Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Welcome to Gaieties

Main content start
Sarah Lewis Performing at Gaieties

I truly never thought I’d be here. Not just at Stanford, I mean, on the huge stage of Memorial Auditorium, singing before a crowd full of the next generation of leaders, change-makers, risk-takers, tech giants, and senators, totally sloshed out of their minds and chanting “Mommy!” at me. 

Welcome to Gaieties! 

For the uninitiated, Gaieties is a Stanford tradition that started in 1911. It’s a musical written each year by students, detailing some sort of epic or enigmatic battle of wills between Cal and Stanford, performed the weekend before Big Game (the epic battle of grappling and grunting between Cal and Stanford). The whole school rolls out to the show; everyone from frosh to frat bros gets absolutely psyched to see student theater. I have never seen or experienced anything like it. Each year the plot is completely different (read: unhinged), but there are always a few constants:

Assuming STP, where T = 273.15 K and P = 1 ATM, the constants for a standard Stanford Gaieties are as follows:

  1. All leads must be freshman (or new students! An important caveat!)
  2. Stanford must defeat Cal
  3. Someone must fall in love
  4. The president of the university usually makes a cameo (see example 2021, MTL in a feather boa).
  5. There must be a villain from Cal, and as per musical theater convention they usually sing a jazzy evil villain song in a sultry minor key.

(That last one was me.)

Last year, I was a brand new transfer to Stanford, and quite honestly I was scared out of my mind. I had never lived that far from home, I had never spent any time in California except for my cousin’s bar mitzvah (it was skateboard themed), and I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to find an arts community at a school that’s famous for its contributions to, you know, science. Still, I put on a brave face, packed up my guitar and my character shoes, and, just as Miley foretold, hopped off a plane at LAX. 

As a transfer, I had already done all of the frenzied community searching at my last school. I didn’t want to have to go through it all again. And I was worried that since I was new to Stanford but not new to college, I wouldn’t really fit in with the frosh or the returning students, falling into some too-new-but-also-not-new-enough limbo between the two groups. Cue Gaieties! 

I sent in an audition tape, and I didn’t know if they’d even consider me because I wasn't a frosh. But I was new! And that’s all that mattered. Little did I know, the whole point of Gaieties is to help new Stanford students connect with the arts, their school, and each other. Being a little lost and a little confused and a lot freaked out actually made me perfect for the role. Seeing the evil glint in my eyes, the directors cast me as Leena, a scheming CS professor who tries to destroy Stanford by sucking it into an alternate dimension with a magic device, all while busting out of tear-away pantsuits and singing evil (sexy) jazz numbers. And suddenly I was part of a more-than-a-century-old tradition of Stanford students having fun and creating bonkers musical satire of their school. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since arriving on the farm it’s this: Stanford is full of lovely, intelligent, irreverent weirdos. People go absolutely nuts for so many bizarre, niche passions. Do not worry about finding your place, because it’s gonna be there, somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, people here are often terrifyingly smart, their resumes are stacked, they’ve done research or TV shows or start-ups. But I promise you they are still absolute geeks about something. And the cool thing about Stanford is people lean unabashedly into their weird passions, so you might have the next great American novelist show you the puppets she built, a PhD student studying electrons might tell you his impromptu thesis on the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie, or a brilliant CS wiz might ask you to help them re-tape their face mic so they can get onstage for their musical theater solo during the yearly Gaieties Naked Run (look it up, I’m not explaining that one). Whatever weird thing you hold in your heart as something that brings you joy, I promise you there are other people here who love it as much as you do. You’ll find them. And then you’ll probably befriend them.

For me, it’s theater. Through Gaieties, I met so many wonderful, talented people who are now regulars in all elements of the arts scene on campus and also my very close friends. I performed in a scene with MTL himself, and he told me my costumes were cool (be jealous). I’m currently writing the lyrics for the Gaieties that will be performed this fall. And, yes, last year, during the Friday evening show, the night when all the row houses rolled out to the theater, I basked in the glory of over a thousand, brilliant Stanford students calling me Mommy. Showbiz! 

Sarah Lewis

Transfer, Class of 2024