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Stern Follies: A Backstage View

By Penny Burgess

At 7:20pm on Friday, May 6th, I was standing backstage right (when you’re facing the stage, that’s the front left corner, for all you non-theater kids!) at the Skirball Theater. Stern Superlatives were running on the screen on loop, awarding Sternies with titles like “Most Likely to Have a 20 Year Plan” and “Most Likely to Buy Shots for Everyone After the Show.” I was standing right on the edge of backstage, so I couldn’t see the audience, but I could hear the laughs and cheers as the seats filled.

At one point, Alexa Mauro, co-President of Stern Follies, came to join me, and I mentioned how excited I was to hear laughs for something that I had created. We were feeling good, but we were super nervous: we had never actually run the show in its entirety. Up until the performance, we had only run the individual live sketches and the transitions between them.

At 7:35, I was talking on headset with Zac Spitzer, a Langone student who also works at Skirball (and without whom, Follies in its final form wouldn’t have been possible). The cast of our opening sketch, “Consultaholics Anonymous,” and Andy Yang, our host, were all waiting in the wings. Zac and I agreed that it was time to start the show.

What happened next was magical, as cheesy as that sounds. The show ran without a single technical issue or on-stage flub. It literally went exactly the way we wanted it to, if not better. The audience was the friendliest audience I’ve ever seen, laughing and cheering for all the jokes we had spent hours writing and re-writing and re-writing again. By the time we came out to say “thank you and good night,” we were all riding a rush of adrenaline. We had pulled it off.

It’s hard to explain to you how much work went into Follies. Over the course of the spring semester, we wrote, directed, filmed, and edited 10 digital shorts, ranging in length from 3 minutes to 19 minutes. We also wrote, directed, and acted in 7 live sketches, from a host monologue to a 12-minute musical Hamilton parody to a 10-minute live band performance.

When we first started working on Follies, our MBA2 leadership (Alexa Mauro, Darcy Hargadon, and Aya Philemon) reminded us that there hadn’t been a live Follies show in two years, due to COVID-19. The last two years, Follies had been entirely digital, with musical elements filmed in people’s separate homes. Because of this, we were all going in pretty blind; we didn’t have anyone there who had the experience of putting on a live Follies.

Thankfully, we all had backgrounds that made the process a little easier: some with backgrounds in film, some in theater, and some with live music. Ultimately, it all came together to create a production that included musical numbers, live and digital sketches, and even a performance from “Taylor Swift!”

The amount of support and positivity we’ve received following the show has meant so much to everyone involved, and has far outweighed any amount of stress we had leading up to it (of which there was a lot, believe me). Overall, it was an incredible experience, and I know I’m already excited to get started on next year’s show! It’ll be a tough act to beat, but as long as we end up with a theater full of laughing Sternies, we’ll know we did our job.

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