History Corner: Gaieties through the years

Gaieties is an annual student-written musical comedy staged by the Ram’s Head Theatrical Society. It is traditionally performed on the week before Stanford’s Big Game against UC-Berkeley and is known for being cheeky, silly, irreverent and sometimes offensive.

1911 Originally named “Football Follies,” Gaieties was introduced as a rally for the Stanford-Cal rugby game. A Daily Palo Alto, the newspaper which became The Stanford Daily, article called the “Follies of Stanford” a two and a half hour long “continuous vaudeville.” The article read, “Every possible excuse will be used to make the Show a rush of comedy and music” (“Program in Surprises in ‘Follies of Stanford,’” Oct. 13).

1928 The event was taken over by Ram’s Head Theatrical Society, who changed its name to “Big Game Gaieties.” The show opened the night before Big Game. In the Nov. 23 issue of The Daily, show director Gordon Davis ’18 said, “With the breaks in their favor, the Football Gaieties Team should play one of the best games tonight Stanford has ever seen” (“Ram’s Head Society offers ‘Big Game Gaieties of 1928’ tonight,” Nov. 23).

1933 A handbill for the 1933 Gaieties said: “All of the important dramatic talent of the Stanford campus will be seen in original satirical sketches, songs and specialty acts, augmented by a dancing chorus of 24 specimens of feminine pulchritude. Cast of 100” (“Gaieties: the show everyone’s been waiting for,” Nov. 15, 1977).

1937 After Memorial Auditorium was dedicated in 1937, Gaieties moved production and has performed at the location ever since. The Nov. 17 issue of The Daily reported that Hollywood talent scouts would be attending the show and that former Gaieties stars Winstead “Doodles” Weaver ’35 and Lloyd Nolan ’26 were already under Hollywood contracts.

1968 The show was not produced for the first time since 1911 due to misunderstandings between the writers and producers coupled with a highly politicized campus climate. Ram’s Head Theatrical Society was declared bankrupt and closed. In place of the traditional Gaieties, performance group Mafia presented the comedy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in Memorial Auditorium.

1976 Toyon residents revived the tradition and Ram’s Head Theatrical Society reopened.

1977 Producer Keith Light ’78 said of the 1977 show: “This will be a valid Gaieties. It may add a dimension other Gaieties haven’t seen or been yet. And it may upset intellectuals who think it’s childish, but it’s pure fun – for all students,” (“Gaieties: the show everyone’s been waiting for,” Nov. 15). The show was the first to feature a campus figure cameo – Dean of Admissions Fred Hargadon crossed the Gaieties stage this year. “It was rude, awful, but boy was it great,” one student said in reaction (“Big Game Week: A school spirit revival,” Nov. 21).

2000 University President John Hennessy made his first appearance at Gaieties in a play titled “Being John Hennessey” in which he is kidnapped and Stanford is overtaken by the evil “Kal.” In 2000, The Daily reported that Gaieties was no longer able to use the Drama Department’s shop space to build scenery and now depended on sponsorships to provide funds for the production.

2010 36 Ujaama residents walked out of the Gaieties performance due to stereotype-based humor they found offensive, prompting a review from Ram’s Head Theatrical Society about the content in the show. Yvorn Aswad-Thomas ’11, then resident assistant (RA) of Ujamaa, was referenced in The Daily article pointing to the offensive “portrayals of Native Americans as visibly intoxicated and an ad-libbed line about dressing up for a party as ‘Rosa Parks black’” (“Ujamaa staff and residents walk out of Gaieties, two groups schedule talks,” Dec. 1).

2011 Gaieties celebrated its 100th year with a play titled “Leland Junior Must Die” and promoted the play with a massively popular trailer.

2012 Gaieties, titled “Full Doom on the Quad,” will take place on Oct. 17, 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium.

- Ileana Najarro, Alice Phillips, Natasha Weaser