Our Fearless Leader: Molly Heller, Varsity Show Director

“To not take this particular year for granted.” That’s how Molly Heller, JTS/GS ’15, months ago decided to direct The Varsity Show. Every semester at Columbia has its controversies and protests, its movements and counter-movements, its defining moments talked about ad infinitum in the opinion section of The Spectator. But in what seems like an especially eventful year, Molly has chosen to “take on the hard challenges,” to make V121 a fun, funny, spectacular musical comedy as always, but also to emphasize its ability to critically reflect on our community, to “deal with the darker issues, to embrace them and tell a story with them.” Molly insists that “this show means something,” and that V121 won’t let us forget that.

Columbia’s Varsity Show tradition was a main reason why Molly decided to come to New York. She got in touch with David Offit, V116 alum as well as a fellow student in the JTS/GS dual degree program, who responded with a long Facebook message explaining the show and its unique opportunities. It was amazing to learn, she tells me, that a work of theatre was “the biggest event on campus, and such a large part of Columbia culture”—Molly just had to be a part of it. Now the first JTS/GS student to direct The Varsity Show (and the first one, in fact, to be on the creative team at all), she gets to carry on the tradition and shape it into something new.

Molly first became interested in theatre when she took acting as her high school art elective, though she had had singing lessons and belonged to her middle school improve club before.  “My freshman year I was the lead in the school play—the grandmother in Lost in Yonkers,” she tells me; she went on to star as the lead every year, alongside directing her own work.

She continued acting, writing, and directing here at Columbia—though not, at first, for The Varsity Show. “I auditioned for the cast of the 118th,” she laughs, “But didn’t get in.” Molly wound up a lead in V119, however, playing Millie, a Barnard student afraid of crossing below 110th street and bursting out of the Columbia bubble. She worked on the publicity team the subsequent year, and having run out of other positions, is now our fearless director. Molly praises the Columbia theatre community for its passion and talent: “There are so many smart theatre-makers working together here,” she says, who are dedicated to creating art for the Morningside community.

And art is what she has in mind for this year’s Varsity Show. “We’re aiming to make a statement together,” she explains, and “that requires artistic capabilities.” Molly and her team have a “trifecta” of goals for V121: “it should be cathartic, sentimental, and subversive.” It should be incisive, touching, and challenging at once, all done “in different ways but brought together,” unified, unifying. As difficult as it might be to orchestrate that kind of experience—and it must be somewhere close to impossible—Molly believes we deserve it, and has been working tirelessly for it to happen. Her hope is that students, faculty, parents, and community members alike feel in The Varsity Show all the joys and pains of this past year, all the challenges, all the brightest moments: that “it’s all there.”

Posted on April 11, 2015 .