Putting on the Pudding Show

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The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is an entirely Harvard undergraduate-run musical theater program with over 150 years of tradition. It performs in Cambridge, New York City and Bermuda to an obsessively loyal audience and roasts celebrities in its annual Man and Woman of the Year ceremony.

But the best-known fact about the Pudding is that its shows involve a lot of men wearing skirts.

For those involved on or off the stage, the Pudding is more than just an extracurricular activity. It’s a way of life that begins immediately after exam period in January and extends all the way until spring break.

During intersession and on weekends, Pudding cast and crew hold 12-hour rehearsals. During the week, they often rehearse until 2 a.m.

As Charles S. T. Howe ’04, co-producer of this year’s show, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, puts it, “[The Pudding] is your Harvard experience for this time.”

“It’s your biggest and only commitment,” he says.

Although it sometimes appears that Pudding produces its professional-quality show in an inordinately short amount of time, the work of the cast and crew actually spans many months.

The process begins over the summer, when the club’s president and vice president preside over a “script comp” to select the script for the show. After a few rounds of reading submissions, they make a final selection.

Stefan Atkinson ’03 and Shawn H. Snyder ’03, this year’s president and vice president, ultimately chose Afterlife, a submission by William L. Aronson ’04 and J. Benjamin St. Clair ’04. Aronson and St. Clair themselves had began work on the piece last April. After its selection, the script underwent a series of changes and adaptations guided by Atkinson, Snyder and Tony Parise, the Pudding’s professional director for the past five years.

Afterlife leads the audience on a tour of heaven, hell and purgatory led by characters with pun names like “Rabbi Noah Fense” and fellow clergy member “Nun Taken.”

By the time the rehearsals begin, the script is essentially a finished product, subject to only very minor changes.

Despite the apparent professionalism of the Pudding’s production methods, the group has a remarkable set of odd traditions and even odder happenstance.

Howe recalls the final day of last year’s weeklong Pudding trip to New York City. Before traveling on to Bermuda for the last leg of the Pudding’s tour, Howe needed to return the rented truck that had been used to transport props and costumes from Boston.

But the Pudding had replaced a lock on the back door of the truck and subsequently lost the key, and the rental agency would not take the truck back. With the flight to Bermuda leaving soon, Howe desperately needed to get the lock removed.

It was early enough in the morning that most businesses were still closed, so Howe did what any resourceful Harvard student would do—he took the truck to an illegal chop shop. There he encountered the proprietor of the establishment, who was in the midst of using the bathroom with the door open.

After making hasty introductions, Howe arranged for the chop shop owner to remove the lock from the truck with an arc welder. In return, Howe provided him two bottles of whiskey.

Transaction completed, Howe made it to the airport just in time to catch the flight to Bermuda.

While Pudding members have their fair share of such last-minute crises, at least as exciting are the celebraties they meet.

Howe points to a photo on the wall: “That’s a picture of Jamie-Lee Curtis in her bathroom wearing the Hasty Pudding thong we gave her when she was Woman of the Year in 2000.”

The Pudding building is filled with such memorabilia from previous shows.

“Occasionally alumni come back here to see their old costumes,” Howe says. The first thing they want to do is see if their high heels still fit.”

High heels are only one feature of the all-male Pudding cast’s uncoventional wardrobe.

“We have these things called dance belts. they’re essentially male thongs,” says Snyder.

“To hide our packages,” Atkinson interjects.

“They need to be washed frequently,” adds B.J. Averell ’03.

The conversation shifts to the professional quality of the shows the group produces each year.

With its reputation and resources, the Pudding provides undergraduates the opportunity to work with professional directors and technical crew members.

“We [even] have makeup workshops to learn how to properly accentuate our cheekbones,” Averell says.

Having honored Huston as its Woman of the Year last week, the Pudding premiered It’s A Wonderful Afterlife last night after roasting Man of the Year Scorsese. Fresh off a Golden Globe victory for Gangs of New York, the director and his historical epic received Oscar nominations on Tuesday, with Scorsese the frontrunner in the race for best director.

—It’s a Wonderful Afterlife runs at the Hasty Pudding Theater until March 16.

—Staff writer Steven N. Jacobs can be reached at snjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.

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