Many credit The Varsity Show as the “beginning of their creative lives,” says Ally Engelberg, BC ‘15: herself included. Publicity team member of V118, producer for V119 and V120, and now alumni coordinator for our very own V121, Ally holds the rare and cherished position of four-timer. As someone whose college career has been defined and distinguished by The Varsity Show, Ally has fond memories and words of wisdom to share with us about her experiences.
Freshman year, Ally hadn’t heard of The Varsity Show—but when a friend brought her to the information session, she was hooked. She applied to be Assistant Producer but alas, having no experience, wasn’t quite qualified. Instead, Ally assisted with flyering and photo shoots, learning how the show worked as a publicity team member. Every little bit helps, especially in student theatre, and Ally would no doubt take this to heart as a producer of later shows.
“I thought the producers were like gods,” she says: “Like, I couldn’t look into their eyes.” She felt so impressed by The Varsity Show’s 118th that, over the summer between freshman and sophomore years, she would make friends listen to its soundtrack and walk her dog while singing along.
Of course, Ally had fun making friends and working on a great production, but she also recognized the importance of The Varsity Show to her future. “It’s the biggest opportunity for performing arts and entertainment,” she explains: “I totally credit The Varsity Show for my career aspirations.” While she always knew she wanted to be in the entertainment industry, making the show a reality each year has solidified and specified her goals.
As a producer, Ally learned to dream big: “I never said outright no,” she explains, instead asking “how can we get this done?” On the one hand, this speaks to the talent and resources of The Varsity Show; on the other, it’s the mark of a capable and indefatigable producer. Ally now works as V121’s alumni coordinator—a position she herself created, having seen the need arise in her other years on staff. She contacts “literal famous people” who often express nothing but joy at helping out their alma mater in some way. The community remains tight-knit as well as welcoming, both during college and after graduation. Even The Varsity Show’s most accomplished alumni, Ally says, never forget their roots.
In terms of challenges, Ally cites her past position as “liaison between the show and the administration” as potentially fraught with tension. The administration officially has no influence over each production, but that doesn’t mean The Varsity Show is without consideration: at times, she had to act as a representative of the administration to the creative team, not just the other way around. But this proved fairly problem-free, as the show always strikes a balance between satire and respect. The “whole point is to tackle whatever comes up,” she says, so the difficulties of each year makes for a better production in the end. “The worst thing that could happen is nothing.”
Ally lists three yearly events as “the collective experience” of Columbia undergraduates: homecoming, Bacchanal, and The Varsity Show. At such a diverse school in such a distracting city, Columbia students have a famously fragmented community, but she says The Varsity Show offers an opportunity for catharsis. Only Columbia has students “so sarcastic that we can make fun of ourselves for 120 years,” she says, and still point those jokes towards something constructive. “We can appreciate the challenges of the year, revisit them,” Ally explains—The Varsity Show is a chance to “create, at least for one-and-a-half hours during finals, one single community.”