What Kind of Music is Gilbert and Sullivan? 

As I started listening to songs from Iolanthe and watching recordings of the show over the summer in preparation for my role as creative producer, I noticed some striking parallels to another production. Last year, I played oboe for the pit orchestra of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with HCO (Harvard College Opera). Several plot points are very similar: in both shows, two protagonists – Phyllis and Strephon in Iolanthe, Susanna and Figaro in Marriage of Figaro, want to get married. Both couples are obstructed by a lecherous man (or men) who uses his power and status to try to get his way. Both shows make a statement about politics and the aristocracy. Similar oedipal jokes even appears in both: Strephon is seen embracing his mother, Iolanthe, and the crowd mistakes her for his lover, whereas Figaro’s mother Marcellina attempts to marry Figaro before finding out that she is secretly his mother (which similarly outrages Susanna until Figaro explains the situation to her). 

These parallels struck me as a funny coincidence, but got me thinking about deeper questions. What is opera; can it be defined? What is the difference between opera and musical theater? In particular, is Gilbert and Sullivan opera or musical theater – or somehow both, simultaneously? Are there certain plots, such as this Marriage of Figaro/Iolanthe-esque plot, that tend to be more operatic or more musical-theaterish? As creative producer for Iolanthe (as well as a pit orchestra musician), these questions have come up in discussion with Arhan Kumar, our wonderful Music Director, and others. Deciding whether we want to code Iolanthe as opera or not has real implications for concrete decisions: do we make cuts to songs, and where? Do we want the singers to have mikes or not? What are our priorities during the audition and casting process? 

My personal opinion is that Iolanthe, possibly of all Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, is the most operatic. The music is carefully orchestrated, with a rich system of leitmotifs and quotations from other famous composers, such as Wagner. The complicated overture, 20 minutes of continuous music during the Act 1 finale, and traditional pit orchestra with full wind, brass, and string sections surely belong to the world of opera. Many of the parts are quite virtuosic for the singers, and many fall into a standard aria-recitatif pattern that is harder to find in pure musical theater (whatever that is). As Arhan also pointed out to me, a lot of the upper voices (Phyllis, for example) spend a lot of time in their upper octaves. There is some musical theater that takes its singers quite high, but unlike opera, musical theater doesn’t usually sustain long high passages throughout the performance. There are musical theater-esque aspects to it, for instance, the number of songs in strict verse-chorus form is high. But overall, I see Iolanthe as belonging to Team Opera (not that it’s a competition…) 

I’m still left with many questions. Where do other Gilbert and Sullivan shows fall on this sliding scale? If Gilbert and Sullivan is opera, why do major opera houses like the Met tend not to perform them? I hope to continue exploring these questions throughout my remaining time with HRG&SP, and I’m so, so excited for all of the talent that our amazing cast, staff, crew, and orchestra will bring to the stage of the Agassiz Theater in just a couple of weeks!

— DW

Fall 2022 President’s Welcome

Hello, and welcome back!

Our warmest greetings to all of you, near and far! It is with great pleasure that we announce our fall production of Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri! This happens to be my personal favorite G&S show, and I am absolutely thrilled to be bringing it back to the Agassiz stage with our amazing cast, crew, and orchestra. More information can be found on the “Happening Now” page. 

We have many exciting developments underway at HRG&SP this semester. Our directorial team has decided to pursue a new direction with the sound world of our show as compared to previous semesters, leaning into a more operatic sound. That being said, our cast members’ musical backgrounds range from opera to musical theater to a capella; and speaking as a habitual cast member myself, I’ve found that one of the greatest things about a G&S cast is everyone’s differing areas of expertise—it makes for a fantastic learning environment! In addition, we are quite eager to strengthen our undergraduate community through our weekly social event, UNOs. Whether you come every week, we haven’t seen you in a while, or you’ve never been, you are always welcome at UNOs!

Lastly in the string of exciting announcements, we are happy to be making a full, in-person return to our traditional social events, such as Wine and Cheese, the Milk and Cookies matinee, and the Alumni Night reception. It has been too long since we have been able to engage with our community to the pre-pandemic extent, and we couldn’t be more excited to deepen these connections once again. 

We hope to see you at the Agassiz Theater this November! 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 in the next two weeks, 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, where you can also make other donations. We are deeply grateful for your support. 

Olympia Hatzilambrou
HRG&SP President

“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. 


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),

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! 


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!


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.


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.


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!

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!