Adding Laughter to Law School, One Joke At A Time

BY JOEY SEILER

Danielle Johnson ?13 rehearses a dance number in preparation for Parody?s opening on March 1.
Members of the Parody technical crew work the lighting board at a rehearsal. At the table (l-r) are Lighting Technical Director Bruce Sun ?11, Light Board Operator Nigel Barrella ?11, and Jennifer Simon, a professional lighting designer hired to program the show.

The fact that almost every person associated with Parody signs a confidentiality agreement — from the writers to the cast to the producers — gives the annual musical comedy a slightly more serious tie to its Harvard Law setting than the many law-, law professor-, and law student-related jokes it features. But the secrecy that surrounds each Parody, like this year’s “Twilitem: De Novo Moon,” which runs March 1–5, makes for a big reveal.

“A lot of the fun for the whole community — the actors and everyone who comes to see the show — is the mystery of it, the whole secrecy,” said Co-Producer Sarah Fort ’12. “A lot of people have told me they love showing up the night of with their group of friends and seeing who’s going to be parodied and what the songs are. Part of what makes the week of the shows great is the surprise.”

Fort, whose most recent theatrical endeavor before law school was one line in a fourth-grade play about the Pied Piper, said the secrecy helps build a sense of community, a sort of “camp vibe,” among the cast and crew. Over the six weeks they work together, from auditions in January to the production in March, not much leaves the set beyond the occasional song rehearsed in a shower. Instead, Parody members work anywhere from five to 30 hours a week to build up their creative sides.

“I love the idea of a bunch of law students who are so busy and over-committed to begin with taking time out to put something together as a group,” said Fort. “Skills come out that you wouldn’t see just sitting next to them in a class or journal.”

Even with the heavy time commitment, Parody drew more than 70 students to the process, many of them repeat players from past productions. Fort said “Twilitem” saw total retention from last year’s production of “Ocean’s Replevin,” minus students no longer at the Law School.

Julie Figueira ’11 has returned each year since her first year as a writer. She now serves as the head writer of the play, a role with an even larger time commitment. The writers, she said, start working in September, host a read through midway through the fall, and come back in January to start the process of line-by-line editing. Figueira, who led the charge to cut 25 pages from the script and find the perfect phrasing for every joke, said she worked from six to 15 hours during many days in January in addition to going to class.

Unlike other students who spent J-Term writing papers or enjoying lighter course loads, Figueira focused in on the script. The amount of work, she said, can make it difficult to describe her extracurricular activities to peers or potential employers.

“I usually try to make an analogy between writing comedy and writing legal arguments,” she said. “Fundamentally, they’re both forms of persuasive writing. When you’re getting people to laugh, that’s a form of persuasion, and it gets down to minute editing of individual words. Economy of writing is important in legal writing and just as important in getting laughs.”

Even if the writing is economical, the concepts can be big. This year’s Parody will draw from the popular “Twilight” series of books and movies. The supernatural base, said Figueira, adds a level of absurdity that a heist story, like last year’s caper, doesn’t necessarily allow. There’s also a little bit of commentary.

“It’s an attempt to really get at the social aspect of law school, and ‘Twilight’ gets at that high school drama that a lot of law school people are still involved in, despite being adults,” said Figueira.

Parody’s comedy has previously riled up some members of the community, including students and even Prof. Laurence H. Tribe ’66, who took umbrage at a 2006 Parody song ribbing him over plagiarism accusations. Figueira says Parody has been improved by a more professional writing room over the last five years. Other members point to a different sensibility.

“It used to be more directed at students. Now it has a more positive vibe,” said Caitlin Connolly ’12, who is performing in Parody for her second year. “You look at the community, and it’s almost entirely women, and [Co-Producer] Jason [Meyer] ‘11, who listens to Miley Cyrus. There’s definitely a sensitive, caring underbelly to Parody.”

Regardless of the change in vibes, secrecy, time commitment, or difficulty in explaining the work, Parody has been, and remains, a favorite activity among students.

“I got into it at an admitted students weekend,” said Connolly. “[Former Dean of Admissions] Toby Stock ’01 came over and told me, ‘Those kids, when I was here at HLS, that was the most fun, and those were the best group of kids to hang out with.’ Then they suck you in and you can’t get out.”

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