated enthusiastically. "This is the first time I've broken through the glass ceiling, to be so focused that this is the only thing that matters."
Despite the stress of the job, both writers said that they enjoyed the unique nature of the Varsity Show creation process.
"There's a science to it," Kaplan said. "You learn that certain words are always funny. You already know about timing, but there is an absolute science to it. Trial by fire: you have to figure it out for yourself."
Wells agreed. "It's ridiculous that you hand the cast pages of dialogue that you just wrote a couple of hours ago and they have to make the moments on the page a reality," Wells said.
Veteran cast member Paul Wright, CC '05, describes his experience in the V-Show as one "where you come to know your fellow actors, creative team, and the script itself like family." Wright added that one of the best aspects of this experience is watching the whole show evolve through months of collaboration between cast and creative team. "You watch it grow, change through its awkward puberty years, and then blossom into a beautiful mid-20-something knockout."
The final product is 100 percent Columbia, from the script to the cast to the production. This aspect makes the Varsity Show one of the longest-running and most important traditions Columbia has to offer. Seeing the Varsity Show is an experience that no Columbia student should miss. This weekend, get ready to laugh, smile, and even cry (depending on which administrator you are). Most importantly, get ready to come together with the rest of the school to watch Alma Mater get lampooned.
If You're Going
The Varsity Show
Thu, April 15--9 p.m.
Fri, April 16--9 p.m.
Sat, April 17--8 p.m.
Sun, April 18--9 p.m.
Tickets--$5 with CUID