I always chuckle walking into a rehearsal for the Stanford Savoyards. The university’s 40 year-old operetta performance group is an eclectic and interesting mix of university students and community members alike. From computer science majors to law and business school staff and even Stanford hospital anesthesiologists, the Savoyards have attracted a wide array of characters who all share one trait: a love for Gilbert & Sullivan.
Operetta—the delightfully charming mix of opera and musical theater—is the perfect way to express humor and complex storylines in creative ways. The Stanford Savoyards focus entirely on performing G&S shows and were founded in 1973, modeling themselves upon the Cornell Savoyards founded 20 years earlier. A Savoyard is a universal moniker for a devotee of Gilbert & Sullivan and refers to the Savoy Theatre built in London in 1881 by Richard D’Oyly Carte, the producer impresario behind William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s development of comic operetta, or Savoy opera.
The student-run community theatre group encompasses so beautifully the ideals and qualities Stanford boasts. The performers are incredibly talented, yet humble. Production staff and cast and crew all work together seamlessly, instilling the sense of teamwork and cooperation so important for any undertaking. The final project is of such detail and quality that audiences come back for second and third performances of the same show. Most uniquely, the Savoyards are very proud of the fact that they are all—and, I repeat all—massive nerds.
That’s not hard to imagine, and the intellectual creativity never ends. Last year, the Savoyards’ production of HMS Pinafore attained a whole new level of geekery by emulating Star Trek: The Next Generation and re-creating the set of the USS Enterprise with an enormous amount of care. Each cast member dressed as a character from Star Trek and showed enormous dedication: the computer science grad student playing Captain Picard shaved his head for the role, and Worf wore a stifling synthetic forehead each performance under the blazing stage lights.
Compared to the other Bay Area Gilbert & Sullivan troupes, the Savs appear to have the most freedom to make theatrical dreams become reality, whether that means turning Victorian-era pirates into spaceship-flying buccaneers (as the Savoyards did in the 2012 production of The Pirates of Penzance paying homage to Joss Whedon’s Firefly) or styling characters from Tim Burton’s movies for the 2012 production of Ruddigore. Anything the Savoyards can imagine, they create. They are progressive, forward-thinking opera performers, drawing in unusual audiences from all ranges of the spectrum.
The Savoyards’ next show, The Mikado, tells the quirky tale of two young lovers living in a town where flirting is illegal and punishable by death. Yum-Yum, the ward and fiancée of the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko, is instead in love with Nanki-Poo, the city’s wandering minstrel. Hilarity ensues when the ruler of Japan, the Mikado, orders that someone be beheaded or dire consequences inflicted.
Directors Evan Schaeffer, ’08, and Rachel Whalon have chosen a Meiji-era theme that resonates through the show in the costuming and hair as late 19th-century Japan meets Victorian England. Whalon’s costumes reflect traditional Japanese designs including full Victorian skirts, showing quite cleverly the occidental-influenced styles and fashions of the time.
As a wide-eyed freshman, I joined the Savs having no idea what I was getting myself into. I had only a love for singing, experience performing in a single G&S show, and a passion for making theater come to life. Now, three years later, I am still part of the group and have the complete honor of performing as Yum-Yum in our upcoming performances. No soprano could be happier. I also have met outstanding people through participating in the Savoyards board as the Vice President, learning invaluable skills in finances, communications and publicity. Managing theatre troupes is challenging yet rewarding, and I have enjoyed every moment of it.
With the vast talent that exists at Stanford, I believe that more students would be beneficial to the Savoyards. There is so much vocal, instrumental, and technical talent on campus, and having students in the group would give life and fresh faces to an already thriving community. Students will meet intelligent and talented people no matter what area of the Savs they join, whether onstage, behind the scenes, or on the board. From appearing on cable television to networking all across the bay area, the opportunities are endless. Experiencing the performances come to life is incredibly rewarding, and I want more students to share the feeling of achievement and chills we have all the way through closing night.
So—what’s next for the Savoyards? More sci-fi? Steampunk? Whatever it may be, I’ll be there and ready for anything. Will you?
At each performance, the first 20 students with a valid Stanford ID will get into the show for free. Also, Community Assistants in graduate student housing can plan and fund theater outings for residents; let them know you want to go to The Mikado.
Friday, January 31 at 8pm
Saturday, February 1 at 8pm
Friday, February 7 at 8pm
Saturday, February 8 at 8pm
Friday, February 14 at 8pm
Saturday, February 15 at 2pm
$15 seniors & Stanford staff/faculty
$20 general admission