Waa-Mu celebrates 83 years by breaking some traditions, honoring others


Source: Waa-Mu

Waa-Mu co-chairs Desiree Staples, Ryan Bernsten and Ryan Garson helped create “Double Feature at Hollywood and Vine,” a reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” set in 1930s Hollywood. The show opens May 2.

Sarah Rense, Reporter

After 82 years of theatrical tradition, Northwestern’s Waa-Mu Show is trying something new. This year’s production, “Double Feature at Hollywood and Vine,” is a book musical complete with a narrative arch and a potential shelf life beyond NU. It breaks the mash-up mold of previous Waa-Mu shows while still holding fast to Waa-Mu’s most important traditions.

One of these traditions is commitment.

“All of us have to play so many different roles (in the show) and roles in the production of Waa-Mu,” said Communication senior Ryan Bernsten, a Waa-Mu co-chair and actor. “It really teaches you to roll with the punches and be adaptable, to really learn how to collaborate with other people, which is a skill that only this process can teach you.”

The annual process itself starts once the previous Waa-Mu show ends and the new co-chairs are announced. The new co-chairs spend the summer bouncing ideas off each other until they settle on a general outline. This year’s production is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” set in the glamorous days of 1930s Hollywood. The show follows protagonist Violet as she achieves silver screen fame by pretending to be a male actor.

But that’s just the basic outline. Creating a concrete script is much more difficult, especially when that script is, per Waa-Mu tradition, completely student-written.

Imagine it like this: Your professor says you’ll be working in groups for your next paper, and then he tells you that 65 people per group should be sufficient. What? Welcome to the Waa-Mu format. But instead of a psychology paper or a literary analysis, the 65 Waa-Mu writers are in charge of creating and producing a full length theatrical performance complete with a script, music and lyrics. It’s quite the endeavor.

“But when you set those challenges, you have to rise to them,” Bernsten said.

The co-chairs said they are proud of this year’s script, and they hope great things come from it, including future productions beyond the NU campus. Ryan Garson, a Bienen senior, as well as a co-chair and actor for “Double Feature,” added, “Northwestern’s really becoming a breeding ground for the next generation of theater writers.”

Garson has been working behind the scenes for years, but on Friday, he has the honor of saying the very first line of the show.

“I probably will forget it opening night,” Garson said. “I’m so nervous about that, but also it’s like I’ve worked on Waa-Mu for four years, behind the scenes, off stage, producing, whatever. And now I get to be a part of being on stage with my best friends and my Northwestern family.”

For the co-chairs, Waa-Mu is an essential part of their college career.

“Purple is to Northwestern as Waa-Mu is to Northwestern,” Garson said. “It’s in the blood.”

And it will continue to be in the blood of these co-chairs and actors.

“I find myself getting nostalgic for it even though I’m still doing it,” Bernsten said. “If I could do what I’m doing now for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest person in the world.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @sarah_rense