Adaptation: A Time-Honored Tradition

Adaptation is a time-honored theatrical tradition. Writers have always taken dramatic material that speaks to them and transposed it to new times, places, media, and structures to better speak to their audience and emphasize the message the original work sought to convey, “haul[ing] its themes and ideas into the present day,” not just in the onstage setting, but also in the dramatic context and the way in which the audience relates to the work (Lane 160). Lane finds adaptation to be an essential part of theater, which he sees to be “stealing and borrowing from existing narrative sources to create new ones” (Lane 157). Though some adaptations work better than others, the act of adapting theatrical works is an essential part of keeping them alive. When a work has become a true cultural icon, it is recognizable and enjoyable even outside of its original form.

Greek dramas are some of the most frequently adapted and continue to elicit emotional reactions from contemporary audiences despite the fact that they are, chronologically speaking, quite out of date. Changing words, languages, characters, and settings does not alter the essence of these works–their message can be kept the same and therefore resonate with an audience of today in the same way the original does in its own context (Foley). Adaptations range from serious, thoughtful engagements with the text and meaning of a work–like Yup’ik Antigone, communicating a “stirring defense of traditional Inuit mores”–to the “irreverent reverence” (perhaps a little more towards the irreverent) of Oedipus for Kids! (a work that is distinctly, absolutely not for kids) (Jain, Varod). Each adaptation provides a fascinating perspective and commentary on the original, on the performance history of the genre, and on the context in which the new work was created–regardless of whether the adaptation is successful. 

The tradition of adaptation continued as the development of Western theater did, most famously with Shakespeare.  The musical West Side Story is clearly a reworking of Romeo and Juliet–scholars like Nigel Simeone draw nuanced connections between bookwriter Arthur Laurents’ paring down of the story and Shakespeare’s work complicating the plot. Laurents worked to “keep those…essences of Romeo and Juliet” that the audience needed to tie the two stories together, ensuring that it was recognizable both as the art form and as Shakespeare’s work. Shakespeare himself probably adapted Romeo and Juliet from a “fifteenth-century Italian novella” of the same name and a verse adaptation of that novella by Arthur Brooke (Lane 157). Without constant updating of the story, paring down of the characters, and restructuring to make the novella work as a play, the play work as a musical, and the musical work as a 1996 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Romeo and Juliet would likely not have embedded itself as solidly in the contemporary public conscious or even be seen by people who didn’t consider themselves the target audience for a standard Shakespeare play but might have been more likely to watch a movie version. 

It’s not just Shakespeare. More contemporary writers from Chekov to Ibsen find their work rewritten as operas, as translations into modern speech patterns, and placed in new locales and times. Even Oscar Wilde, a contemporary (and acquaintance) of Gilbert & Sullivan, is frequently re-staged, rewritten, and inserted into other works, like the play Handbag, in which the characters from The Importance of Being Earnest interact with a modern cast of characters living their own story (Lane 159). Playwrights, directors, and dramaturgs find themselves moved by these and other classic works and are inspired to “honou[r] traditions of the past while envisioning possibilities for a new future” (Jain). Reworking a piece of art becomes a new way for the writer, the directors, the designers, the actors, and the audience to engage with it and connect to the most essential parts of the work that draw them in. It can help “discover new aspects of the story” and solidify people’s love for the art in question, as well as drawing in an audience that might never have felt the original work was written for them (Jain). 

We’ve seen some of these adaptive practices emerge with Gilbert & Sullivan’s works over the years–not just in HRG&SP, although we’ve done our fair share of changing locales and exploring creative visions. Productions across the globe experiment with settings, casting, added text, and more. A recent example is the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s 2018 production of Princess Ida, which returned to the original Tennyson text to clarify Gilbert’s ambiguous potential critique of the education of women, a belief no longer compatible with contemporary society. Speaking of Ida, Gilbert’s libretto & lyrics, including the blank verse of the dialogue, is a direct adaptation of a Tennyson poem, The Princess, which was highly popular at the time and influenced not only Gilbert’s plot, but also the structure of the show and the choice of speaking convention (blank verse is unusual compared to his other operatic collaborations). A 1992 version of Ida at the English National Opera set in a Japanese theme park led to the following review:

“I can hardly bear to think about Ken Russell’s production… I can’t recall three hours in a theatre which have left me feeling more dismal… the tit-and-bum vulgarity, the pathetically witless sexism of the staging pushed the proceedings beyond any redemption.” (Christiansen). 

Princess Ida is far from alone on the list of Gilbert & Sullivan shows to have received the adaptation-of-a-classic treatment. The Hot Mikado, an early jazz adaptation of Mikado, received a completely new score including elaborate dance numbers and featuring an all-Black cast. Mikado also became part of the play The Mikado Project, in which an Asian-American theater company grapples with the work. HMS Pinafore has been recreated with a “jazz score,” as a completely different musical under the name Memphis Bound, and set in locations as far removed as the fictional universe of Star Trek. Pirates has been turned into a ballet, a reorchestrated Broadway revival, and a very 1980s movie adaptation. The creators of the children’s show Veggie Tales! wrote a Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired episode entitled Lyle the Kindly Viking, which is not only immediately recognizable as a Gilbert & Sullivan show, but contains all the essential elements of one reworked for the purpose of a Biblical children’s show with talking vegetables. The play Mr. Burns takes inspiration not only from the form of Victorian light opera, but even includes music from and references to G&S in its dialogue. I know that when I’m reading, researching, or listening to music, I’m excited to see a Gilbert & Sullivan reference, hear a snippet of Sullivan’s music captured for a new purpose, or come across someone who was inspired by their work. Not only is it nice to “get” the references, it’s also thrilling that something so time-period specific (their work isn’t called “Victorian light opera” for nothing) can live on in the minds of scholars, writers, and artists today. 

Those of us who love G&S should find relief that by the adaptation measure, Gilbert and Sullivan have solidly entered the realm of the classics. We can rest assured that their legacy will be preserved and continue to draw the love and appreciation of fans, and that their work will continue to be adapted for the future in ways that we may enjoy or find confusing (or both). We can grumble about the versions of their work we don’t like and discuss why, but at its heart, meaningful theater is the process of adapting common truths, stories, and work to communicate things that matter both to the performers and creative team, and to the audience. We can look at the long history of adapting the classics for reassurance that no matter what new Gilbert & Sullivan creation comes along, their original work will not sink into obscurity–no one has forgotten Romeo and Juliet since the animated children’s movie Gnomeo and Juliet came out. Rather than shorten the lifespan of the works of G&S, change, from restructuring to rewriting, ensures their longevity as the inspiration for new generations of theater.

References:

Allen, Brooke. “Adapting the Classic.” The Hudson Review, vol. 66, no. 4, 2014, pp. 694–700. 

Bull, John. “Add-Aptation: Simon Stephens, Carrie Cracknell and Katie Mitchell’s ‘Dialogues’ with the Classic Canon.” Journal of Contemporary Drama in English6.2 (2018): 280-99. 

Christiansen, Rupert. “Princess Ida.” The Spectator, 28 November 1992. 

Crystal, Ben. “‘Gnomeo and Juliet:’ A Tragic Take on Shakespeare’s Tale of Woe.” The Atlantic, 14 February 2011. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/02/gnomeo-juliet-a-tragic-take-on-shakespeares-tale-of-woe/71198/

Foley, Helene P. “Modern Performance and Adaptation of Greek Tragedy.” Barnard College, Columbia University. 1998. https://classicalstudies.org/sites/default/files/documents/FOLEY98.pdf

Jain, Ravi. “In adapting a classic, honour tradition and break the rules; When imagination is let loose, the old and new come together and speak to the present moment.” The Toronto Star, 17 October 2017. https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.tufts.edu/ga/default.aspx

Lane, David. “Adaptation and Transposition – Reinterpreting the Past.” Contemporary British Drama. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2010, pp. 157–187. 

Varod, Gil, Kimberley Patterson, and Robert J. Saferstein. Oedipus For Kids! Samuel J. French, 2009. 

Washburn, Anne. Mr. Burns and Other Plays. Theatre Communications Group, 2017. 

Fall 2020 President’s Message

HRG&SP patrons, friends and community, 

It has been a wild few months. For the second semester in a row, we have been unfortunately kept out of our beloved Ag Theatre. As the pandemic persists and worsens around us, it is unlikely that we will be performing in our theatrical home any time soon. 

While this is disappointing, it does not mean that we won’t be making art and sharing it with all of you! As you may have seen, we’ve been preparing selections from Ruddigore; or, the Witch’s Curse this semester and are ready to share them with our patrons. 

On December 27, we will be holding a Zoom webinar where we will play for you the videos of us singing Ruddigore songs. Find more information about this in the Happening Now section of our website! It will be a fun time with some of your Ruddigore favorites like “My Eyes are Fully Open,” “Happily Coupled Are We,” and “When the Night Wind Howls.” This (successful) experiment in virtual theater was music directed by Colton Carter and Mary Reynolds, two familiar personages who have held the HRG&SP’s conductor baton in previous semesters. Ruddigore was produced by Clarissa Briasco-Stewart, Will Evans, and Ben Topa. We are excited for you all to see our hard work and enjoy some beautiful music.

I am also pleased to announce that next semester we will be putting on a virtual performance of Cox and Box by F.C. Burnand and Sir Arthur Sullivan! This is Sullivan without Gilbert, but it is still a delightful farce with fabulous music. The HRG&SP has performed it before, and we’re happy to put it on again via a new medium. This virtual production will be produced by four dedicated, energetic, and capable Board members: Mary Reynolds, Clarissa Briasco-Stewart, Jasmyne Roberts, and Emma Kay. More details will follow in the coming months, so keep your eyes open for more information about this and other future projects. 

Beyond these artistic adventures, the HRG&SP has spent this semester growing closer as a community. Even without the promise of free food, our weekly online social events have been drawing crowds of undergraduate community members. I am very gratified by the continued strength of the friendship, solidarity, and support exhibited by our members. The pandemic may have taken away our ability to be together physically, but we have remained unified. This is perhaps the HRG&SP’s greatest achievement of the past year. 

As we face the spectre of perhaps another year without in-person performances, I want to thank all of you, our patrons, for remaining interested in G&S and supporting us in our time without revenue or in-person events. 

If you wish to keep us going for the remainder of this crisis, you can donate through Givebutter, Paypal, or by sending a check to:

Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players
P.O. Box 382143, Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA 02238.

Thank you again for all of your generous support. We wouldn’t still be going strong through our sixth decade without you. 

Dutifully yours, 
Ross Simmons ‘21
HRG&SP President

Ruddigore: A Small Ray of Positivity in Virtual Theater

Recently, a fellow board member (AMH), commented, “If you’d asked me four years ago ‘What will you definitely do senior year?’ I would have confidently answered ‘Go to class’.” If you’d asked me four years ago, “What will you definitely do senior year?” I would have said “Sing in choir.”


Both of us turned out to be drastically wrong. AMH is learning remotely, not walking the cobblestone streets of Cambridge or sitting in seminars with her fellow Harvardians, and I’m in my apartment, singing in my room by myself instead of in a performance hall with large groups of people. In fact, the closest I come to choir these days is running rehearsals for our virtual Ruddigore project from my dimly lit basement. 

It takes a special group of people to willingly spend even more hours on Zoom and Facetime when it seems like every class, event, and other obligation is online, and the Ruddigore cast & orchestra are just that special. It’s been a joy to get to hear their voices in rehearsal and as we started the editing process for their final recordings this week–we know you’ll love hearing them just as much when we’ve finished.

Although their voices are beautiful, what I appreciate most of all about the Ruddigore group (and the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players more generally) is our ability to have fun together. We’ve gotten used to seeing each other’s faces on a screen instead of in person and keeping up our witty banter (well, we think it’s witty, anyway) in Zoom chats.

However, it’s less easy to translate group music rehearsals to a virtual format–because of the current limitations of technology (and the way individual internet signals are directed all over the globe), it’s not possible to sing in sync with one another. It ends up sounding like a horrifying cacophony of everyone trying to both stay in time and listen to each other, and no one wants that. 

From a music director perspective, that means our rehearsals this year have been more…silent than usual. When we’ve rehearsed our group numbers, all but one person have to be muted for us to sing “together,” so cast members take turns bravely singing in front of everyone, while the others sing along from their respective homes, unheard by the rest of us. The cast has MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface, tracks that include the piano reduction of the full score so that they could practice for their recording alone, and so they can play it while they sing aloud for everyone in rehearsal. We’ve relied more heavily than ever on our trusty producer google drive to hold part tracks (recordings of each individual line to practice with), notes about rehearsal, sheet music, piano tracks, and everyone’s audio and video recordings for editing purposes. (As a side note, if you want any of our practice materials for your own amusement or singing along to G&S in your home, reach out to us at hrgsp.president@gmail.com).

I know I can’t wait until the day when it’s safe for HRG&SP shows to crowd into a room in the Lowell Lecture Hall basement and music directors to plunk out notes while everyone gathers around the piano to sing together, and to come see the wonderful productions the classes after us will put on, but I also realize that longing for that tends to make us fall into bittersweet nostalgia, so I’ve also been trying to keep an eye out for things that are positive about our virtual recording projects. We’ve been able to further our record-keeping efforts, maintaining materials digitally instead of our physical storage spaces; we’ve created comprehensive accompaniment tracks and practice tracks for all the shows I’ve music directed for HRG&SP that can be used in the future & have figured out productive ways to organize them now that Google Drive really matters (this is not sponsored content!) We’ve bene able to reconnect with organization alumni and current undergrads who are spread across the world and with whom we might have lost touch otherwise; we’ve utilized the strengths within our community by encouraging cast members to get involved with the production side by coaching acting, helping create visuals for video recording, and editing video and audio into a final product. Although a virtual semester full of virtual theater pales in comparison to our treasured times spent in the Agassiz theater surrounded by friends hard at work, we have certainly picked up some useful knowledge that we can employ when it’s safe to gather together in Radcliffe Yard again.

–MLR

Reflecting on Virtual Wine & Cheese

Last fall, I returned to my dorm from a late-night rehearsal for our Fall 2019 production of Pinafore to find a letter slipped under my door. The neatly-addressed envelope contained a card embossed with the HRG&SP logo, inviting me to the organization’s Wine & Cheese celebration. The annual event offers an opportunity for HRG&SP community members to break out their cocktail attire and enjoy an evening of refined revelry with friends from productions past and present.

As a member of the Board and the Wine & Cheese committee this fall, I struggled to imagine how we might capture the spirit of the event in a virtual format. Replicating the energy that comes from sharing the same physical space seemed a daunting task. Yet my wonderful fellow committee members kept the faith, and we began to adapt the event for Zoom. Hand-addressed envelopes were replaced with Paperless Posts, and breakout rooms allowed attendees to move between conversations within the call. Rather than making group grocery store runs to pick up absurd amounts of cheese, we all arrived on Zoom with our own favorite varieties. When all was said and done, a tenacious few remained on the call until well past 3:00 AM.

Virtual Wine & Cheese reminded me of what is most important about the event. While I love putting on a cocktail dress and munching on fresh fruit in the Signet, I have always most enjoyed having an evening dedicated specifically to spending time with other HRG&SP community members. It is an opportunity to reaffirm our bonds and to enjoy each other’s company, putting aside the stress of midterms and the chaos of the semester. While fancy invitations and cheese boards are lovely, Wine & Cheese 2020 has proven that all we need to enjoy the event is each other (although a block of apricot Wensleydale certainly does not hurt).

Life’s a Pudding Full of Plums, Care’s a Canker that Benumbs

When anyone has the impertinence to ask why the Met puts on The Magic Flute every
Christmas (with its song, and—note–dialogue sections in English no less for the benefit of
youthful audience members) and yet has never staged a Penzance or Mikado, the stock reply runs something as follows: Gilbert and Sullivan can never join the ranks of serious “opera” because it is too light–too satirical, nonsensical, and altogether frivolous. Feigning temporary ignorance of the comic favorites that regularly rock the famous Lincoln Center stage (The Marriage of Figaro for one), we are faced with an interesting question: is G&S really as frivolously shallow as all that? I think not, and the coronavirus has proved it to me.

I was leading my regiment from behind and dreaming of polishing off batches of political dispatches in a distant island kingdom long before “Armageddon,” as we quickly took to calling it, struck the Harvard world in March. In the ensuing weeks and months, however, as I adjusted to life at home, classes on Zoom, and an entirely unpredictable future, one number from the Gondoliers surged into my consciousness with a unique affective power: the Act One quintet with Don Alhambra, the Duke and Duchess, Casilda, and Luiz. (“Try We Life-long”)

The plot, so to speak, has just thickened, with all the stereotyped ingredients of Victorian melodrama. Don Alhambra, having just revealed to Casilda that he does not know which of two gondolieri is her betrothed, reassures her in a recitative section with a typical touch of Gilbertian humor: “Submit to Fate without unseemly wrangle./ Such complications frequently occur.” Following this ludicrously laissez-faire pronouncement, however, Gilbert suddenly pivots. The following “Try we Life-long” is on an entirely different note, arguably among the most “serious” numbers in the canon. Yet what, you may say, of the truly heartrending numbers, such as Fairfax’s “Is Life a Boon”? There is an intriguing and important irony here. “Is Life a Boon” sets out to be a grand operatic tenor aria, or at least draws heavily from that tradition. And yet, in a Gilbertian world seriousness cannot help sabotaging itself. The emotional weight of Fairfax’s opening lines is subsequently undermined by lyrics such as “What kind of plaint have I,/ Who perish in July?,” which for all Sullivan’s efforts cannot escape the hint of a tongue in the cheek.


The irony, then, lies in the realization that if at the end of the day the heartrending cannot escape the funny, artful wit can be more heartrending that the heartrending itself. The intricate alliterating and rhyming verbiage of the quintet mirrors our attitude as we “hop and skip to Fancy’s fiddle.” We must make the best of life, dancing and singing with wild abandon in the face of uncertain Fate and especially of death, a word which Gilbert uses with startling directness at the end of the preceding recitative. (“Death is the only true unraveller.”) Here for once the comic genius is playing the ultimate joke on itself, turning the very fact of its satirical brilliance into something deeply tragic. Satisfied with the verbal veneer of lightheartedness, Gilbert is free to issue his most profound reflection on the human condition, a distinctively Victorian reworking of an age-old sentiment: if there is no resurrection, says Paul in the New Testament, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”; human life is like the waters of the mighty Yellow River, says the medieval Chinese poet Li Bai, flowing into the sea and never returning. Our only solution is to “never let our golden goblets sit empty as we drink under moonlight.” The most famous incarnation of this in formal “opera” is undoubtedly the Brindisi in La Traviata.


Showing yet another example of the mysterious creative telepathy between two very different men, Sullivan’s music catches the tension perfectly. Playing on the aural idioms and emotional range of the madrigal, it starts off with “try we lifelong, we can never…” on a romping, energetic note. “Life’s a pudding full of plums” begins to introduce more serious strains, “Set aside the dull enigma” burns with renewed determination, before more sober elements take back over for a haunting, elegiac climax with “String the lyre fill the cup/ Lest on sorrow we should sup.” “Hop and skip” is back to the energy and cheer of the opening, while “Life’s perhaps the only riddle” through the end finds the same middle ground as the words: older, wiser, artfully bridging sorrow and optimism.


Countless times over the past seven months I have been indescribably comforted by “Try We Life-long.” Life at Harvard was indeed a pudding full of the richest plums, full of singing and laughter and long, engaged conversation over dining-hall dinners. Care struck with a sudden vengeance. Yet we must keep singing, both literally (ask my parents and brother), and in our hearts. As always, Gilbert says it best:

String the lyre, fill the cup,
Lest on sorrow we should sup.
Hop and skip to Fancy’s fiddle,
Hands across and down the middle —
Life’s perhaps the only riddle
That we shrink from giving up!
Life’s perhaps the only riddle
That we shrink from giving up!
Then take it as it comes,
Take it as it comes.
String the lyre, fill the cup,
Lest on sorrow we should sup.
Take life as it comes!

Fall 2020 President’s Welcome

Hello HRG&SP patrons and community, 

What a wild year! From a devastating pandemic to social uprising, we have seen and continue to see upheaval unparalleled in recent memory. This upheaval includes the continued ban on live theater performances on Harvard’s campus. 

We are as sad as you are that we won’t be able to bring you Ruddigore; or, the Witch’s Curse in a style and form commensurate with its greatness. While we may not be able to put on a full production of Ruddigore, we are still going to do some Gilbert and Sullivan music! By the end of the semester, we will have something to share with all of you! We’re still figuring out how and what, but rest assured, there will be some HRG&SP ~content~ for you to enjoy by the time we break for the semester. 

In addition to this ~content~, we are spending a lot of time developing, cultivating, and loving our membership. Because of the isolating nature of the current moment, we are leaning into our social functions. We are continuing to hold UNOs (Undergraduates Neglecting their Obligations) weekly via Zoom, will still be having Wine and Cheese in a virtual form, and we’re working on other social events that can work online. 

We probably won’t be sending out a patron letter this semester due to the impossibility of the great big envelope stuffing and licking party that we usually throw to prepare it for mailing, but I hope that you don’t feel too separated from us here in Cambridge and around the world. In order to keep you involved, we are working on a new patron engagement initiative that will directly connect you to members of our community! In particular, we will be sending videos of us singing/playing/performing made just for you! If you are interested in receiving one of these videos, email us. We love you and are happy to have your support. We can hope, though it seems unlikely, to see you next semester at Iolanthe; or, the Peer and the Peri

Until we see you again, enjoy our blog posts, occasional utterances, and backlog of productions (able to be found here).

If you have any questions, suggestions, messages of encouragement, hate mail, or want to receive the aforementioned personalized videos, feel free to email me at hrgsp.president@gmail.com!

Dutifully yours, 
Ross Simmons
HRG&SP President

Solidarity and Action

Dear HRG&SP patrons and community, 

Earlier this semester, we were forced to cancel our production of Kiss Me, Kate by the COVID-19 pandemic. This sent us reeling, but with more than 100,000 Americans dead from the virus, it makes the cancellation of our one little show seem paltry. 

I bring this up because, at present, even the tragedy of the global pandemic seems to have taken a back seat to the uprisings against racism and police brutality occurring across the nation. Even as I sit here in Higginsville, Missouri, insulated from the uprisings in cities around the country, it has become clear that the status quo is no longer tenable for anyone, anywhere, especially Black Americans. 

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others in the recent past have shown us all the dark foundation of anti-Blackness that pervades policing as an institution and our country as a whole.

We, as the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players, stand in solidarity with the Black members of our community, protesters the nation over, and everyone fighting injustice, racism, and police brutality. 

We are blessed as a group to have many generous donors who habitually support us in our mission of performing extra-curricular theatre at Harvard and promoting appreciation and awareness of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. We especially thank those donors who were able to give to us in our time of need, our semester without a show. 

Now, we call upon our donors to do what they can to support demonstrators and protesters fighting against racist structures and, increasingly, the slide toward authoritarianism in our government. Please, if you can, donate to any of the charities listed below, recommended to us and to you by BlackCAST, Harvard’s Black student theater group. 

Furthermore, we recognize that some works of Gilbert and Sullivan, while musically beautiful, textually witty, and historically important, existed in and contributed to a racist culture. We, as an organization, wanted to give some of the money that we have made from these shows to organizations fighting that racist culture. While we would love to financially support organizations like Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective directly, as a 501(c)(3) we are limited to donating to causes that further our mission of theatre education and awareness. We have therefore decided to donate $1,000 to the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, MN, a group which “creates professional productions that are artistically excellent, thought provoking, and relevant and illuminates the human condition through the prism of the African American experience.” (https://penumbratheatre.org/). 

We believe in the power of theatre to change hearts and minds. We believe that art can bring change and be a tool for education. I am glad that we are able to provide support to a fellow theater organization that has also lost performances and revenue from the pandemic and which, through its art, fights the very injustices we see protesters fighting every day.

Once again, please donate to these organizations as you are able! The HRG&SP is unable to donate directly to these worthy causes, so we strongly urge you, our patrons and community, to support them to the greatest extent possible. I personally have done so as have many other members of the community. The time has come for us as human beings to put our money where our mouths are and make the world a better place.

Black Visions Collective — https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/
Reclaim the Block — https://www.reclaimtheblock.org/home
National Bail Fund Network — bit.ly/localbailfunds
Anti-Police Terror Project — antipoliceterrorproject.org
Brooklyn Community Bail Fund — brooklynbailfund.org
Transgender Law Center in Memory of Tony McDade — transgenderlawcenter.org

With love and solidarity on behalf of the whole HRG&SP Board of Directors, 
Ross Simmons
HRG&SP President

On joining HRG&SP

I checked Google Maps on my phone. Yes, the little blue dot showed that I was standing outside Agassiz Theatre- I was at the right place. I walked in the dark green double doors and the wooden doors that are perhaps a bit too free-swinging (which I have affectionately nicknamed “the Doors of Death” after a few encounters that were a little too close). I strode down the red carpeted hallway, learned where the Horner Room was from the security guard, and started to trek up the stairs, the first time ever of the Agassiz Theatre stair exercise routine which happened so frequently over the next three and a half years of doing backstage work in the Ag. I leaned back and heaved open the heavy door to the Horner Room, my heart beating loudly. This was my first time going to a production meeting, and having not done any theater in high school, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was greeted with smiles and a warm welcome, and sat down in an empty chair for a meeting filled with planning for the upcoming HRG&SP show, jokes, a wealth of information, puns, and laughter. Most of the theatre jargon went in one ear and out the other, and I walked away from the meeting feeling like I had tried drinking out of a fire hose, but one thing was for certain- I was hooked.

This was my first introduction to HRG&SP on Harvard’s campus, and the start to a fun-filled and extremely rewarding four years of involvement in the organization. One thing that struck me at my first production meeting was how welcoming the community was, even to someone who knew no one in the Harvard theater community and had never done theater before. I had absolutely no intention of joining any sort of executive board of an organization when I stepped on campus, but after being involved for three semesters and having such great experiences with HRG&SP, I decided to join board as a way to give back to the community and help perpetuate the welcoming, inclusive environment for the next generation of Harvard students. By the time I joined board my sophomore year, I had done quite a bit of technical theater work in different spaces on campus, and working with HRG&SP in the Ag were by far the most rewarding shows I had been involved in- it was the first place I really felt at home on campus, the HRG&SP shows were the ones in which I felt the most supported and appreciated in my roles as set designer and paint charge, and the socials kept the community thriving in-between the shows. I also found HRG&SP to be a really special place where seasoned theater experts and novices alike worked together to support, help, and learn from each other to help bring a fun and entertaining show to life.

I grew so much and learned so much through my time in HRG&SP. There were so many upperclassmen and more experienced people who were willing to put aside their time to help me learn things I didn’t know and answer any and all questions I had, and the environment was positive and supportive, so I didn’t feel too scared of stretching myself and trying new things that were out of my comfort zone, from producing to being president of the organization. So, as my time as an undergraduate at Harvard draws to a close and as HRG&SP welcomes its newest board class, there are just a few things I want to say: First of all, thank you to all the mentors and supportive people who have taken time out of their schedules to help touch the lives of others- you are extremely important and so very much appreciated. Second, welcome to all of the beginners and newcomers- don’t be afraid to try something new, always ask questions, and I’m so excited to see where you take the organization from here!!

A Trip into the HRG&SP Board Office

When recruiting first-years to get involved with the HRG&SP, we emphasize that we are the oldest co-ed theatre group on campus, having been formed in 1956. One consequence of this longevity is that the HRG&SP has accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. Due to this massive accumulation of stuff and the general disarray that characterized the office we share with many other performing arts organizations at Harvard, one of our new board members, Mary Reynolds, took the initiative to organize the office earlier this semester on Presidents’ Day.  

As we began sorting through decades of materials, the task at hand seemed a bit overwhelming. However, we managed to go through everything in one day and in the process we found a number of interesting items and documents. We found boxes full of old media, including vinyl record recordings of old shows, cassettes, and even a performance that had been recorded on dictation tape. Mary is currently working on digitizing this media for us to post on our website and other social media. 

We also were not lacking in strange and interesting items to look at and excitedly show each other. Perhaps the strangest was an old rusty hand saw that had been labelled Goldilocks. Why? I wish I knew, and please let us know if you know anything about it! Additionally, we found a couple of old champagne bottles. What, you may ask, are we doing with a couple of old champagne bottles? Did one of our members leave them hanging around after one of our parties? Surprisingly enough, no. A closer inspection of the labels on them yielded the surprising discovery that they were in fact from the first cast party thrown by the HRG&SP in 1956 after a successful performance of Ruddigore.     

I am optimistic that years in the future a completely different board of the HRG&SP will have to perform a similar exercise, and in the process find all of the items we left behind. I just hope they can have as much fun as we had looking back at the previous 64 years. 

Un-Opening Night

As the stage manager for the past two HRG&SP shows, I have seen my fair share of opening nights. From my post at the lightboard, I watch the beaming smiles of the actors as they proudly present their work to an audience for the first time. I listen as the Agassiz Theater rings with applause from the crowd, letting the cast members know that their efforts are seen and appreciated. I think of my peers, both onstage and offstage, who have brought their commitment, expertise, and passion to the project over the many months of preparatory work leading up to opening night. All of the time, energy, and love coalesces and is condensed into those two short hours. I am always grateful for the relative privacy of my position at the back of the balcony level, because it is often quite an emotional experience for me.

I love opening night not only for what it is, but what it represents. As a stage manager, I have the privilege of witnessing the life cycle of a production. From the first note sung in the rehearsal room to the first peal of applause on opening night, I watch the show grow and develop into the production that we ultimately present to our audience. Until the last stock flat is returned to the scenic shop after our closing performance, I am locating actors, sweeping stages, and calling cues. As I believe many do, I feel a sense of parental responsibility to and pride in the show. Opening night is the first chance to share with others what I have seen all along: the extraordinary work of my friends and colleagues in bringing Gilbert and Sullivan’s timeless operettas to life. The evening is a testament to the strength of our community and the talent of its members.

This semester, I was excited to experience opening night as an audience member. I thought that last Friday, I would be sitting in the familiar red velvet seats of the Ag, adding my own cheers to the thunderous applause after the final chord. As a prospective viewer, I am disappointed not to see what I am sure would have been a tremendous production. As a frequent member of HRG&SP production staffs, I am heartbroken. I feel tremendous sympathy for the cast, staff, and orchestra members who will never see their opening night. The weight of the cancellation of Kiss Me, Kate! is felt by the entire community. I find myself thinking often of the production’s wonderful stage manager, who will miss the experience of sitting in the back of the theater, overwhelmed by the force of her gratitude towards the show’s team and her pride in the product that they have created.

During the past few weeks, however, I have witnessed something as powerful as the opening night experience, if not more so. Current students and alumni alike join weekly social events over Zoom, sharing updates from their homes around the world through the videoconferencing platform. Staff members busily recruit for Ruddigore; or, the Witch’s Curse and make all necessary arrangements to hit the ground running in the fall. The Board looks to the future, preparing our group for the many opening nights that lie ahead. Despite frightening and disruptive global circumstances, the strength of the HRG&SP community has not wavered; rather, I find myself in awe of the resilience of this organization and its members. Since returning home, I have drawn comfort and support from my HRG&SP connections more than ever before.

In my recently gained free time, I have been reflecting on why I am always so deeply affected by the first performance of a show. For me, opening night is not special primarily because of the date or the venue. I treasure those moments because they encapsulate the passion and effort of people that I love. While we have lost one of the best opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate our organization and the work of its members, the HRG&SP community stands strong. That knowledge gives me more joy than all of the opening nights combined.