Keenan Revue celebrates 40 years
Kayla Mullen | Friday, February 12, 2016
Since its inception 40 years ago, the Keenan Revue has been performed in three different locations, kicked off Saint Mary’s campus, shamed various times in The Observer Viewpoint section and, despite all, endured as a campus tradition. Started in 1976 by two Keenan Hall RAs, Thomas Lenz and Richard Thomas, class of 1977, as an alternative activity to the drinking culture on campus, the “New Keenan Revue” opened Nov. 6 in Washington Hall.
“It began junior year when Rick and I were in Keenan Hall — there was a real tragedy for the hall,” Lenz said. “One of our classmates — he was hit by a car coming back from Michigan after having been at a bar. It was one of those really shocking and sobering moments for our dorm, to really consider the role that alcohol played at a lot of social events and in the dorm’s life.
“That was kind of the context for people saying, ‘Okay, so getting wasted every weekend is one thing to do, but what else could the dorm do that would contribute to the growth of the dorm spirit and to the health of the community?’”
Over the summer, Lenz, a member of the Glee Club, and Thomas, who had participated in theatre in high school, began discussing the idea of holding a hall-wide variety show, Lenz said.
“We had done a ‘Mr. Keenan’ contest the year before, so the idea wasn’t completely foreign,” Lenz said. “We said, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’ and … after we got the approval, one of the key things was, as RAs, our job was to talk to people, to get to really know the guys in your section, to have a feel for the dorm, so we had a hunch that there would be some talent and people who would be interested in this, but, candidly, the scale and the quality of the people who participated was way, way above anything we had expected.”
In contrast to the more recent Revues, the first Revue was mostly a variety show, Lenz said.
“We had all kinds of acts — we had a guy who was a juggler, someone read poetry, we had a guy who did a violin solo,” Lenz said. “In its initial conception, it was really a form for all kinds of talent — musical and dramatic talent in the dorm.”
Lenz and Thomas held auditions for performers and were surprised by the talent in the dorm, Lenz said. However, the most surprising talents were not on stage, Lenz said.
“The other thing that was kind of unanticipated was the other kind of talent in the dorm — people that designed the sets, people that did the publicity … We even had a pit orchestra,” Lenz said. “A whole set of people just emerged that gave it kind of a polish that we had not anticipated. It morphed from being kind of ‘Oh, this’ll be kind of fun, kind of funny,’ to kind of looking like a real production.
“By the time we had the opening, we knew that it was going to be good but it was just really good. It just blew everyone away — us included — and so part of the lore is that there was so much demand that we ended up producing it a second time in the subsequent week because there were so many people who couldn’t get tickets.”
In 1979, there was fear the Revue would be unable to proceed as planned due to “electrical wiring changes” in Washington Hall, according to an Observer article.
“Donald Dedrick, director of the Physical Plant, stated that his staff is ‘installing a portable dimmer board for a functioning lighting system.’ Therefore, the wiring changes will not be interfering with the Revue and will be completed by Dec. 1, he said,” the article stated.
However, in 1980, the Revue moved to O’Laughlin Auditorium on Saint Mary’s campus due to a lack of space in Washington Hall, according to an Observer article.
The 1983 Revue was the first Revue to break even in terms of finances, and the 1984 Revue was the first Revue to be available on video tape, according to a 1984 Observer article.
“The show is designed to bring together the talents and efforts of the hall members,” Randy Fahs, class of 1984 said in the article. “It is as fun for them as it for the audience. It must never become a ‘job’ for its participants, and it must remain free of charge. It is Keenan’s gift to the community, and it should never be used as a money-maker.”
Heeding this advice, Hall Presidents’ Council subsidized the Revue in 1986. However, 1991 marked the beginnings of Saint Mary’s split with the Revue, according to a 1991 Observer article.
“The staging of the Keenan Revue was also discussed. Saint Mary’s students expressed disgust at the large amount of Saint Mary’s ‘bashing’ that took place at the Keenan Revue, which ironically took place on Saint Mary’s campus,” the article read. “‘We should not allow the putting down of SMC on our own campus,’ said Melissa Whelan.”
In 1996, Keenan invited the Saint Mary’s student body president and senate representative to preview the Revue at its dress rehearsal, according to an Observer article.
“The discussion is not censorship,” Saint Mary’s student body president at the time, Sarah Sullivan, said in the article. “It’s just a forewarning. I want to make sure no personal attacks are made.”
Notre Dame female students also felt that the Revue was derogatory towards women, according to a 1999 Observer article.
“I went my freshmen year [to the Revue] and left in the middle because I found it offensive to myself and other groups that were targeted, even though I might not have been a part of these groups,” president of the Feminist Collective Kelly Curtis said in the article. “I’m not against humor and parody jokes in which everyone is included and can laugh about, but there is a sharp difference between that and what the Keenan Revue is.”
In 2000, Saint Mary’s Board of Governance voted to allow the Revue to remain on Saint Mary’s campus.
By 2004, controversy surrounding the Revue was so charged that the Observer Editorial Board weighed in on the issue, urging students to “lighten up on the Keenan Revue.”
“Their material focuses on aspects considered integral to Notre Dame and mocked groups should feel more honored than insulted,” the Jan. 30, 2004 editorial read. “It’s good-natured banter, highlighting and teasing elements of the Notre Dame community. It’s Saturday Night Live, South Bend-style.”
The show continued to be held on Saint Mary’s campus until Feb. 18, 2010, when Saint Mary’s administrators voted that the Revue was “incongruent” with the mission of the College, according to an Observer article.
“The Cabinet finds the sexual nature of the skits as well as the inappropriate references to women to be incongruent with Saint Mary’s College mission and values,” vice president of College relations Shari Rodriguez said in the Feb. 18 article. “Saint Mary’s College strives to treat all individuals with dignity and respect.”
In 2011, the Revue moved to Stepan Center, where it continues to be held to this day. Despite its controversies, the Revue remains a well-loved tradition on campus, Thomas said.
“I think the Revue filled a need – we were a big hit on campus that first year, so I’m not surprised it was continued,” Thomas said. “That first year, the underclassmen were talking about doing it again already because everyone felt that community, the community spirit it brought, so they wanted to keep doing it.”
This year’s Revue incorporates aspects of Revues from the past but also includes new content, senior producer of the Revue Ryan Rizzuto said.
“[The show’s director] and I started our time as director and producer by watching the Revues from the past,” Rizzuto said. “We also looked through old programs to see what we wanted to bring back – obviously, with our show’s title ‘The New Keenan Revue: The 40 Year Old Version,’ we wanted to call back the first Revue from 1976.
“Rick Thomas and Tom Lenz will be giving a short speech at the Friday show and we, for the first time ever, are bringing back a skit from the past for the Saturday show.”
Of the 64 skits pitched this year, 21 were selected to be featured in the show, Rizzuto said. As for the slightly checkered past of the Revue, Rizzuto said that will continue.
“The Revue’s slightly controversial nature is exactly why it’s remained such a prominent University tradition,” Rizzuto said. “The beautiful thing about writing comedy is what you can say with it. It can turn a mirror on the student body and the administration and make people listen to arguments that they’d normally tune out.
“We all love calling [Breen-Phillips] fat and reminding Carroll that they’re far away, but those jokes do not challenge anything,” he said. “The Revue is truly itself and is truly great when we are pushing boundaries and whenever you are pushing boundaries, you are being controversial to someone.
“We want people to come and laugh at our BP, Carroll and Zahm jokes, but when we have a skit addressing issues like race, gender, or socioeconomic status and how they are dealt with on campus, that’s when we’re being the right kind of controversial.”
Thomas said the tradition of Notre Dame is what has carried the Revue all these years.
“Notre Dame is very tradition-oriented, and I’m not surprised that it continued because of the drive and the talent of the people who go to Notre Dame,” Thomas said. “Once this thing had traction and there was a foundation for it — it really doesn’t surprise me that it’s been going for 40 years.”