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The History of Big Game Gaieties

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 Ram's Head Theatrical Society's big musical-play-rally-extravaganza, performed the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the Big Game. Don't blame them, though. By the time they took over the project, it had emerged as "Big Game Gaieties."

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. A completely student-run theatrical society, Ram's Head also produces the Original Winter One-Acts and the Spring Musical every year.

The name Football Follies was changed to Gaieties sometime in the '20s or '30s. And no, the name does not mean anything other than "frivolity and fun," your typical dictionary meaning.

Gaieties has been produced every fall since 1911, except for a brief hiatus in the mid-'70s when Ram's Head closed its doors. 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. A guaranteed moneymaker, it generally sells out, especially the Friday show.

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

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

One of the main objectives is to find a bigger and better way to bring members of the faculty and staff into the show. It began with former Dean of Admissions Fred Hargadon, in an innocent walk-on role that brought the house down, stopping the show while the audience cheered. After that, Ram's Head realized that the man was something of a local hero, and sought to find new and exciting ways to incorporate him into the show. The next year Hargadon was wheeled in on a huge cloud, as if from heaven.

The cameo tradition exists to this day, with appearances this year by Dean of Admissions James Montoya and University President Gerhard Casper.

Gaieties will certainly live up to its tradition of wackiness once again this year. And although the competition on the gridiron might be intense, we can be sure that Cal has nothing to compare to our very own "Big Game Gaieties."

Beat Cal.


Marnie Berringer '96 for Proteus
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