Blog

“The Times They Are A-Changin'”: From The Mikado to The Milk Made

As you may have noticed, The Milk Made was not written by Gilbert and Sullivan. It was commissioned by the HRG&SP board in 2020 and written by two Harvard undergraduates in 2021. Only five other times in HRG&SP’s sixty-five year history, and twice within the last two years, have we mounted a production outside the fourteen canonical G&S shows. So why put on The Milk Made, and why now?

Our company has the “Big Three” G&S shows—H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado—on a four-year rotation. We did Pinafore in fall 2019 and Pirates in fall 2021, and now it’s just about time for Mikado to make its next appearance. HRG&SP’s 2016 production, however, was met with widespread protest, and Gilbert’s text makes it easy to see why. Written in the heyday of Orientalism, an artistic movement that made superficial imitations of Asian cultures, Gilbert leans heavily into stereotypes depicting Japanese people as submissive and emphasizes Japan’s cultural “otherness” from England. It is no surprise, therefore, that despite significant changes to the aesthetic setting compared to more traditional productions, our 2016 Mikado was unable to make itself palatable to our contemporary audiences. For this reason, our company has decided not to produce The Mikado again for the foreseeable future. In the spirit of providing more respectful Asian representation, we encouraged our writers to use this Rewrite Project as an opportunity to explore their own cultural identities—an opportunity which our librettist, who is herself Chinese, decided to take. I think The Milk Made is a great example of how themes unrepresented in traditional G&S shows can fuse seamlessly with the classic G&S comic spirit, a feat which I’m very proud of our company for accomplishing. 

I make no judgments about whether The Mikado was problematic in its time. Historical reception of the show and its characterization is a complex topic that I am woefully ignorant about, and it would take much more than a blog post to address it. But the fact remains that its words are insensitive to modern ears, and as the times change, so must we. 

— OMAH

UNOs: or, The Best Way to Procrastinate

Once a week, members of our community gather together in the time-honored tradition of UNOs to chat, eat snacks, and complain about homework assignments. UNOs is so-named because of its origin as a social meetup at Uno Pizzeria in Harvard Square, but when that Unos location closed in 2016, UNOs was rebranded. Now, the name is an acronym for “Undergraduates Neglecting Obligations,” which can be more or less true depending on one’s opinion of social vs. academic obligations and how likely community members are to bring homework with them to the event.

These days, UNOs are a calm point in the bustle of the academic semester. Members of HRG&SP are encouraged to RSVP to the weekly UNOs announcements by answering a question or prompt posed by the UNOs committee, which range from your favorite winter activity to a Gilbert & Sullivan-esque title that describes your life to your favorite body of water. The prompt or question also often relates to the theme of that week’s UNOs. Sometimes, UNOs is co-opted for group movie nights (such as a plan for later this semester to watch the 25th anniversary concert performance of Les Misérables). Other times, we hold arts & crafts events, play games, or tell stories. Most often, though, UNOs is just a time to sit around and talk with community members, about topics like the show, the latest chem pset(s), upcoming concerts, HRG&SP lore, and the most efficient path from the river houses to Agassiz Theater.

Over the pandemic, when all our activities were virtual, UNOs remained an important touchstone of our community. Despite being on Zoom, the themes and topics were as lively as ever, including Saturday Morning CartUNOs (where we watched cartoons), HallowUNOs (where people were encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes), and Mug Cake UNOs (where we made mug cakes together). Over the weeks and months, the comfortable familiarity of the UNOs routine, including the bingo cards that could accurately predict the most common topics of UNOs conversations, helped keep our community together, even in the midst of virtual tech weeks and online exams.

Now that Harvard has returned to in-person life, UNOs have become even more valuable. The pandemic has left its mark, of course – all UNOs attendees keep their masks on when not actively snacking – but we on the board of HRG&SP are grateful to hold these socials in person as we chat with old-timers and newcomers alike. (Plus, group social events are always more fun with snacks from Trader Joe’s, which are much harder to obtain in the virtual sphere.)

To any community members reading this post, I hope to see you at UNOs soon. RSVP with your favorite thing about HRG&SP. For example: Hi everyone, it’s Clarissa! My favorite thing about HRG&SP is getting to go to UNOs every week and eat snacks. Mmm, popcorn. See you soon!

Until Next week (Or sooner),
CRBS

Dairy Loving Anarchists: The Rehearsal Process of The Milk Made

Hi all! I am honored to be serving as cast producer for our rewrite production, The Milk Made, going up in three weeks! I have been fortunate to sit in on the rehearsal process with our wonderful staff and cast. Being a new show (written the brilliant writing team of LyLena Estabine and Mira-Rose Kingsbury Lee), we have cast originating their roles, making brave acting choices to perform the wonderful book by Mira-Rose Kingsbury Lee. This occurs under the guidance of our fantastic creative team- our stage director is the fabulous Victoria Gong, our music director is the amazing Keagan Yap, and our stage manager is the marvelous Lucas Walsh. The writing, directing, and management team radiates energy, creativity, and positivity and it is a joy to work with them (as well as run to CVS with them after a long night of rehearsals to get Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors). The orchestra is hard at work rehearsing the music of a variety of G&S songs from shows such as The Pirates of PenzanceHMS PinaforePrincess Ida, and Utopia Limited to name a few, as the music for the show is the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan, while the lyrics are creatively original by LyLena Estabine. 

Much work gets done outside of the rehearsal room as well by our amazing team of staff and designers. Staff meetings occur every week on Saturdays at 10:30am in Quincy House, and we have design presentations, updates, and onboardings of new staff members (as well as snacks). Throughout this process, I have been fortunate to have the support of an amazing team of producers- Olympia Hatzilambrou as technical producer, Ian Svetkey as orchestra producer, and Clarissa Briasco-Stewart as the production advisor. They are talented and dedicated as well as the most wonderful people. We have grabbed many brunches in DHalls and have supported each other in producing duties. As I am a first time producer as well as being relatively new to in person theater at Harvard (I am a sophomore, but this is my first on campus year), I am extremely thankful to all of the support and guidance I have received from my fellow producers, production staff and creative teams, as well as the Agassiz Theater and Office for the Arts at Harvard. 

It is amazing to see the vision for this show come to fruition through the hard work of all involved. It is an honor to work alongside each member of this production and I hope you will all come see The Milk Made March 24th-27th! 

ARW

Spring 2022 Presidents’ Welcome

Hello, and welcome back!

Despite the occasional snow flurry, campus is starting to warm up as we approach spring, and the theater community is as busy as ever. We are excited to announce that our spring show will be the culmination of our year-long “Rewrite” project (details of which can be found on our “Happening Now” page): The Milk Made; or, The Friend of Anarchy! Featuring a completely original libretto and lyrics, The Milk Made showcases familiar aspects of Gilbert & Sullivan’s canon, including Sullivan’s timeless music, along with a more modern setting and characters. A synopsis of the show is available on our “Happening Now” page. Our student writers, LyLena Estabine and Mira-Rose Kingsbury Lee, have been working tirelessly since the spring of 2021 to create a story that is entertaining, heartwarming, and full of dairy-related humor.

The Milk Made will run from March 24 through March 27. Tickets will go on sale at the Harvard Box Office shortly before opening night. If you wish to buy tickets before the general public, you can do so by becoming a patron. We will be mailing a special order form to our patrons next week, so be sure to join our mailing list soon to get the patron letter and order form. You can find it under the “Patrons” tab of this website. 

We are planning to perform the show live and in-person at our historical venue, the Agassiz Theater. Unfortunately, due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, our actors and musicians will have to perform while wearing masks, and we will have to impose restrictions on audience capacity and vaccination status. We are working closely with the Office for the Arts at Harvard to monitor the COVID-19 situation on campus, and we’ll release more information about any COVID-related restrictions as the show approaches.

We have an excellent cast, crew, and orchestra, including both new faces and old friends, and we look forward to seeing them shine onstage, backstage, and in our orchestra pit in March. We hope you can join us for the debut of our long-awaited original production!

Warmly,

Clarissa Briasco-Stewart & Olympia Hatzilambrou
HRG&SP Co-Presidents

The Transition Back to In-Person Theater

Autumn is the time of new beginnings and reunions. It has a special meaning for me this year after the long duration in the age of Zoom and the return of the Harvard community to its hallowed campus. As a sophomore, I had no real experience of in person life and theater at Harvard last year, so having the communities I joined on Zoom, including the fabulous HRG&SP, helped my transition from virtual to in person theater and Harvard life tremendously. From maintaining production and Board traditions to the in-person UNOs, my love for this organization has grown since I have been on campus and I know that will only continue.

As a member of the new board class and a sophomore never having been in a Harvard theater space before, my beginning days on campus were filled with excitement and nerves. My first time in the Agassiz Theater was during auditions for The Pirates of Penzance, and I was overcome with a mix of trepidation, exhilaration, and wonder. Surrounded by people who I had only seen on a Zoom screen, it was a surreal experience to share energy in the same space and see if our height predictions were accurate. The connections formed over Zoom have strengthened the experiences of in-person theater, from creating music in time with other people with no Zoom lag, having little moments with others on stage and interacting with others in real time, to rehearsal breaks and sharing snacks and stories about our day. Every rehearsal is filled with the sounds of beautiful voices and cheery smiles under the masks and I cannot wait for the experience of performing in front of a live audience with the cast and crew of Pirates; it is an amazing production with wonderfully talented performers.

Knowing that I get to make art through performances with my colleagues and friends here and at other spaces on campus for the next three years is truly a gift, and I am looking forward to the adventure.

—ARW

P.S. If you want to experience in person theater again, come see The Pirates of Penzance at the Agassiz Theater November 11, 12, 13, 14th !

A Row of Theater Seats

Hi! I’m Sophie Kim ’24, and I’m a sophomore in Lowell House. I’m the Technical Producer for our upcoming production, The Pirates of Penzance, and an HRG&SP board member. I’m a performance poet, playwright, and lyricist/librettist.

This is my first semester of in-person college and in-person theater at Harvard, and I have to say, it’s off to a great start! As someone who’s primarily a writer/performer, and spent last year co-writing a musical that premiered virtually, taking on the role of producer this semester has taught me a lot. There’s something so exciting about looking around the room during a production meeting for Pirates and seeing all the amazing, talented people who are making this production possible. Getting to see designers talk about their ideas has given me even more respect for designers’ ability to imagine entire worlds, just from a script. I’m so excited to see what our wonderful actors bring to the stage, and to help contribute to making the production happen. 

Since the start of the semester, I’ve really started to notice what I had missed about in-person theater: the coffee runs during auditions and callbacks, the laughs in rehearsals, sitting around a table together envisioning something that none of us could do alone. I don’t think I really realized how much I loved the collaborative aspect of theater until that ability to collaborate was challenged. In my last post, I wrote about walking past Farkas Hall, not able to go in yet. Just standing on the outside, waiting. I’ve now seen the inside of Farkas (it’s beautiful), and the Agassiz Theatre, and the Loeb Drama Center. Of course, it’s not necessarily about the place itself, but the people who make the place a home. And now, we can sit in a row of theater seats together and think, This is it. We’re home.

—SK

Fall 2021 President’s Welcome

Hello, and welcome back!

First, a sincere thank-you for your continued support through (more than!) a full year of remote theater. Despite the exciting opportunity for innovation offered by virtual productions, I believe I speak for everyone in our community when I say that it’s good to be back.

The weather is slowly getting colder here in Cambridge, where students have once more returned to Harvard’s campus to attend in-person classes. HRG&SP has also returned, and I am excited to announce that our fall show will be a full production of The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty! Featuring songs such as “I am the Very Model of the Modern Major General,” “Poor Wand’ring One,” and “I am a Pirate King,” this operetta is a landmark in the history of music and one of our favorite Gilbert and Sullivan shows.

The Pirates of Penzance will run from November 11 through November 14. Tickets will go on sale at the Harvard box office a few weeks before opening night. If you wish to buy tickets before the general public, you can do so by becoming a patron. We will be mailing a special order form to our patrons next week, so be sure to join our mailing list soon to get the patron letter and order form. You can find it under the “Patrons” tab of this website. 

We are planning to perform the show live and in-person at our historical venue, the Agassiz Theater. Unfortunately, due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, our actors and musicians will have to perform while wearing masks, and we may have to impose restrictions on audience capacity or vaccination status. We are working closely with the Office for the Arts at Harvard to monitor the COVID-19 situation on campus, and we’ll release more information about any COVID-related restrictions as the show approaches.

We have an excellent cast, crew, and orchestra, including a record number of new G&S players, and I look forward to seeing them shine onstage, backstage, and in our orchestra pit in November. I hope you can join us for our return to in-person productions!

Warmly,
Clarissa Briasco-Stewart
HRG&SP President

Premiering Now: Cox and Box!

Hello! My name is Ruth Jaensubhakij, and I’m part of the new HRG&SP board class, as well as the stage manager for Cox & Box — our virtual show that opens tomorrow! It’s been a huge honour to be a part of this project, and I can’t wait for the world to see what we’ve put together. For today’s blog post, I’ll be giving you a little bit of insight into what the process for creating this show looked like, and hopefully this will get you excited to come and see it!

In my opinion, the most unique part of this production is that we’re incorporating both live and pre-recorded elements. Since Cox & Box is a musical, the directors, producers, and incredible staff of audio and video editors have put together 10 ‘music videos’, which will play in between acted scenes that take place live on Zoom. We’ve included sound effects, a life-like virtual set, and full props + costumes to make the experience as immersive as possible — all while our cast performs from their homes and dorm rooms! We’ll then put all of these elements together in OBS Studio, which we’ll use to stream on YouTube. It’s a complicated setup with many moving parts, but with the help of many people, including sound/hair/makeup/costume/prop/set designers, audio/video editors, and of course our cast, it’s all come together beautifully.

The rehearsal process for Cox & Box was also very unique. Unlike most live shows, where the music and acting rehearsals would follow roughly the same timeline (to culminate in a tech week right before the show), for Cox & Box the music part actually took place much earlier in the process. The cast kicked off rehearsals by learning — and immediately recording — all of the songs in the show. Our fantastic music director, Veronica Leahy, was running Zoom rehearsals and coaching the cast through the recording process; at the same time, our fabulous stage director Sam Dvorak was teaching the cast staging for the videos. By March, drafts of all the audio mixes had been put together, and the cast began the arduous video recording process. This often involved shooting several takes of dozens of different shots within a single song, and many of our cast members recruited roommates, family members (including pets), and significant others to help! Producers and designers worked extremely hard to ensure that green screens, costumes, props, and makeup were all ready by this stage — far earlier than for a typical show. Then, our team of editors put together drafts of audio mixes and videos, using background images of the virtual set (rendered entirely in Blender) to make it look as though actors were actually in the space.

While all this editing was happening, the cast began to buckle down on rehearsing dialogue and staging for the live scenes. With the help of Zoom’s virtual background feature, we were able to make it look as if characters were all in the same room, and thanks to stage director Sam Dvorak’s creativity and the magic of duplicate props, we spent many hours practicing passing props back and forth between laptop screens. When it came time for tech week, the sound team brought in a host of sound effects ranging from doors slamming to bacon sizzling, and the producers worked tirelessly to ensure that all videos and live scenes would be captioned. 

As for me, as stage manager my job during the show itself is to run OBS Studio — capturing Zoom videos and putting them into different configurations, transitioning between scenes, playing videos, running captions, etc. — and stream it all to YouTube. I’ve personally learnt a lot from the process, and though we’ve had many hiccups and technical difficulties along the way, I’m constantly amazed by what our team has put together! Everyone, from cast to designers to producers to staff to directors, has put in so much creativity and effort to make this show great. 

But what does all of it actually look like? You’ll have to come and watch the show to find out! Check out the HRG&SP President’s channel on YouTube under ‘upcoming streams’, and join us at 8pm Eastern on the 30th of April or the 1st, 7th, and 8th of May. We can’t wait to see you there!

—RHMJ

A First Year’s Experience with Virtual Theater

I’m a first year, and I came to Harvard to make theater. More specifically, theater was the only thing I cared about, and I planned to spend more hours in a black box than my own dorm room. I looked forward to highlighting and dog-earing a new script, to standing on spike marks and looking up at the lights, to tripping over my own feet in the darkness of preshow. To weird vocal warmups. To dancing backstage with my friends while the lead belted out a solo. To creating a moment that would never last. As it turned out, I didn’t get to do any of those things. 

I’ve seen the outside of the Loeb (it was big and shiny). I saw the inside of Farkas Hall (on my friend’s Instagram story). Google Images has given me a better tour of this campus than anyone I know. A few nights ago, I was in Harvard Square, walking home to my off-campus apartment, when I came upon the red backlit sign of Farkas. It was around 10pm. I stood on the steps. The glass doors were locked (I did try the handle; couldn’t help it.) The lobby was softly lit, and the sunburst over the entrance and the words THEATER, DANCE, AND MEDIA glowed. 

I tried the handle because I wanted to pretend I could go in. I wanted to pretend that, despite the pandemic, despite stages going dark, I could still call a theater home. I hope Farkas, and the Loeb, and the Ex, and all those fun buildings I’ve only heard about, will become home, someday. Not today. 

But for now, home is my friends. People I’ve laughed with during late-night zooms (like Schwenck!), my Froshsical creative team (we wrote a musical about funnel cakes and friendship!), and upperclassmen who’ve been kind enough to reach out and give me and my fellow first-years advice about creating art, all the while dealing with zoom school, thesis-ing, and impending graduation. I’ve watched friends direct virtual shows about Shakespeare plays, act in cow costumes, perform original songs about names, and so much more. Every time I see the chat light up with excited messages from the audience, I feel a bit better about this whole virtual theater thing. We’ve found ways of connecting with each other and creating art, even when it seemed impossible. Some things are still impossible, like standing behind a curtain waiting for the veil to lift, or hearing the first note from the orchestra shiver into an expectant theater. But this year was special, in its own ways. This year, I learned what home is: the spaces I create, and the art that I make, with the people I love.

—SK

A Toast to the Prefrosh

On Saturday, April 17, the HRG&SP hosted an event for admitted Harvard students. During the second (and hopefully final) virtual Visitas, several young people came to hang out in a Zoom call with a few of us older and more experienced G&S hands. 

I did not go to my own Visitas four years ago, but I have participated in a couple as an organizational leader. In the pre-pandemic system, we had to shout intriguing slogans to passing strangers in order to encourage them to stop at our table and sign up to receive information about our organization. It was a loud, rambunctious, chaotic, and often unsuccessful technique. However, we would get some gems to stop by and write down their name and email address. One of those gems was our very own Clarissa Briasco-Stewart. She is now the Secretary of the HRG&SP and an accomplished cellist, lighting designer, and producer for our little theater troupe. I thank the heavens above that she decided to stop by our table after we, to the consternation of our neighbors, broke out into a rousing rendition of “With Cat-Like Tread.” I hope that the several people on our Visitas Zoom call today turn out to be such beloved and valuable community members as Clarissa. 

On that Saturday, we sat in a Zoom room, fumbled with screen sharing, and showed these newly admitted students the trailer (soon to be released to you fine people) for our Spring production, Cox and Box. Then we took some of their questions. 

There is one thing to be said about the Zoom call format. It allows us to speak to and get to know those who stop by a little better than we would have if we just snatched them out of line at the activities fair in the SOCH during normal Visitas. We had an accomplished and enthusiastic number of attendees who brightened my day and lightened my heart. I got to learn a little bit about them, and the little I learned impressed me. 

I say to you, dear reader and community member, that it was amazing to meet these prefrosh (the affectionate term for people who are not yet first-years). Their energy, excitement, and curiosity was wonderful to see. As a senior on his way out, it did my heart good to see a bunch of people just starting off on the journey I am about to end. 

Therefore, I offer them a toast. 

To the prefrosh!

May they make the right choice and choose Harvard; become involved in a reasonable but not excessive number of rewarding extra-curricular activities (like the HRG&SP); bring fresh ideas, fresh energy, and fresh faces into our ranks; participate in old traditions and make new ones of their own; make close friends; eat good chocolate mousse; drink fruity drinks; and savor each passing moment of the next four years. 

If these promising newbies join our organization, I know that the HRG&SP will be in safe hands. That’s the best one can hope for as one departs. 

—RDS