On the Campus - October 20, 1999
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the freshman week Triangle Club show!
Tradition and toilet paper take wing at Richardson Auditorium
by Katherine Zoepf '00
Take your seat for the Princeton Triangle Club's annual freshman week show, and you'll be immediately struck . . . and probably by a paper airplane. Fold up your own program, and throw one back, or wad it up and try to aim it at the Triangle insignia in the middle of the stage. Make a LOT of noise. Ignore every bit of theater etiquette you've ever learned.
Congratulations. You've just become part of one of Princeton's oldest traditions.
"How a Triangle show ever got off was a mystery, but it was a riotous mystery," F. Scott Fitzgerald '17 once wrote.
In some ways, not much has changed in eight decades. A Triangle show is still something of a mystery, and it's one into which hundreds of freshmen are inducted each year.
You see them in long lines outside Richardson Auditorium at the end of frosh week every year, not knowing what to expect, or not expecting much. Most have been told they "should" go to the Triangle show, not a very inspiring idea after a week of mandatory orientation sessions and required lectures. But entering Richardson Auditorium, where this year's frosh week show was held, boredom quickly changes to disbelief.
For there are certain things expected of you at a Triangle show, and a freshman has no choice but to learn by imitation.
You yell. You scream. You hurl your program over the balcony, or onto the stage. You heckle the actors. You join in the songs. It's ritualized mayhem, and most freshmen catch on pretty fast.
"It was just crazy," Jerry Parker '03 recalls. "Everyone was throwing stuff around. I'd heard a bit about what it was like, but I wasn't really expecting anything like that. There were people standing by the programs as we came in, telling us to grab lots of them, because we'd need them to throw around."
"It seems very strange, at first, in such a beautiful building, to be acting like that," Parker adds. "And yet the antics beforehand are completely appropriate considering the show that follows."
The show that follows is a combination of skits and songs, some very old, some culled from recent original Triangle shows, and all performed with a kind of loud vaudevillian gusto that is sometimes jarring, and usually hilarious. The old favorites frequently involve a call-and-response with the audience, which freshmen must learn as the show proceeds.
"Traditionally, more recent Triangle alumni would come to the frosh week show, and yell out things during the show in an effort to throw off the performers," noted Triangle Club's current president, Katie Oman '00, reflecting on the origins of the traditional call-and-response. "Some of the lines might have come from rehearsals ("turn, nod, nod, nod, turn"); others ("Save the beer!") might have evolved from things that happened during performances.
"Now," Oman adds, "it's become a sort of university-wide tradition."
"It's a hoot!" says Triangle Club Graduate Treasurer W. W. Lockwood '59. "The only thing that comes close is The Rocky Horror Picture Show." "When I walked in freshman year, I didn't like it at all," Jeremy Weissman '01 reflected on his first frosh week show. "It seemed like such disrespectful behavior somehow. And I didn't really understand. There's always that little coterie of upperclassmen-probably the ones who got it least their freshman year-who know exactly what to respond, and when.
"But this year, walking in to see everyone hurling rolls of toilet paper and wadded-up programs, I think I understood for the first time what tradition means," Weissman added. "I understood what it was to be part of something that is ultimately foolish, but makes sense because it is passed down from class to class and from year to year."
Near the end comes the one absolute fixture of any Triangle show, the all-male kickline, now in its 100th year. The first such kickline appeared in a A Woodland Wedding, Triangle Club's 1899 show.
"It's still a very strange thing to be part of. . . . The freshmen are sometimes a little weirded out by the kickline," notes Triangle Club vice-president and kickline-member Josh Boak '01. "They know it's coming, because they've read about it. And once they've seen it, they're still definitely glad they chose Princeton."
"Like the Triangle show as a whole," adds Boak. "It satirizes Princeton, yet at the same time creates a sort of fervor for the place."
Trash TV for Tigers
Dawson's Creek is a secret hit among undergraduates
by Emily D. Johnson '01
illustration by Chris Brooks '97
Eight o'clock, Wednesday of Reading Period, a combined five papers still to write, my roommate and I had our priorities in order: we were trying to find a television to watch Dawson's Creek. Some of you (those living among the Amish) may not have heard of Dawson's Creek. Brief explanation: several attractive and sexually charged twentysomethings play 15-year-olds dealing with the deep issues of life and love and generally using dialogue more appropriate to SAT prep classes than to teenagers.
So of course we had to watch it. In our frantic search we tried the basement TV of Laurie-Love-not functioning. Then my old roommate's room-no cable. Finally we hit the basement of Wu Hall, where a guy was settled in front of the big screen. With bated breath we asked what he was watching.
"Uhh, I think it might be Dawson's Creek," he said haltingly. "I don't really know, I'm just killing time."
It soon became obvious that Mike's Dawson Creek watching was not an isolated incident. Since I'm not a regular watcher, I had to ask our new pal a little bit about the plot (Dawson and his schoolmates were dealing with the aftermath of very nasty girl's drowning on last week's episode). At first he brightly rattled on about the characters, but then he caught himself, and, turning red, he trailed off: "Uh, I mean, I'm not sure, but I think that Joey, you know, likes Dawson or something."
Mike is not alone in his D.C. habit. I asked a geology friend if she wanted to work on the week's problem set together. "Well sure!" she said. "Right after Dawson's Creek." Cloister Inn devotes each Wednesday night to watching Dawson's Creek en masse. A couple of weeks ago I watched it in "The Zoo," a suite in Wilson college of 10 very large varsity athletes, most of whom gathered around to watch Dawson and Joey deal with the issue of sex. They were enthralled, involved, and vocal. "What's the big deal?" says one. "I don't think they're going to do it," says another "I think Dawson should go out with Jen again," says a third.
DAWSON VS. DESCARTES
You might be thinking that Princeton students are lacking the eruditic profundity they had in the good old days and are now wasting their time with silly TV shows. But hey, not only do Dawson characters expound on the meaning of life more than Descartes, we college kids need some time just to relax. We are stressed out people. We have to read things like Dickens, Tacitus, and my personal favorite, TheCompressibility of Sodalite and Scapolite from the American Mineralogist. We have to write 30-page papers with one-sentence thesis statements, memorize rules named after famous dead mathematicians, and do it all on four hours of sleep a night.
That makes Dawson's problems (aspiring but talentless filmmaker in love with his best female friend) seem easier to deal with than our own and MUCH more interesting. Dawson's Creek has fast-paced action, virtual intrigues, and most importantly no paper due at the end. There is no deeper meaning, no commitment, and no pressure to absorb the main ideas. We just watch.
Trashy TV is fun and entertaining, and I wish I had time for more of it. At home I watch at least two hours a night, which is probably two too many, but after a long day of heavy thinking there is no better way to unwind than by watching Dawson deal with his parents' imminent divorce, or Jen flirt, or Andie reform the wayward Pacey with her love.
Dawson's Creek is simple to understand and fun to watch. It's unrealistic, its silly, and its fascinating.
It's also eight o'clock. I've got to find a TV.
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