This year’s Law School Musical, The University of Shrekago: The Law School Musical, centered on Shrekmore, a professor whose swamp was overrun by faculty members banished from the Law School by a ruler named Lord Bairdquaad. The show was a parody of the movie Shrek and included characters such as the Gingerbread Man (based on Professor Jonathan Masur), Princess Fennella (based on Professor Lee Fennell), and the Magic Mirror (based on Dean of Admissions Ann Perry).
We talked with head directors David Smith, ’20, and Allie Van Dine, ’20, about the musical, which was written, directed, produced, and performed by Law School students. During the conversation, they offered an insider’s perspective on the musical’s breaks from tradition, the wide range of talents among their classmates, and their realization that their marketing poster had become a meme for the University’s undergraduate students.
Claire Stamler-Goody: Why did you apply to be head directors of the Law School Musical?
Allie Van Dine: This is my favorite thing about law school. I just think it's so important to all get in a room together and laugh at ourselves a little bit. And it's a great community. I actually had previous experience producing student theater in college, so I thought this would also be a great way to use that experience in service to an amazing group of people.
David Smith: I actually studied directing as an undergrad, so this was probably my last chance to use that experience. Plus it's just so much fun to bring people together. Law school can be a bit of an isolating experience, and the musical is an amazing community—for the people in the show, the band, the crew, and even just the audience coming together to laugh with us.
Stamler-Goody: How did you decide to make Shrek the theme for this year’s musical?
Smith: We weren’t necessarily the leads on that—we have a whole team of writers who start thinking about ideas over the summer. But we usually base it on some kind of established property, just to give the plot some structure. I think one major factor in terms of choosing Shrek was that everybody knows it. It's very light-hearted and fun, and there are a lot of big stock characters that you can slot different professors into.
Van Dine: I have to say, a lot credit for the theme goes to Josia Klein, ‘20. I went into that meeting deeply unconvinced that Shrek would be the right move, but Josia presented a really compelling case, and here we are.
Stamler-Goody: What was the process like for writing songs and writing the script?
Van Dine: The senior writers each manage their own team of “baby writers.” They wrote the individual scenes, and then head writer Karina Partovi, ’20, put everything together and sent it to us. That happens mostly in fall quarter, because the goal is to have a completed script by the first read through, which is in the first week of winter quarter.
Stamler-Goody: What was your rehearsal schedule like throughout winter quarter?
Smith: We had a lot of people involved this year. I think there were almost 35 students in our cast, which makes it hard to coordinate schedules. So we rehearsed every single day during the lunch hour for about five weeks. That was the only time we could schedule everyone, and we had to be really productive during it.
Van Dine: (laughing) Pack your sandwiches, folks.
Smith: Then, we had some longer rehearsals the weekend before the show. And the week of the show, we had a couple of really long Monday and Tuesday evening tech rehearsals in Mandel Hall.
Stamler-Goody: It was amazing to see the students in the musical demonstrate such a wide variety of skills and talents. What was it like seeing all of those talents come together?
Smith: It’s really cool. I think we get a partial picture of it during auditions, but then we discover a lot through the rehearsal process. Devin Weinberg, ’21, played Professor Masur as the Gingerbread Man in the show, and he wanted to try this funny voice that was used in the movie—it was hilarious.
Van Dine: And these skills aren’t really relevant to the practice of law. So many people have unbelievable singing voices. Max Freedman, ’21, is really good at impressions. You wouldn’t know any of that from being in class together. It’s really amazing.
Smith: During rehearsal, the show can feel kind of fragmented, because every day you work on only one or two scenes. But by the time we got to the weekend rehearsals where we ran the whole show, it just made me feel very happy and excited to see everybody’s talents coming together.
Stamler-Goody: The musical had a huge cast, a full band, and a lot of writers. You also had to handle the marketing, set and light design, stage managing, and much more. How did you manage to collaborate with your classmates on so many different moving parts?
Van Dine: Opening the program and looking at all the names is one of the greatest achievements of my Law School experience. Part of it is just asking people what they're good at. We put out a call asking if anyone does graphic design, and Kelly Gregg, ’22, told us she used to do that before law school. So she designed our graphics, and that was extremely generous of her to give us her time. I went to college with Sam Becci, ’20, who designed our lights, and she's been trying to do light design here since last year. But this was the first year we had a venue that was really up to the task. So it's asking people what they're good at, it's sending a lot of emails, circulating a lot of schedules, and a little bribery with free food (laughs).
Stamler-Goody: In terms of characters in the show, how did you decide which professors would stand in for each of the characters from Shrek?
Van Dine: Other than Professor Levmore, whose mannerisms really did [fit] the Shrek character, I think we wanted to think about which professors—especially the ones who teach 1Ls—hadn’t been highlighted as much. Professor Chilton hadn’t really been highlighted in a musical. Professor Lakier was in a smaller role last year. Professor Fennell and Professor Nou hadn’t been in it as much. We were thinking about who hadn’t had a turn yet, and how we could elevate them this year.
Stamler-Goody: Did you have any favorite musical traditions that you carried on in this year’s performance?
Smith: There are some stock scenes that tend to appear every year. We have the scene about OCI, we have the FedSoc [Federalist Society] vs. ACS [American Constitution Society] scene. Those are always fun. We also do the same bow order every year, starting with the 1Ls. There are a lot of little things like that that we incorporate every year. The sort of staples of the musical.
Van Dine: We also busted a lot of traditions this year. We moved the performance to Mandel Hall because we wanted to find something a little less expensive and more convenient. We raised some law firm money, which was new. Another big achievement was bringing the ticket price down from $15 to $5.
Smith: Yeah, and we haven’t done a final count yet, but I think we had a substantially larger audience across the two nights this year than last year, both because of the new venue and because of the ticket price.
Stamler-Goody: What were some of the most rewarding things about directing the musical?
Smith: I liked seeing the acting performances come to life. Toward the end of the process, seeing people who’ve been watching videos of professors who then suddenly come out with an amazing impression. I think a good example is Brian Pollock, ‘21, who played Professor Hemel. One day he just came out with these gestures and a voice that were both perfect for the character. Also the relief of the Thursday night show being done—it cannot be overstated.
Van Dine: I love highlighting the talents people have outside of the classroom. There’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing a professor who’s come to the show go up to a student afterward and say “Oh my gosh, you have a beautiful voice, I had no idea!”
I also think it's a really nice opportunity to stand up and feel accomplished—you did something and you’re not going to get a grade for it that's going to change how you felt about it. You got up there and you sang or you acted or you danced, and it’s a concrete contribution you've made to the Law School.
Stamler-Goody: Was there anything that surprised you about your experience?
Smith: I will say, we did expect a lot because last year’s director, Rachel Kubasak, ’19, put together a comprehensive guide. It helped us expect a lot of the process.
Van Dine: Also, the relationships we had with administrators here at the Law School, and across the University, were a really nice surprise. Breanna [Robinson] and Robin [Graham], and Dean [Charles] Todd [all in the Dean of Students Office] were all so helpful. Derek Bundy at the University’s Office of Events gave us a tour last April of a bunch of on-campus venues. Holly Warren at the Logan Center gave us a tour as well.
Stamler-Goody: Are there any moments from rehearsal or the performance that you think will stick with you for a long time?
Van Dine: The first day we had the band come in to rehearse with us, we had sort of prepared ourselves for it to be a bit of a disaster—just because that first run-through is always hard. But it ended up going so well. I was floored by how smoothly everything went, and I think that spoke to a lot of preparation on both sides. That was a favorite memory for me.
Smith: With the opening number, “All Star,” everybody in the cast was on stage but me, because during our director speech I didn’t want to have my full costume on. So [after the speech] I changed into my costume, and then during that song I got to sit there and watch it all happen. It was this moment of, it’s going, it all came together, and that was just a very happy moment.
There was also one more surprise, when we put up our posters across campus…
Van Dine: Yeah, we had some Graduate Student Council funding, and part of their stipulation was that we had to advertise the event across all grad programs.
Smith: And apparently the posters were very funny or striking, I’m not sure. But a lot of undergrads saw them such that we ended up on a meme page on Facebook for UChicago college students, and I think we got over 600 likes. The comments were people both saying “we have to go to this” and making fun of it. And we did end up with some undergrads coming to the performance who knew nothing about the Law School.
Van Dine: One of our cast members went here for undergrad and knew some of them, and he said that they came to the show thinking it was literally going to be about Shrek. So we had some meme virality. I believe the caption on the poster was, “I have no words.”
Stamler-Goody: That’s incredible. Before I let you go, are there any final thoughts about the musical that you’d like to share?
Van Dine: I just want to give a shout-out to our band leaders and choreographer for what they put in. The band was led by Dane Olsen, ’20, and also Sara Castiglia, ’21, and Ben Feis, ’21. And our choreographer Megan Anderson, ’21—I don’t know what we would have done without her.
Smith: I'll be in Chicago for one more year before I move to DC, so I'll be able to see at least one more musical, and I'm just really excited. With all the new talent we saw this year between the 2Ls and 1Ls, I’m excited to come back and see what they to put together next year.