Lights. Camera. Kickoff. As a staple of Stanford traditions, the Big Game Gaieties have been preparing for months for their performances in the three days before the game. This year’s theme is “Cardinal Sin.”
Gaieties dates back to 1911, the year that Ram’s Head — Stanford’s oldest student-run theater company — was founded. This year’s Gaieties will take place in Memorial Auditorium from Nov. 16 to 18.
“[Gaieties] is a musical that celebrates what it means to be a Stanford student but also satirizes aspects of Stanford and our rivalry with Berkeley,” said Enya Lu ’23, the producer of “Cardinal Sin.”
The preparation for Gaieties takes months, from the drafting of the script starting spring quarter of the previous school year, to finalization of the music and script throughout the summer and finally auditions and rehearsals in fall quarter.
In the more-than-a-century that Gaieties has been performing, it has acquired many traditions and running-jokes. One of these traditions is choosing all frosh or new-to-theater students to be the leads.
“Gaieties is about building a community on campus, and we like to center frosh in that community because theater is really time consuming and can be exhausting. We want to see freshmen have a positive experience being in this family that will be with them throughout Stanford,” director Liam Smith ’24 said.
The show might seem daunting to take part in for new students and actors, but according to this year’s cast members, the completely student-run nature allows for more comfort and room for vulnerability in the rehearsal spaces.
“Rehearsals are always a really good experience because you make friends with a lot of people that you normally wouldn’t,” said Michael Wu ’25, a lead of the show.
He added that having the directors and producers be fellow students allowed one to act more freely. “There is stuff I would not be doing if MTL was in there watching me,” Wu said, referring to Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “With students, you get to explore different sides and go out of your comfort zone — you really get to portray your character to the best of your ability.”
The tight-knit community is easily visible in rehearsals. In the middle of Smith’s interview, a cast member walking into the room interrupted and said, “He’s kidnapping me.”
“Don’t mind her. She likes making up stories,” Smith laughed.
As a satirization of the University, the show invites audience members to bond over their shared experiences at Stanford, one of which is being a freshman.
“It is a ridiculous experience to come to a place like Stanford for the first time. It has its own rules and to interact with that for the first time is so weird,” co-head writer Lana Tleimat ’24 said, “That’s something that I really wanted to put in the show, the ways people deal with that change.” Tleimat formerly worked as an editor for The Daily.
Gaieties is also an opportunity for company and audience to bond over favorite aspects of the university. As a resident assistant at Crothers for two years now, co-head writer Emma Parsons ’24 was able to share her love of the dorm through the script.
“In my mind I was writing it as a love letter to Crothers,” Parsons said. “I’m so excited to go see it with [my residents].”
Some members of the Gaieties production spend dozens of hours a week on getting the show ready. This year in particular, changes were made to accommodate mental health concerns resulting from the extensive work. For instance, Smith committed to cutting rehearsal by five hours each week, according to Lu.
“For the most part, I think leadership has been incredibly understanding of our academics and other time commitments,” Wu wrote to The Daily. “Practice times have been decreased from last year and schedules are always created after every cast member has submitted their time conflicts for the week. Leadership is constantly doing check-ins.”
“But I know people are definitely still struggling with the balance between academics and Gaieties. People are studying in between scenes and cramming in psets during lunch periods. Sometimes they have to skip lunch to finish work, but the cast is super supportive of each other, bringing back or ordering food for each other,” Wu added.
The cut in rehearsal time does not detract from the dedication of the members.
“We just love theater and love the community, and especially our roles, so much that we don’t need to care about midterms and schoolwork too much,” Wu said jokingly. “We make it work.”
Parsons and Tleimat ended their interview with a “one-word story” game, where each would say a single word at a time to collectively make a full sentence. The resulting sentence sums up the spirit of Gaieties: “If.” “We.” “Do.” “Anything.” “We.” “Make.” “Funny.”