Here at Harvard, we tend to complain about how difficult it is to use the limited funding available to stage high-impact bonding events with widespread student appeal. In spite of differences of opinion about the Undergraduate Council referendum, everyone seems to have the same goal in mind even while disagreeing about how to fulfill it--we need more high quality activities that draw students together. My modest proposal is a little different: instead of fighting over how to create more, let's promote the terrific and woefully under attended events that already take place. My current favorite example is Harvard theater.
Though I could never sing, dance or act, I love going to plays. I tend to come to every performance of the same show, memorize every word and sit in the darkened audience imagining I am on stage. However, when I came to college I figured I would have to take a four-year hiatus from this obsession. Harvard gets lauded for so many different reasons-- increasingly, even for its athletic prowess--but hardly ever for its theater. Until this past weekend I had always assumed that the theater jocks were all drawn to that football-challenged fall-back school down in New Haven.
Admittedly, I am not the best qualified theater critic on campus. If I remember correctly, the last campus show I actually attended was a shaky production of "Pippin" in the Dunster House dining hall my freshman year. Its simple sets and weak acting reminded me of the production of the show that had gone up in my high school just one year before. I decided immediately that I would not be a Harvard theater junkie.
My only other campus drama experience came just last spring when I joined my house drama society, joining in an excruciatingly painful and drawn-out effort to stage "Jesus Christ Superstar" in the Winthrop courtyard, complete with plans to chain the Jesus to the Winthrop gates as a post-modern cross. Unfortunately, the show never materialized. I figured I had had a rather representative Harvard drama experience, and I retired quickly from my production aspirations.
As a result, I was a little suspicious when I took my place among the crowd in the Leverett Old Library to watch "Hair" this weekend. I remembered "Hair" from high school, too. The cast painted flowers on the audience members' cheeks and they had us all join in a rousing rendition of "Let the Sun Shine In" at the finale. We were all temporarily transported to a really hip drug culture-- that is, before we all raced home to meet curfew. In short, that production was atrocious. Not even restoring the school-censored nudity would have saved it.
It was with this jaded perspective that I entered the Old Library. To my great surprise, the Leverett production of "Hair" was absolutely spellbinding. I left humming, clapping and feeling that being young in the '90s is not so different from thirty years ago. Dare I say it? The show gave me a good dose of positive, cathartic youth angst. The cast was amazingly professional, something I had not ever associated with campus theater.
Stepping back for a minute, this great success should not surprise me at all. We have really accomplished thespians all over campus. Our Gilbert and Sullivan players are in their fortieth season. Many ethnic and cultural organizations have drama troupes. And, most importantly, an evening at the Loeb Ex is free. Certainly, that is a cost effective student venue that does not take a referendum to create!
"Hair" may be gone, but the opportunities for good theater at Harvard continue. I hear, for instance, there's a show going up at the Loeb at the beginning of reading period that requires the audience to help design the set. And while I would never stop encouraging students to go into Boston for a night on the town to see a professional show--I, too, have joined the proud tradition of Crimson editors crying at the production of "Rent" at the Schubert--we have an amazingly talented theater community here at Harvard. Help fill the audience at the many shows this coming semester, and prove that it does not take Casino Night or house block grants to bring students out.
Corinne E. Funk's column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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