Fun fact: you do not need to be a current or former student at Evanston Township High School, or the parent of one, to enjoy and laugh at the new YAMO show, which opened on Thursday, Sept. 22, in the school’s Upstairs Theatre.
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 stringing these scenes together. They vary in length. Some of the jokes are obvious; some less so. Some are funny or fun to watch and listen to even if the so-called “meaning” of the joke is not obvious.
There are 27 short scenes in the show. You will not know the premise in advance unlike in most theater, and that might take the pressure off the audience in having to understand the performance. But it is best to put those traditional expectations aside and enjoy the ride.
The students are funny, enthusiastic and totally committed to this work. They are having a ball. That’s enough of a reason to watch and share in the fun.
The opening number is a knockout way to start the show. Some other scenes that especially shine: Locker Room Talk and Sherman Avenue Shuffle in Act I and Having a Good Time and Super in Act II.
As an added bonus, here is a short “cheat sheet” you can refer to before, during or after the show if needed.
- The Trevian is New Trier High School’s mascot.
- A few years ago there was a DJ who wore a marshmallow head and outfit while he worked queuing music; he was briefly popular.
- There are two male African Spurred tortoises who live at ETHS. (They are owned by the science department.)
History of YAMO
YAMO is “a musical sketch comedy revue” completely produced by students. Now in its 65th year, it is an opportunity to see two hours of ideas brought to life by a bunch of energetic, bright and diverse teens. Essentially, it’s a love fest, an affectionate tribute to the people and places that make Evanston and ETHS special.
The 17-member YAMO Governing Board 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 oversee and provide some guidance. It is essentially, however, student-driven.
The three adults who guide the YAMO students were all participants in YAMO when they were ETHS students.
Tim Herbert, ETHS theater teacher and YAMO faculty adviser, was the general director for YAMO in 1988. Herbert graduated from ETHS in 1989. Aaron Carney, the school’s theater technical director and an ETHS alum from 1990, is also a YAMO faculty adviser. Katrina Engel, ETHS ‘91, advises the dance portion of the show and teaches special education.
The students auditioned last May for spots on one of four “companies” (two for acting, one for dance and one for musicals). The names of the companies are Dancing, Acting, Impulse (acting) and Unexpected (musical). The writers worked all summer developing the scenes and script. Rehearsals started on Aug. 8. Revisions and refinements were still taking place during the dress rehearsal.
On Wednesday afternoon, a couple of hours before the dress rehearsal, The RoundTable spoke to two general directors, Ainslie Pratt and Eleanor Hutchinson, and one of the main writers, Lily Benjamin, all seniors in the process of applying to college.
“The show completely relies on collaboration,” Pratt said. “You just can’t do it alone.”
Hutchinson added, “But our board as a whole, we do everything. The set is completely built by students, all the painting and decorating. The lighting and sound is done by students in the crew, which is the technical company. Anyone can join that. You don’t need to audition. You just sign up and show up.”
Aside from the creative effort within each YAMO show, each cast member learns lessons in collaboration and communication. It’s a constantly changing, nerve-wracking environment that demands its participants be vulnerable on a stage in front of their peers, perhaps some family and many strangers.
“Being behind the scenes, and seeing the scenes on stage that you wrote and helped direct, is so scary,” said Benjamin, one of the two head writers. “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.” (Fear not, Lily. The show is funny.)
“The beauty of YAMO is everyone who is in it has probably wanted to be in it for a while, so they are going to come and they’re going to work,” Pratt added. “We are all working to make something that is all ours in our own unique way. And for a lot of us, the seniors, this will be the last huge theater thing we do, so it’s really meaningful in that way, too.”
Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at www.ethstheatre.com. Parking is available in the lot behind the school. Guests may enter through door No. 2. The Upstairs Theatre, located on the third floor, is accessible by elevator.