A Brief History of Tech Show
"It has been our policy for some years back to bring before more and more people the fact that the students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology do not spend all of their time digging into books, but that they are altogether human and are capable of doing something other than figuring stress and strains and similar work." (Tech Show '24)
Tech Show was first presented in May of 1899 to raise money to liquidate the debt of the bankrupt Athletic Association. Mrs. Evelyn Greenleaf Sutherland convinced well-known composers to write the score and she herself penned the script. To the surprise of many, it was a big success.
With the exception of Tech Show 1901, which was the American premier of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Grand Duke, the early Tech Shows were original vaudeville revues or comedies. These early productions increased the popularity of Tech Show within the community. After 1910, the musical scores became so good that they were published each year, and the productions had grown so large that A Royal Johnnie, in 1914, had two full choruses and a ballet, as well as the first orchestra ever at MIT.
With MIT's move to Cambridge, the flavor of Tech Show began to change. Tech Show '18 was the first pure musical comedy, with specialty acts and a loose plot; and, since the Athletic Association was now on firm ground, Tech Show began to benefit other organizations. Patsy, Tech Show '20, was considered the best pre-World War II production. The first three scheduled performances were sold out to standing room only crowds so that two return performances were held, which also sold out. All in all, approximately 500 students worked on this production.
Encouraged by the success of Patsy and the attitudes of the Roaring twenties, Tech Show became an extravaganza. Tech Show began to tour, sponsored by alumni clubs. The budgets were between $13,000 and $20,000. Over-extension quickly put Tech Show into debt. Tech Show '29 reverted back to the revue format and put the organization back into the black. However, productions continued to have problems and Tech Show again went into the red.
In 1932, after tremendous bickering with the Institute Committee, Tech Show '33 received provisional recognition with a limited budget of $1000. A group of dedicated students, under the guidance of Prof. William C. Greene, planned a new type of musical comedy aimed solely at the students, rather than at outside audiences. That year's production was a large success, and Tech Show was reinstated as a class "A" activity.
Once again, the Institute Committee put pressure on Tech Show. Despite the moderate success of Tech Show '36, the Committee rashly revoked Tech Show's constitution on the basis of so-called `lack of student interest and support.' Despite overwhelming approval of Tech Show by the student body, Tech Show was forced to discontinue because of some prominent student officials' comments in the Tech that `Tech Show was a thing of the past.'
A referendum was held in 1946, and, with the aid of Prof. Greene, a new Tech Show opened. It was a surprising success. Organized to entertain MIT students alone and not to travel for alumni to other cities, Tech Show found new life and flourished for approximately 20 years. But then, in the late sixties, problems again plagued Tech Show. Controversy over scripts caused turmoil and division within the organization and Tech Show did not reopen after the close of Utopia.
In 1971 three ailing theatre groups -- the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Tech Show, and the Classical Musical Society -- merged to form the MIT Musical Theatre Guild. Attempts were made to revive the Tech Show tradition but the lack of student support and scripts stalled these efforts.
In January of 1979, Tech Show was revived with Tech Show Presents, which consisted of a one-act comedy and a one-act musical. Tech Show '80, There's No Space Like Home, was the first Tech Show to be entirely written, produced, directed, and performed by MIT students. Tech Show met with mixed success over the next few years. The annual production skipped 1984 for lack of a script, then waned again after Tech Show '86. An attempt to revive the tradition in 1991 was unsuccessful.
In 1997, with `The Tech Show Tradition' virtually lost from living memory, Robots, an original musical with book and some lyrics written by an MIT alumnus, was presented as a Tech Show. Attempts to repeat this model in Spring of 2000, with a musical written entirely by an MIT alumnus, failed to rouse the support of the Guild membership and was replaced. Discussions of that failed process, however, lead to the latest attempt to revive `The Tech Show Tradition.'