The History of Big Game Gaieties

Gaieties is an annual student written musical comedy aimed at uniting the Stanford campus. Performed the week before Big Game against Cal, the production is meant to remind students of the reasons for which we love Stanford.

In the Beginning

If you think that the name "Gaieties" is strange, would you prefer the "Football Follies?" Probably not. That sounds like a "Sports Illustrated" video. Or even worse -- a Cal-Berkeley production. The sad truth is that, in the mid-morning of Stanford history, this was the name of a big musical-play-rally-extravaganza, performed the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the Big Game.

What is now Gaieties was introduced in 1911 as, yes, the "Football Follies," as a rally for the Stanford-Cal rugby game. That's right, rugby. Put on by various organizations over the years, it was eventually taken over by Ram's Head in the 1920s, who changed the name to "Big Game Gaieties." And no, the name does not mean anything other than "frivolity and fun," your typical dictionary meaning.

Stanford's beloved musical extravaganza has gone through a great transformation since its inception. The original format, a series of skits, became a single plot. Gaieties even ventured to Los Angeles for a special alumni performance during the holiday season. Today, it is performed in Memorial Auditorium (dedicated in 1937 and built with the show in mind).

In 1968, a misunderstanding between producers and writers led to the show not being produced for the first time since 1911. The high political tensions at the time fueled a lack of student interest in theatrical productions. During that time, one of the spring shows suffered a heavy loss. The next fall's show was not produced because of difficulties with the script, throwing Ram's Head into bankruptcy and forcing them to close.

Modern Day Gaieties

Still, the memory of Gaieties and Ram's Head lived on. In 1976, a group of ambitious Toyon residents felt that something was missing in the campus drama scene, and decided to revive the tradition. Thus, a new era in Ram's Head history began.

In recent years, Ram's Head has built up its alumni assistance, and there has been "very favorable support," according to Vince Foecke, Class of '82. "The old-time alumni don't seem bothered by the fact that it's not really the same organization -- it's got the name and, by God, that's all that really matters!"

Most of Ram's Head's profits for the year come from Gaieties, enabling them to produce their other shows. A guaranteed moneymaker, it generally sells out, especially the Friday show.

Since its inception, Gaieties has been student-written, with the script and format changing each year. The plot is always a heavily guarded secret -- indeed, whether or not it has a plot is sometimes the main question.

The show lives and dies on its energy; the traditional audition motto is "Enthusiasm, not talent!" It aims at an irreverent, silly and sometimes "smart-assy" look at Big Game, Cal and Stanford life itself. Each year, writers and producers try to out-do past shows by incorporating as many of the craziest in-jokes, traditions, spoofs and gags that they can.

An essential tradition of Gaieties is to make each year's performance better than the last, always attempting to top the jokes, musical numbers, and outrageous stunts of previous years. One result of this was the addition of cameos by Stanford administrators. The first administrator to appear in Gaieties was Fred Hargadon, Dean of Admissions in the early 1980s. This year, the tradition continues with the inclusion of President Hennessey, Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims (a Gaieties alum herself!), Dean Maureen Powers, and Dean Richard Shaw.

Gaieties holds a very special place in the hearts of both Stanford students and alumni. For its cast, staff and crew, it is a wild and crazy family, with many who return year after year to work on a production that completely changes their lives. For the audience, it is quite simply a rowdy and wickedly funny performance that promises to have you falling over your seat in laughter.

Beat Cal.

Sources

Bibliography

Berringer, Marnie '96.

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