I’d heard faint whisperings about the annual Wesleyan Melodrama since the beginning of the school year, and knew it was an awesome annual Wesleyan tradition. So when I first noticed the flyers advertising this year’s production, I was instantly excited. Still, as Melodrama time crept closer, a nagging question kept popping into my head: I knew I was eager to see the show for myself, but what the hell was the Melodrama, anyway? Because I’m a lowly freshman, I had no clue exactly what such a strange production would entail. All I knew was that it somehow involved a blend of Westerns and marshmallows (a delicious and intriguing combination, but nevertheless a frustratingly enigmatic one). So I tracked down co-writers/co-directors Liz Valentin ’11, and Zach Rebich ‘11 to get the low-down on “the stickiest, musical-iest, Western-iest satire around”:
Argus: First things first – what is the Wesleyan Melodrama, exactly?
Liz Valentin: The Melodrama is entirely student-written every year. I am not sure how old it is, but tradition plays a large role in dictating the way it is to be put up. For starters, I am pretty sure work on the Melodrama has never seriously started before Spring break, and as the Melodrama traditionally goes up in the first weeks of May, this timeline helps to give the show its somewhat-thrown-together-at-the-last-minute charm. Also dictated by tradition is the formula the plot follows. It’s a super fun creative process for the writers and happens within maybe one of the weirdest frameworks ever: the story arc has to fit the formula of a Western musical that satirizes Wesleyan life. The result is sort of a year in review, with Western accents and great stock songs (the opening ho-down, the love song, the big finale, etc.). We try to have villains who come in with an evil plan that is uncannily close to the biggest problem to confront Wesleyan that year. The end result is a very goofy, very casual performance that thrives on audience participation. We hope the audiences leave feeling good about being able to come in and laugh altogether about this silly place we live in for four years, and also to laugh a little at themselves.
A: Have you participated in the Melodrama before? How did you get involved in the tradition?
Zach Rebich : I auditioned for the Melodrama my freshman year because it sounded like a fun way to do theater without having to major in it. I was cast as Chip “Greenie” Greensman, the gay love interest of the sheriff. The show was a blast, and last year when Melodrama planning time came around, I ended up on the board of people coming up with ideas and writing it and stuff.
A: What process did you go through to come up with an original yet still traditional take on the Melodrama?
ZR: The show is riddled with archetypes: the sheriff, the villain, the town drunk, etc. The challenge is to figure out ways to keep them fresh this year. Lady Gaga is huge right now, as is Ke$ha, so our town drunk is a glittery glam pop star alcoholic. Giant Joint just won a seat to the WSA, so he’s the Mayor this year. Things like that. It’s really just a matter of “What’s the easiest way for us to make fun of ourselves?”
A: What are some of your favorite Melodrama villains of the past?
LV : Last year, for example, the town of Foss Flats had its Endowment Mine dry up because of the nefarious villain Madoff and his lovable sidekick Ponzi.
ZR : Madoff Villaintagonist … was pretty effing absurd. The kid who played him was also completely off his rocker. His sidekick, Ponzi, however, was a sweetheart.
A: Can you give us some hints as to what this year’s plot might entail?
ZR : Well, everyone’s flipping a shit about MoCon finally being torn down, so naturally that will figure centrally into the plot. Beyond that, I don’t want to give away too many specifics. But there will be hair gel. And there will be fake tans.
A: Finally, why the marshmallows?
LV : …Tradition dictates that marshmallows be thrown by the audience members at the actors throughout the show. They can throw them whenever they feel like it, at the villain, at the kissers, at the actor who can’t keep a straight face. Currently we are prepping our actors with a rigorous regiment of marshmallow onslaught during their rehearsals. Our sheriff might have even sustained a minor marshmallow injury during practice [Tuesday] night. This is only one way the audience is to interact with the show – we encourage everyone to shout throughout the performance, booing at the villains, oo-awwing at the lovers, and any contributions they might want to make to the script.
ZR : It doesn’t hurt if you get beamed in the face with a marshmallow, which is good because our audience is usually pretty drunk and rambunctious. Also, they’re delicious.