What is Follies? If you ask a current student, they might tell you that it’s of course the Middlebury Institute Student Council organized annual talent show, or variety show, featuring the current students’ many (non academic) skills including music, dance, and film.
This year, it featured the Latin Dance Club, clever and fun videos from various degree programs, musical numbers and a rousing cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” put on by student musicians. But Follies was not always only performed by students, and was not always mainly formal, earnest performances.
“The ‘Fac Rappers’ act from 2007 featured faculty members Ed Laurance, Moyara Ruehsen, Carl Fehlandt, and me,” remembers Jeffrey Langholtz, professor of International Environmental Policy. “Irvine Auditorium was packed beyond its official capacity. People even filled both of the long stairways leading from the upper entrance down to the front stage. We had a threat that the county Fire Marshall was going to shut it down. But the show went on. This was the final act of the evening and the crowd went nuts. Students saw their mild-mannered professors transform into rappers, performing their hit single ‘The Faculty Rap’.”
Follies, which has been hosted by the Institute since 1972, was originally an elaborate and silly show of comedy, song and dance, featuring professionally choreographed lip-synced renditions of famous hits, comedy sketches, professors dancing in ridiculous outfits, and a grand finale of an elaborate performance starring a mix of students and faculty. One year, the show was even held at the historic Golden State Theater in downtown Monterey. In the early years of Follies it was a spring event, but the performance was later moved to the fall. Some faculty members say the move to the beginning of the school year leaves less time to prepare elaborate comedy acts and satirical political skits.
In a letter to faculty and alumni dated April 1978, Professor Christine Pearson Casanave '77, wrote, “In strict FOLLIES tradition, the show will consist of irreverent parody, slap-stick humor, and of course, a return of your favorite music group, Uranus and the Six Moons.” Originally, the funds raised at the Follies from raffle tickets were donated to the Library Building Fund.
Many students do not know about the wild and fun history of the event, not to mention the joy that Follies’ memories bring to many longtime faculty members. “I helped write a skit featuring “therapist” Angela Merkel with her “clients” Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin - both played by students. I was really proud of that one,” Associate Professor Moyara Ruehsen remembers with a laugh. “But faculty aren’t as involved anymore. Over the years it turned more into a talent show and less of a comedy act.”
Follies is a time when the Institute community comes together, across departments to collaborate on music, art, and comedy. Students from different programs work together on acts, and attendees are consistently impressed with the level of artistic talent of their fellow students, not often on display during the busy semester.
“I was amazed at all the talent that students at MIIS have,” says Aram Guptill MATESOL ‘20, one of the organizers this year. “My overall goal of the performance is for people to have fun watching their talented classmates and to know that the money raised from Follies is donated to a local cause, which helps to benefit the Monterey community.”
Co-organizer Julius Moye MPA/MAITED ‘21 adds: “I find it very important for people to display a side of themselves that is not often shown in the context of grad school. Not to say that it can't be done, but between busy schedules and not knowing other students who may share your interests, there are not always many outlets where graduate students can come together and produce something artistic. The Follies provides a platform to do this.”
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