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‘Gaieties 2020: Unprecedented Times’ brings Stanford to life on screen

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Having announced the transition to an online musical production this year, “Gaieties 2020: Unprecedented Times” marks the Ram’s Head Theatrical Society’s first ever virtual production since its founding in 1911. With all the typical hilarity and spunk, this year’s Gaieties spotlights frosh struggles, life in quarantine and an epic quest to find a cure for TDS, or toxic duck syndrome.

Opening with a jubilant musical score reminiscent of a LSJUMB number, the traditional festivities and energy of fall quarter are brought to life on-screen, thanks to a talented and dedicated cast (and the Zoom platform, of course). In spite of its light-heartedness, this year’s show strikes a slightly bittersweet note, providing a much-needed reminder of pre-pandemic Stanford and the campus community that, for many students, is a home away from home. 

With a script originating largely from the minds of Ram’s Head’s frosh — most of whom have yet to experience campus themselves — producer Chloe Chow ’23 remarks that “this Gaieties was unique in that it came from a place of what frosh imagine Stanford to be, both from mass media to the ways in which Stanford shapes its public image to the little quirks that frosh hear here and there from upperclassmen.”

Indeed, Stanford’s reputation seemingly transcends the barriers of quarantine. Much to the credit of a team of both frosh and upperclassmen writers, Gaieties 2020 is filled with the familiar “campus culture” jokes of its predecessors: the “techie” versus “fuzzy” debate, the infamous “duck syndrome” and, of course, Cal being the “deepest, darkest place” on the planet. Accompanied by clever, timely quips about TikTok, Stanford-centric online dating platforms and Among Us, new material keeps the humor relatable to the throngs of students unable to come to campus. 

However, beyond poking fun, this year’s production also delivers refreshing and optimistic messages to those tuning in from their screens at home. Without giving away too much, the cast ultimately reminds us that despite all of the stress induced by the pandemic, economic crisis and presidential election to name a few, it is important to keep showing up — whether that means just getting out of bed in the morning or turning your Zoom video on; 2020 is (almost) over, and we (somehow) might just survive.

Delivering such a memorable performance was not without its challenges. In tackling its first virtual production, Ram’s Head was forced to reinvent itself, rewriting job descriptions and changing the script revision process for a video format. Chow explains that with the help of director Justine Sombilon ’22, stage manager Liam Smith ’23 and Gaieties 2020 Head Writer Obed De la Cruz ’21, she “went through about three different versions of the show before settling on this devised version.”

Nonetheless, upon seeing the final product, she believes the company’s perseverance was rewarded: “Reinventing the way we keep theater alive on the spot was very challenging, but ultimately successful.” Video editor Haley Stafford ’24 echoes these sentiments, citing Ram’s Head’s collaborative spirit as the key to success.

“This major undertaking was a team effort,” Stafford said. “It meant stepping up and stepping in for each other; sacrificing sleep to perfect music scores, reshoot scenes and complete assets; and reaching out for help and actively seeking out ways to help others.”

What will next year’s Gaieties look like? According to Chow, the format, live or virtual, has yet to be determined given the uncertainty of the pandemic and emerging third wave, but she would not be opposed to future virtual productions. “One of the best parts of this production is that this video will be permanent,” she wrote in a message to the company. “It’s a marker of how our tradition persisted even when we couldn’t be together in person, and proof of how the Gaieties community isn’t dependent on the MemAud space or the naked run or the audience heckling or the Axe Committee.”

Contact Carissa Lee at carislee ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Carissa Lee '22 is a writer for Arts & Life's Culture beat, an account manager for The Daily's Ad Sales team, and a member of the Social Media team. Her primary interests include Oxford commas, visual arts, and the culinary world--hence her passion for all things Arts & Life. When she's not obsessively scrolling through "Bon Appetit's" Instagram feed or going on long runs at 6 am to feel "productive," she is studying to major in Human Biology, with the intent to pursue a medical degree. Contact her anytime at carislee 'at' stanford.edu.