As the clock struck midnight on Oct. 31, the 2,650 audience members at Woolsey Hall rose with a deafening cheer to welcome the opening of Yale Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween show.
Continuing a tradition dating back to 1975, YSO celebrated the holiday with its time-proven combination of a silent film accompanied by live orchestral music. The hour-long performance, which was entirely student-led, was composed of recognizable classic favorites and pop songs that prompted many gleeful laughs.
“This is the one time in my life when I don’t have to choose between playing the clarinet and being a rock star,” said Jacob Sweet ’18, co-president of YSO and a staff writer for the News.
The enthusiasm that charged Woolsey Hall indeed rivaled that of a rock star concert, as YSO members took the stage in fully costumed glory. The audience roared for half-naked men in bunny costumes, as well as for an homage to the Magic School Bus and an all-too-realistic skit in which special snowflake Yalies are terrorized by a B-plus grade.
This year’s film “Bulldog and the Beast” is a parody of its namesake — “Beauty and the Beast” with a Yale spin. It was directed by Rebecca Shaw ’18 and written by Ben Kronengold ’18, making this year’s performance the first led by a team of a non-YSO director and writer.
In the film, Belle is a first year intimidated by Yale and its students. The narrative follows her as she navigates the school, finds her identity as a Yalie and lights a romantic spark with the Beast of Harkness Tower.
Shaw explained that she chose this particular film because of its recognizable soundtrack, female lead and timeless themes. She also noted that the film would be a fun social commentary on gender roles with an unabashedly smart, witty lead woman.
“We took care not to depict Belle as a damsel in distress, sitting helpless while the hero saves the day,” Shaw said. “There are some elements of regression in the original story that should be tweaked.”
The iconic scene in which the Beast fends off wolves to protect Belle was modified so that Belle collaborates with the Beast by kicking away a socially starving Benjamin Franklin College student from gnawing at his leg. Another criticism often leveled at the “Beauty and the Beast” is the romanticization of Belle’s Stockholm syndrome. The YSO version addresses that issue as well: Belle dupes the happily-ever-after cliche by professing her lack of love for a person she has just met.
Moral messages aside, Kronengold emphasized that the film should be “first and foremost a joyful experience,” rather than preachy or overbearing. To this effect, the film also contained an abundance of residential college jokes and jabs at rival universities.
Producer Margo Williams ’20 echoed this sentiment, saying the event was designed to be universally appealing and inclusive.
“It’s not just about the orchestra,” Williams said. “It’s about you and me, our residential colleges and the Yale spirit. We want attendees to think, ‘Wow, that was on the Facebook meme page last week.’”
Conductor Ian Niederhoffer ’19 took into account similar concerns when deciding the set list to avoid alienating laypeople with no musical background. The main challenge was to incorporate recognizable classical pieces that would sync the musical cues with certain moments in the film. To accomplish this, there was a “huge back-and-forth” between the conductors and directors to figure out what worked and did not, Niederhoffer said.
Sweet said the show was also an opportunity for creativity because there is no such thing as an established notion of typical Halloween music. The end result included selections from Billboard’s Top Classical Albums and Hot 100 charts, along with “Why I Chose Yale” and “Star Wars” soundtracks rarely heard onstage in other orchestral settings.
But the YSO Halloween show was not always thus. The show was originally a showcasefor entire symphonies, like when the orchestra performed Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” in 1975. Over time, the performance gained humorous elements and introduced the silent film. The tradition evolved until it finally became the format that today’s Yale students know and love.
As in previous years, tickets sold out in two minutes, despite Halloween falling on a Tuesday this year. William Sussman ’21, who attended the show, attributed the popularity to good timing, since Halloween is one of few holidays that students can celebrate together on campus, unlike comparable major holidays such as Christmas.
The popularity, however, has left many students scrambling for leftover tickets in an online black market with prices even reaching three-digit figures.
“Only at Yale would people get so excited over a silent film and classical music on a Tuesday night,” Sweet said. “But please don’t scalp your tickets. Instead, give them to your friends and they’ll appreciate you for the rest of their lives.”
Livestreaming was available for those who were unable to purchase tickets.
Nicole Ahn | firstname.lastname@example.org