After more than a year and a half of darkened theaters and virtual performances, Stanford’s famous student production “Gaieties” celebrated the revival of in-person theater in a very special way: by sharing a video at the 74th annual Tony Awards Show.
One of Stanford’s oldest student theatrical societies, Ram’s Head, is the thespian hand behind highly anticipated annual productions like “Big Game Gaieties,” an original student-written and produced musical parody showcased in Memorial Auditorium during Big Game Week, right before the football game against the University of California, Berkeley. Each year, details about the show remain a mystery until just before it opens.
“Gaieties 2021” was approached by Tonys’ creative consultant and Stanford alumna Sammi Cannold ’16 — who was hailed in the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 — to create a video to be shown at the live ceremony at the Winter Garden on Sept. 26.
“I laughed immediately because I knew how we would do it. I knew that we would not be sitting down calmly to explain what Gaieties is,” said Johnny Rabe ’23, head director of Gaieties 2021. “I knew I would tell people that I was on the screen at the Tonys wearing a cow print onesie.”
The short clips submitted by the Gaieties team were accompanied by a string of videos from three other college theater groups across the country: Pace University, University of Michigan and The Governor’s School for the Arts.
Regan Lavin ’22, executive producer of Ram’s Head and cast member of Gaieties 2021, thinks this performance puts Stanford on the performing arts map in a way it hasn’t been before.
“I’m really proud of it because I think a lot of the other colleges that were in the video have BFA [Bachelor of Fine Arts] programs and are known for them, but Stanford doesn’t have that,” Lavin said. “In that sense I am proud we were included and we were able to represent our community.”
This Tonys was not like those of the past; it signals Broadway’s September 14th return to the stage after the coronavirus forced the famous New York pillar to shut down.
Gaieties members say that the minute-long video was shared at the awards show in order to inspire the world and to express excitement for the future of Broadway in a light-hearted manner. Ram’s Head board member and writer of Gaieties 2021, Sameer Jha ’24, thinks that Gaieties was also featured because of its tenets of inclusivity, safety and community.
“I think the idea behind the clip we were part of was to show that theater is coming back. For many people, theater is their livelihood. It’s so refreshing to see all these people from around, feeling united and coming back together through theater,” Jha said. “Gaieties, being as big of a tradition as it is and being such an integral part of the Stanford experience, a lot of people feel very comforted and at home in the theater community here. I think that’s why we were invited.”
For many Gaieties members, an electric magic hangs heavy in the air during live performances. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced all student organizations to operate remotely, the theater community resorted to unique measures to feed their passion for all things acting, singing, scripting, producing and directing. To Ram’s Head, after a digital year, this moment in time feels all the sweeter and makes the difficult past just a little more worth it.
“At the core of this Tony awards ceremony was the idea that Broadway is back. Every week more and more shows are reopening. I think the Tony awards are really celebrating that and having these videos was a great way to remind people that in-person theater is going to be an option again,” Rabe said. “It’s the fact that a group of people can come together again to make art.”
Lavin also added that for them, it felt “like we were finally able to do what we love again. Theater is such a live art. It’s such a community-based practice that it was hard to do that on Zoom.”
Moving forward, Gaieties members recognize that more obstacles are inevitable, pointing to Broadway’s recent cancellation of “Aladdin” shows.
“It’s still a little bittersweet because obviously things are not totally back to normal. Things like that will continue to happen, and we know that this is not over. But the message behind the video is a nice landmark, letting us know that we’re hopefully through the worst of it,” Rabe said.
In the aftermath of their Tonys debut, Gaieties looks to the future with exhilaration and in anticipation of the in-person showcase of “Big Game Gaieties” this November.
“We want to showcase that theater is diverse, it is about everyone coming together,” said Jha. “It’s for people of color, queer people, trans people and that’s the most exciting thing about theater. Being back is to see all these developments continue to grow and I can’t wait for everyone to see Gaieties this year.”