By Vivian Jiang
The debut of the “Re-Approaching Stanford” Newsletter in student inboxes this summer produced a clarion call for beloved Stanford fall-quarter traditions to either adapt or face cancellation. One such tradition is Gaieties, an original completely student-written, composed and performed musical produced by Ram’s Head Theatrical Society. In the past, it has been an outlet to poke fun at how absurd life can get on the Stanford campus and showcase the ridiculousness of Stanford students while rallying the student body against their rival, Berkeley, as they prepare to face off in their yearly football game, the “Big Game.” With origins that date back to 1911, Gaieties has evolved into a large-scale musical with a singular, cohesive storyline that follows a group of freshmen who must work together to defeat their rival’s mascot, the Cal Berkeley Bear. However, as a result of ongoing circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic, the production team of Gaieties 2020 has been forced to revise their initial plans of going through with a traditional form of Gaieties. Instead, as announced in an email sent to the Ram’s Head company last Friday July 10, Gaieties 2020 is looking to return to the original format of the show as a series of individual, sketch-style acts without a set theme tying them together.
The Daily met with this year’s producer Chloe Chow ’23 over Zoom to discuss the future of Gaieties 2020, and behind-the-scenes details on the original script, Chow’s experience as a Producer during the pandemic and on uncharted territory for this year’s Gaieties company.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity and length.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Why did you want to join Gaieties 2020?
Chloe Chow (CC): This past fall, I had the fortune to be one of the freshmen heroes of Gaieties 2019 and perform on stage. I think that, because with Gaieties we audition people the very first week of school, this really is your community from the second that you step on campus and you want to be involved in the theater scene. For me, I auditioned kind of by mistake, and I didn’t know what I was getting into. But I think that if I didn’t have Gaieties, I wouldn’t have felt like I found my place at Stanford because Gaieties very much inducts this new group of theater freshmen into the theater scene. Stanford isn’t very well known for theater, but I just fell in love with the whole community aspect. I love socializing and I’m somewhat extroverted, so I wanted to be able to create that new community aspect in Gaieties 2020, and that’s why I applied for producer. I also wanted to be involved in Gaieties 2020 because I think that obviously 2020, before the pandemic hit, was going to be a pretty momentous year.
Gaieties has, in the past, embodied a lot of racism and really bad meaning within it and being a person of color and a minority within this theater scene and America in general, I wanted to make sure voices on campus were being heard. And I think that doesn’t just come from being a cast member. It comes from the very start, from hiring your writers to shaping what the script is going to be about because Gaieties is completely student-written and composed. So hiring a diverse, creative production team and casting diverse people really needs to come from the back door where you can ensure that you have a handle on everything that’s going on. Not necessarily like a dictatorship, but just enough to be aware that things are flowing in the right direction.
TSD: What was your role on staff in this production, and when were you hired?
CC: I was hired back in late February, so it’s been about five months. As the producer, I’m the very first person hired on to the process. I am in charge of hiring our head writers, who write the script, and our composer and lyricist, who write and compose the music. From there, I help the head writers hire writers to create the writing team. I am the messenger, the liaison between the writing team and our Ram’s Head Board of Directors. I also helped assemble our Creative Advisory Board (CAB), which is a separate group of students from the writing team who make sure that no jokes are too offensive, that the script is coherent and makes sense. I deliver the script to the Board of Directors, to CAB and am also in charge of hiring a bunch of the production staff like our production manager, our director, our stage manager, choreographer, vocal director, just like everybody. And then from there, what my job this summer was supposed to be was budgeting, for planning just the money aspect around Gaieties and setting up a rehearsal schedule. So that’s generally what the producer does. Then later, I’d work on marketing, but that hasn’t come yet, obviously. So yeah, that’s generally what the producer does. It’s kind of a lot of tasks, but so far, it hasn’t been too many tasks because of COVID.
TSD: How much work did you accomplish for your position before it was decided that the show in its intended form should be postponed for next year?
CC: Yeah, intended is the keyword here. Coming out of March, when we were all sent home, I still had the mindset of like, “Oh, we’re going to have Gaieties maintain this musical for; we don’t know what September is going to look like, what November when Gaieties performance is going to look like. So we should just keep on working towards the end goal of putting on a regular musical assuming that everything is possible.” And then the [Stanford] email [on June 3 from President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell] came saying that they’re only going to have two classes [on-campus] per quarter. So that starts changing stuff a bit. And then the email that completely changed things up was when they said that only freshmen and sophomores are gonna be on campus in the fall and summer and then all the upperclassmen are going to be on campus during the winter and spring. But up until [last week on Tuesday, July 7] when I sent an update to [the Rams Head company], the work that had been done was that we had hired quite a bit of the design and production staff, and we had gotten a final draft of the script. So we do have a finalized story that’s going to be performed [next year for] Gaieties 2021. It just hasn’t gone through like the final touches but that was where we were on the timeline, assuming that we were going to be putting on a regular musical.
TSD: How did the pandemic and Stanford’s virtual spring quarter impact your work-life balance on this show?
We got sent home the week before winter quarter ended, so the script hadn’t been written yet. We had just hired our writers, and I did all my interviews with the writers and the Creative Advisory Board in person. But then we got sent home, and my work-life balance was skewed a lot. I was working a lot on Gaieties during the virtual spring quarter because I was interviewing and creating applications, reviewing applications for the production team and the design team. And that’s what I was doing during the majority of spring quarter as well as editing the script. It wasn’t terrible, because I would have been doing a lot of that stuff on my computer anyway, but doing zoom interviews was very time-consuming. Again, there’s nothing you can do since it had to be done, and I enjoyed getting to know people over Zoom. So it wasn’t really a setback.
TSD: How have the Black Lives Matter protests in response to police brutality and anti-blackness impact your production process?
CC: That’s hard to say because I can’t speak for any one of our team members because I think that we all experienced the Black Lives Matter movement and the whole anti-cop protest very differently. I told my head writers that it was okay to put a pause on the scriptwriting for the two or three weeks that the Black Lives Matter movement was really taking flight back in late May. I think that in order to fully engage in your art, you need to be cleansed of other stresses in your life, and in order to be cleansed of other stresses in your life, it’s okay to say no to doing art for a moment. Social justice right now definitely takes greater priority than putting on Gaieties. In comparison to this whole national movement, Gaieties is nothing, and I’d much rather have my team members either be out there protesting or signing petitions, raising money to donate, taking care of their own mental health and emotional health instead of stressing over meeting a deadline. I think that moving the script next year was honestly probably a better choice [than] rushing it and getting it done by our initial deadline [National Tax Day, June 15] because I don’t want our writers to feel stressed in any capacity. We did consider integrating the Black Lives Matter movement messages into our script but because it’s not being performed this year, we want to make sure the script stays relevant to whatever is happening next year. The script hasn’t really reflected any of the recent events that have been going on because it has been put on pause.
TSD: How did Stanford’s Re-Approaching communications impact the production process?
CC: I have to admit I was very, very, very stressed for the entire four months that we were kept in the dark. It was really stressful because of all the responses that I thought Stanford could send out to their students planning for fall quarter, them saying, “Oh, we’re gonna have half capacity” was the last thing I expected. It’s really hard to plan a show when half the people that you’re expecting to be in the show just aren’t there and you also didn’t know who was going to be there.
I sent out an email to the entire company saying “Hey, I’m going to host a town hall because I think that so many people have worked on this that it is unfair for me as a single person to make a decision.” We had about 20 people from our Gaieties company out of, I think, 40 people attend [a town hall], and we had a really good conversation around options for Gaieties. One of them being we could do Gaieties completely on Zoom. We could do a regular musical, but film it, and then we could put it on at Frost Amphitheater and have a movie under the stars and allow people to social distance. Another option we had is to do Gaieties as a movie where, rather than do it in a theater, we film using the campus as our backdrop. Another option that we had was to just not do Gaieties at all and save the script for next year. So then I sent out the Google form with all the options, people voted, and the most popular option was to do a musical-style Gaieties and record it and put it on as a movie. But after they said that only freshmen and sophomores are going to be on campus [during the Autumn quarter], and obviously COVID cases are rising in California, SoCal especially, and Florida, Alabama, etc., we figured that social distancing protocols probably won’t allow us to put on a regular musical in the Memorial Auditorium.
I then met with my production team, which is Rebecca Cohen ’21, our production manager, Liam Smith ’23, our stage manager, and Justine Sombilon ’22, our amazing, amazing director. And we talked about all the options on the Google form: A movie would just take up too much time, the social distancing wouldn’t allow for a regular musical and Zoom Gaieties wouldn’t be feasible for the script that we had at the moment. We decided to move the script to next year in order to honor the writers and the original intent of the script and where they want to be performed. [For this year] we decided to return to the original form of Gaieties as a bunch of little, one-acts or sketches people performed that didn’t necessarily have to be interlinked, but would still maintain the whole “We’re going to make fun of Berkeley and we’re going to make fun of Stanford and we’re going to induct all these freshmen into the theater scene. We’d let the people that we cast devise their own Gaieties and then perform it in an open airspace, but it would still maintain the whole community aspect.
TSD: What will the ‘devised Gaieties 2020’ look like?
CC: Devised theater is where a bunch of people get together and make up their own cooperative story and their own songs. They share it with each other and they help each other edit and refine it, and put it on as their own group project instead of having someone hand [a script, music, and choreography] to them. I really hope that we get a lot of people auditioning because my hope is to have one to three cohorts of students (freshmen and sophomores) each devising their own 25 to 30-minute piece about their experience thus far, if it’s a lot of sophomores, or what they expected Stanford to be or whether they feel like they’re missing out. I feel like one topic that’s going to be very popular is “Who knows what spring quarter feels like?” because none of us have experienced spring quarter or “Screw Greek life, who needs Greek life on Stanford’s campus?” because I think that freshmen and sophomores have a very different idea of what Stanford is than the current juniors and seniors.
You know where Dinkelspiel is? It’s right across the Student Union. There’s this big cement stage that’s outdoors. I’m hoping to put it on there so people can social distance in the audience but still have a good old time. Logistics are still yet to be figured out. But that’s the vision so far and is what was in the email that I sent out [to the company of Ram’s Head last Friday].
What aspects of Gaieties will stay the same, and what will look different?
I think in terms of what’s going to be the same is community. Community building. We’re still going to try to be a family, to maintain the whole culture of “Gaieties babies, we love you, freshmen.” It’s really hard to say what else can be the same because I think that the fact that we have no script going into Gaieties means that everything is going to be different. What’s going to be vastly different is the fact that there’s no thorough storyline throughout the entire hour to hour-and-a-half production because I’m hoping each cohort is going to have different stories that they’re telling. No one person is going to be “the” freshman hero as I’m hoping that we’ll have multiple freshmen heroes existing in each cohort. Music-wise, there’s going to be music mentorship from our composer Katie Pieschala ‘23. She’s going to be guiding them in how to write songs, what makes for a good Gaieties song and how to integrate story into your lyrics. My choreographer is going to just guide them on general movements since I think that Gaieties choreography has never been too fancy. Like, literally if they just flossed the entire 30 minutes, that could be choreography. If they do fortnite dances, that could be choreography, it’s really up to them. It’s just that we have staff members to help guide their visions, in case [they] need some pushing one way or another. What else could be different? I don’t know how we’re gonna make money because if it’s an outdoor space, you could just walk in and out, and you don’t really need to buy a ticket. I’m hoping people will buy tickets, and I’m still figuring that out.
TSD: Is there a schedule you have already set in place?
CC: There is a tentative schedule in place.
TSD: Will juniors and seniors and any other students choosing not to live on campus this fall be able to get involved? If so, how? (virtually, off-campus meetings?)
My plan is to have them offer some sort of one-on-one mentorship to people on campus. They get to help with script advising and editing. If I can find a way to get a projector in Dinkelspiel, I would love to have people off-campus pre-record something, and we can integrate that into our devised pieces.
TSD: What information (if anything) can you disclose about the plot, characters or themes of Gaieties 2021 at this time?
CC: I don’t know how much I should disclose, but I’ll hint that it incorporates something that the freshmen had in their unique experience of not having Admit Weekend.
TSD: To what extent will Gaieties 2021 be incorporated into the ‘devised Gaieties 2020’?
TSD: How does the original Gaieties 2020 script, now Gaieties 2021 script, respond to previous Gaieties?
CC: We tried to take a more multimedia approach in comparison to previous Gaieties. But we also tried to make it break away from the typical “There’s a freshman that doesn’t feel like they belong at Stanford, but then they find a group of friends, and they have to go and save the day from Berkeley. And then at the end, everybody’s happy and everybody’s at Stanford and ‘oh my god, we love Stanford.’” We tried to take a little more realistic stance and have characters come from not only diverse racial backgrounds but also socioeconomic, family circumstances, taking in[to] account other family members rather than just the admits themselves. We also tried to find other things to poke fun at in our script besides Greek life. I’m very in love with Gaieties 2021; I really wish we could have put it on this year. I think that the story is, I wouldn’t say it’s unique beyond comparison, but it’s definitely not what Gaieties 2019 was about. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen [Gaieties 2020’s] evolution. Probably if people see it, they’ll be like “It was just Gaieties 2019 again,” but I feel like there’s a lot more nuance to this. I think that it potentially, also depending on casting, can speak out to a lot more communities than past Gaieties have.
TSD: You might have the opportunity to work on it next year, right?
CC: I would love to produce Gaieties 2021, but depending on COVID circumstances, and this is a very personal thing, I really want to travel abroad. Stanford in New York is in the fall, which means I wouldn’t be on campus, which means I can’t produce it, and I don’t know if the Rams Head will let me produce two Gaieties in a row. That would be amazing; I love, love the process. But in like a really bad comparison, I feel like I kind of gave my child up for adoption. To have seen the script since its birth, and I had planned on guiding its vision until its “death,” but I’m going to have to hand it off to somebody who I know I can trust because I’ll be the one hiring them. But to see it take a probably very different form than what we initially intended it to look like, it’s going to be exciting; it’s also going to be sad, but mostly heartening.
TSD: Any last thoughts?
Even though we’ve had the unfortunate situation of being stuck in a pandemic, I am really happy with the way that Gaieties is moving forward because, like I said before, “Oh Gaieties 2020, what a cool year, what a cool number for a year, like, it sounds like it’s supposed to be momentous, you know? And it is momentous because I think that we found a Gaieties that is adaptable, accessible and still fun. It still preserves the core nature of Gaieties and the fact that we want to welcome any and all freshmen into the theater scene and show that Stanford can be fun, because I think that Stanford is very nerdy. And also just building communities, which is something that I really, really value because community is what made me feel like I have a chance at belonging at Stanford without dealing with imposter or duck syndrome, and I want to be able to pass it on, no matter the shape or the form of Gaieties. And I know that a lot of freshmen that I’ve talked to already are very excited just being in Gaieties. Granted, this isn’t the Gaieties that they’re expecting, but I still want to deliver.
But I think that we are making history. In a good way — I hope so, in a bad way, I hope not. But what can you do? You can’t control your circumstances, and I think we’re making the best of it.
Contact Vivian Jiang at jiang.vivian2 ‘at’ gmail.com.