When he’s not acting in Hasty Pudding burlesques, you might find W. Brian Polk hanging out with his pals from the improv group On Thin Ice or performing in comic operas with the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players; he’s also been spotted performing in several Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club shows. Polk—actor, singer, writer—has contributed an enormous amount of his time at Harvard to the arts.
For Polk, theater isn’t just a passion; it’s an incredible community. The San Diego native first found his passion for acting when he began to perform in his local youth theater group at age 10, and he’s still in touch with many of the friends he made in his early acting days. At Harvard, Polk says, the theater scene has allowed him to form “relationships and friendships with some of the most amazing people he’s ever met.” His love of performing has affected every layer of his college experience, and although he is intrigued by the idea of a career in politics down the line, he is hoping to pursue acting or score a job as a comedy writer after he graduates.
Despite the race to finish his History and Literature thesis about 1850s fugitive slave court cases in Boston and final rehearsals for “Acropolis Now,” the 161st show of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, which opens tonight, Polk agreed to meet with The Crimson to share a little bit more about his three years with HPT.
The Harvard Crimson: What first attracted you to the Hasty Pudding Theatricals?
W. Brian Polk: I didn’t know much about it when I arrived on campus, but as I became a sophomore I realized that I knew a lot of the Pudding crew, had worked with them or seen them in shows, and I thought they were all pretty cool and talented. I wanted to try it out and see what it was all about. I’m sort of a ham—very loud and presentational—so the Pudding was luckily right up my alley, too!
THC: What was it like to both act and write for HPT? Any preference?
WBP: I’m glad I have some experience under my belt as a writer, but I think I’m more of a performer. Maybe I like attention too much! Last year I was in the show, as well as writing it, which was a crazy experience. When I wasn’t rehearsing a scene, I would be brainstorming with the director: adding this joke, fixing this joke, trying things out. Rehearsal was a really full day, and it kept you busy. It was a tough job, but it’s really rewarding to hear people laugh at jokes that you’ve written, and it never stops to surprise you. It’s always amazing when people laugh at jokes you wrote, especially those written very quickly at, like, two in the morning.
THC: Are those the funniest ones?
WBP: Sometimes they are! Jokes that you thought were filler turn out to work really well, because the guys in the Pudding are so versatile and always come up with different ways to deliver lines. The cast makes you look good. It’s a collaborative process.
THC: Tell us more about “Acropolis Now.”
WBP: It’s really good, better than last year’s show, and I say that with complete honesty. The music is wonderful with some very catchy tunes, and the show is brilliant. It takes place in Ancient Greece, and it’s about the first Olympics ever. There’s a demigod named Hugh Bris who has to win an athletic competition in order to become a full God. Hilarity ensues, conflict begins, and soul-mates are found. I play this character Brometheus, a frat guy who’s really into Greek life...That’s the big joke. I’m constantly inviting Gods to give me a fist bump. It’s fun.
THC: Very manly! And what was it like playing a woman last year?
WBP: That was a huge trip. I had huge hips, huge boobs, and played a magic mirror. I was supposed to be this big disco queen and really just looked like a giant disco ball! There are some really terrifying pictures on Facebook that I’m sure will ruin my political career someday.
THC: Besides the embarrassing pictures, what’s the single best thing about performing in a drag show?
WBP: It’s good because in an all-male cast, I’m not going to get distracted and fall in love with one of my fellow cast members. That’s not true for everyone in our crew though!
THC: It’s your last Pudding Premiere on Friday... Reactions?
WBP: Obviously it’s very exciting. The Pudding is such a great experience, weighed down with a lot of history, and I love how Harvard can take tradition and let students make it completely their own. That which is old is new again. In some ways, opening night is the beginning of a new journey. It’s the first of 37 performances. At the end of that is when I’ll probably cry. You eventually have to get kicked out though; they don’t let you stick around. I’ve built a lot of amazing friendships and amazing relationships through the Pudding. I’m sure I’ll be nostalgic all of senior spring, but I’m also ready to go.