What happens when you cram tons of highly intelligent, enthusiastic, hardworking students into one place and try to transform them through four years of rigour and sleep deprivation into successful engineers?
Even non-engineers should know that such a person requires some sort of outlet, and for the cast of Skule Nite, it’s a musical comedy revue. Logic should follow that overloading these diligent students with even more classes and depriving them of even more sleep can turn them into a world famous musical sketch comedy revue. At least, that is what Skule Nite hopes will happen when they compete in this year’s Toronto Sketch Comedy festival.
Ever since their first variety show performance at Massey Hall in 1921, Skule Nite has been dazzling audiences with their witty scenes and zany musical numbers. Featured every March at Hart House, the group’s annual show has become a mainstay of the university’s theatre scene and plays to packed houses every year. According to group member Jonathan Sun, Skule Nite’s brand of comedy “is made up of short scenes touching on a variety of different subjects that don’t necessarily have to do with one another. Just think Saturday Night Live.”
He adds that unlike many other comedy groups, Skule Nite members do not generate their material through improvisation, but plan and write it ahead of time. “Since we’re associated with the Faculty of Engineering, we do include some engineering jokes in our routines, but we try to make sure that they are suitable for a general audience.”
Group member Hasan Alkabeer adds, “At least 70 per cent of our material has to do with other topics: politics, pop culture, anything really. We want to be accessible to everyone.” For example, one of last year’s sketches featured “Four Years to Save the World,” a song that parodied Barack Obama using the Madonna hit “Four Minutes.”
Engineering students find themselves joining Skule Nite through a variety of paths. Elissa Caccavella, a fourth-year chemical engineering student and assistant director of this year’s March show, recounts, “In my first year here I went to see the show and could not pass up the chance to audition. I’ve always been a dancer, so I appreciated the incorporation of musical theatre elements into the show. It’s a good way to meet new people and engage with the wider community. It’s also a nice break from school.”
Not all Skule Nite members are engineering students. A friend introduced Gete Berhe, who studies human biology, to the group. “I auditioned because a friend who studies engineering needed someone to audition with. I got in, and since then, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with Skule Nite,” she said.
Nina Mason, who recently graduated from U of T’s Drama department and is now training to become a Montessori teacher, appreciates the laid-back atmosphere of the group. “This is much less formal than the kind of work I’m used to,” she says. “It’s more casual and participants have a more direct impact on the creative process. In the drama department I did various kinds of classical and contemporary theatre and I liked that. However, with Skule Nite I get to do something completely different.”
Building on the success that they have enjoyed over the years, Skule Nite members decided to expand their scope by entering Sketch Fest, an annual competition for sketch comedy groups from across Canada and the United States. According to group member Peter Raimondo, “Of about 120 entries from across Canada and the U.S., 48—including Skule Nite—were selected. We are very excited about this.” Sketch Fest will allow Skule Nite to perform alongside such well-established professional groups as Toronto Second City. Prizes include a range of cash awards, free workshops, and further performance opportunities.
One of the many hilarious sketches to be featured in the performances is entitled “Coming Soon,” and tells the story of three roommates, one of whom has recently started a job doing voice-overs for film previews. Perhaps overzealous in his career, he has begun to narrate all aspects of his daily life as voice-overs, and his omniscient insight into his surroundings soon leads him to reveal his two roommates’ dirtiest secrets, to his own advantage.
This year’s festival features three other groups that have attended U of T: Statutory Jape, The Boom, and Shoeless. But let’s see how far Skule Nite can go while they continue to spend their days in class.
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival runs November 10 to 15 at The Second City and other venues. For more information, visit torontosketchfest.com.