On the unforgettable night of September 13, 1911, a group of students and faculty formed an organization they declared would "encouraged original work in the production of sketches, songs, musical comedies, and the like." On the wall of the room where they were meeting hung the stuffed head of a ram. Hence, Ram's Head was born and, two months later, first mounted one of Stanford's greatest traditions, Big Game Gaieties, a musical revue that centered around the Stanford-Cal football game.
During the following years, Ram's Head flourished, encouraging dramatic activity through Gaieties, the Original Winter One Acts, and the annual Spring Musical. In the late 30's, Ram's Head technicians (including then-president Phil Brown) assisted in the design of the new Memorial Auditorium, guaranteeing the organization a venue for future productions of Gaieties and the Spring Show. By 1950, Ram's Head had become one of the foremost student dramatic organizations on the West Coast, and several productions were broadcast on San Francisco television. But, in the mid-sixties, amidst student unrest, there was a drop in interest in the organization. In 1968, due to a misunderstanding between the writers and the producers, Gaieties was not produced for the first time in 57 years.
In 1971, after the failure of a show called "Dracula - A Type "A" Musical," Ram's Head folded. "Whatever the reason," said the Oakland Tribune, "a chapter in Stanford history, which held a nostalgic appeal for many thousands of alumni has closed for good." As alum Gary Furlong remembers it, "Students then would rather throw bricks through a window than do a musical show."
But it wasn't long before students once again became involved in theatre productions. By 1975, dorm shows were widespread, and a group of students began raising funds to relaunch Ram's Head. "Guys and Dolls" was presented in April 1976 under the Ram's Head name and with that, the Ram was back. The funds borrowed for the relaunch were paid back in full and there was even money left over to help produced the 1977 production of "Fiddler on the Roof."
Since then, Ram's Head has continued to provide the Bay Area with exciting and energetic productions of the highest quality, and we hope that tradition continues as long as Stanford stands.
Shuttlesworth, Chris. "The History of Ram's Head." Hanging on the wall of the Ram's Head office. Park, Samuel. "Gaieties - The History of a Stanford Tradition." Intermission, November 17, 1994. Brown, Phil '37. Letter to the Alumni Ram's Horn. March 1994.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Berringer, Marnie '96.
Have more information or materials relevant to the history of Ram's Head or Gaieties? Email our historian Holly Dayton and we will be happy to include your information.