What do conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 and Big Bird have in common? Not much.
But, after Friday night, they will both be able to boast that they were participants in Yale’s “Tercentennial Show.” In fact, they will be on stage together.
Buckley and Big Bird are just two of the celebrities booked for the 90-minute event. Also expected are singer Paul Simon, author Tom Wolfe GRD ’57, actor Sam Waterston ’62, Jazz performer Willie Ruff and football player Calvin Hill ’69.
The show attempts to tell Yale’s 300-year history in an entertaining way, said Dan Davis, who wrote and directed it.
“We’re not trying to trick anybody,” he said. “We’re also not trying to bore anybody.”
Yale has invested a great deal of resources to ensure that none of the expected 35,000 spectators begins to snooze. In addition to a 70-piece orchestra and 300-member choir, the “multimedia” production includes video, lasers and fireworks. The audience will watch the half-hour of video footage on four 30-foot projection screens. Thanks to these screens, “everywhere you sit, you get a good view,” Davis said.
Davis, a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, has been planning the show since July 2000. He works with the Los Angeles-based company Leisure and Recreation Concepts, which Yale hired to produce the spectacle.
Haven written and directed many plays as well as worked for the television station FOX, Davis has a great deal of experience in the entertainment world. But he has never done something like this.
“I haven’t done any 300-anniversary shows,” Davis laughed. “This will probably be on the top of my resume, just because people will say, ‘Woah, what was that like?'”
Davis said he began the project knowing little about Yale’s past. But after consulting with many Yale officials and examining the University’s archives, he now considers himself an expert.
“I love history,” he said. “I’ve just naturally always been interested in old stuff. [Yale] has got an incredible history.”
Although Davis wrote the script, he worked with many members of the Yale community. University Secretary Linda Lorimer, Dean of the School of Music Robert Blocker and Associate Dean of the School of Drama Ben Mordecai were all heavily involved.
The Tercentennial Committee which consists of students, faculty, and alumni also participated.
“[Davis’ company] didn’t just go off and give us a show, they worked with us from the beginning,” Lorimer said.
The set for the performance stretches almost as long as the 300-foot football field. It is a replica of the Walter Camp monument located off Chapel Street, at the entrance to Yale’s athletic facilities. On each side of the stage is a pair of enormous black books with gold lettering. The spine of each contains a part of the phrase, “For God, For Country, For Yale, Forever” — the show’s theme. And large “1701” and “2001” structures act as bookends. About 60 people helped build the complex set, Davis said.
Yale alumnus Colonel William Lanman ’28 provided the funding for the entire tercentennial year. Lanman died this spring but was involved in the planning until then.
“When I first outlined the tercentennial plans for the year, he thought they were pleasing but too serious,” Lorimer explained. “He said that every birthday needed a party.”
Hence, this celebration. Lorimer would not state the amount of money that was spent on the Tercentennial Show. Davis said he was not informed of the sum, but he joked, “It’s more than a buck.”
Despite a few last-minute problems, the performance “should be great,” Davis assured. “Even if the paint is wet, we will be on that stage.”
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