Fun fact: You don’t have to be an ETHS student or alumnus, or a parent of one, to enjoy and laugh at the new YAMO show, which premiered Thursday, September 22 at the school’s Upstairs Theater.
If you have a pulse and are vaguely aware of pop culture and recent current events in Evanston, this show is for you.
The premise of YAMOLAND imagines Evanston as a community in an amusement park, with consistent themes tying these scenes together. They vary in length. Some of the jokes are very obvious. Some are less. Some are funny or fun to watch and listen to, even if the so-called ‘meaning’ of the joke isn’t obvious.
There are 27 short scenes in the show. You won’t know the premise in advance, unlike most theaters, and this can take the pressure off the audience of having to understand the performance. But it’s better to put those traditional expectations aside and enjoy the ride.
The students are funny, enthusiastic and fully committed to this work. They are having a ball. That’s reason enough to watch and share the fun.
The opening number is a knockout way to start the show. Some other scenes that especially shine: Locker Room Conversation and Sherman Avenue Shuffle in Act I and Having Fun and Super in Act II.
As an added bonus, here is a small ‘cheat sheet’ that you can refer to before, during or after the show if needed.
- Trevian is the mascot of New Trier High School.
- A few years ago, there was a DJ who wore a marshmallow head and an outfit while working the music queue; he was briefly popular.
- There are two male African tortoises that live on ETHS. (They are owned by the science department.)
YAMO is “a musical sketch comedy magazine” entirely produced by students. Now in its 65th year, it’s an opportunity to see two hours of ideas brought to life by a group of energetic, bright and diverse teens. Essentially, it’s a festival of love, an affectionate tribute to the people and places that make Evanston and ETHS special.
YAMO’s 17-member Board of Directors selects the theme each year. The YAMO team – writers, actors, dancers, stage crew, set design, costumes, makeup, lighting, musical orchestration, directors and more – is made up of approximately 100 students plus a few adults who supervise and guide. It is essentially, however, student-oriented.
The three adults who mentor YAMO students today were all YAMO participants when they were ETHS students.
Tim Herbert, ETHS Theater Teacher and YAMO Faculty Advisor, was YAMO’s Director General in 1988. Herbert graduated from ETHS in 1989. Aaron Carney, Technical Theater Director at the school and an ETHS alumnus since 1990, is also a faculty advisor at YAMO. Katrina Engel, ETHS ’91, advises the dance portion of the show and teaches special education
Students auditioned last May for positions in one of four “companies” (two for acting, one for dancing and one for musicals). The company names are Dancing, Acting, Impulse (acting) and Unexpected (musical). The writers worked all summer developing the scenes and script. Rehearsals began on August 8. Revisions and refinements were still taking place during dress rehearsal.
On Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before dress rehearsal, The RoundTable spoke with two general directors, Ainslie Pratt and Eleanor Hutchinson, and one of the main writers, Lily Benjamin, all of whom are seniors in the college application process.
“The show is completely dependent on collaboration,” Ainslie said. “You just can’t do this alone.”
Eleanor added: “But our board as a whole, we do everything. The set is entirely built by the students, all painting and decoration. The lighting and sound are made by students from the technical team, which is the company. Anyone can participate in this. You don’t need to audition. You just sign up and show up.”
In addition to the creative effort in each YAMO show, each cast member is learning lessons in collaboration and communication. It’s an ever-changing and stressful environment that requires its participants to be vulnerable on a stage in front of their peers, perhaps a few family members, and a lot of strangers.
“Being backstage and seeing the scenes on stage that you wrote and helped direct is so scary,” said Lily, one of the two main screenwriters. “It’s hard to know what other people will think about your work, because to me it’s funny, but I don’t know if other people will have the same reaction.” (Don’t be afraid, Lily. The show is funny.)
“The beauty of YAMO is that everyone who is on it has probably wanted to be on it for a while, so they will come and work,” added Ainslie. “We are all working to make something that is all ours in a unique way. And for a lot of us veterans, this is going to be the last big theater thing we do, so it’s really meaningful in that way as well.”
Tickets cost R$12 and can be purchased at www.ethsheatre.com. Parking is available in the parking lot behind the school. Guests can enter through door #2. The Upstairs Theatre, located on the third floor, is accessible by elevator.