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Bob Vulfov: Varsity Show performer

“Wait, what exactly is the Varsity Show?” This was the reaction I got every time I mentioned one of Columbia University’s oldest traditions. For shame students! For shame!

Ok, climbing off my throne of lies and getting real now. Honestly, if you had asked me a few weeks ago what the Varsity Show was, my response probably would’ve been along the lines of “something that my friend Bob Vulfov is doing, and Bob’s the greatest!” Yes, shake your heads disapprovingly in my general direction because I was ignorant about this “institution of Ivy-entwined heritage, as much a part of Columbia as the Light Blue, Van Am, and Hamilton Hall” (thank you thevarsityshow.com for emphasizing my ignorance. I also had to look up Van Am, but that’s beside the point).

All I really knew was that it was a funny show and that someone put whipped cream all over Bob’s face when they told him he was in (I saw pics of this on Facebook).Then the promotional posters started appearing around campus and on Facebook (I get it Mark Zuckerberg. You’re taking over the world). I always respect a funny poster. I respect activities to which Bob devotes five days of his week, and I respect a show that Victoria Pollock, producer of Orchesis, runs off to rehearse for at 10 P.M. after three hours of dance rehearsal.

So I knew I needed to find out what was up. I began my intense research by Googling “the Varsity Show, Columbia”. After an arduous 0.19 second wait (thanks Google, I’m all about specifics), the first result led me to the Varsity Show website, and my ignorance was no more. Founded in 1894, the show has racked up some notable alums, including Oscar Hammerstein II (class of 1916) and Richard Rodgers (class of 1923). In fact, in his autobiography Rodgers acknowledged that the sole reason he attended Columbia was to write the show. (Take that Princeton!) Here’s a concise summary for those of you who plan to stop reading at the end of this paragraph: Calling the Varsity Show an undergraduate musical comedy and leaving it at that  is like calling the Bill of Rights a list, or saying that Socrates talked a lot.

Wow. I DARE you to stop reading now. Clearly, this show deserves more publicity than the Royal Wedding, so I called in the big guns: HerCampus, and set up an interview with the aforementioned Bob Vulfov.

If it sounds like I’m in love with Bob, it’s because I am, and so is pretty much everyone that talks to him (he’s going to kill me for writing this). A member of the improv comedy group Fruit Paunch since his freshman year, Mr. Vulfov (he’s Russian, but you have about as good a chance of getting him to speak his native language as you do of getting Columbia to end finals earlier than December 23) is pretty comfortable dazzling audiences with his comedic talents. 24 hours of improv will do that for you.

The Varsity Show, however, is not improv, and it’s no joke (well, it is a joke, but an extremely organized, rehearsed, and well-written joke), so I sat down with Bob to get a light-hearted perspective on the whole thing. It also allowed me to pretend we were on a date (a girl can dream), and to finally have a legitimate reason for using a tape recorder.
 
Morgan (Superstar Journalist): Customary general intro question: does anyone get naked in the show?
Bob: Well, we have a 12-sided coin that we’re gonna flip and whoever lands on their number is gonna get naked. No, well, it might involve the first nude scene of any Varsity Show, but I can’t really make promises about the plot.

M: How did you get involved with the Varsity Show?
B: So in my kind of “why Columbia?” blurb on my college application, I mentioned that the Varsity Show is a really cool tradition that I’d like to be involved in. I didn’t try to get involved in any way freshman year because I was too nervous, and I kinda felt guilty not even trying and having written it on my application. I thought that the college application gods would smite me if I didn’t audition, so I did this year (sophomore year) and luckily I got in.

M: How was the audition process?
B: In the first round of auditions you sing a song and you read two-page scripts for some part. Then callbacks are a lot more intense to see how you would work within the show environment. They call back a bunch of people, maybe like 60, and there were three sections – an improv and an acting section, a dancing section, and a singing section. We had to come in with a couple monologues that we had written about somebody on campus, just like a campus character, and we had to act in a scene as that character, and we had to read our monologue.

M: Sounds intimidating.
B: It was intimidating because I was kind of resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to get in. I was like, “well everybody here is just way too on top of their shit for me to even imagine being in it”. A good friend of mine is the composer, Eli Grober, he’s in Fruit Paunch with me, and he did his best to calm me down, but it was still really nerve-wracking. I only knew a couple people there.

M: Well, now we know that Fruit Paunch breeds Varsity Show stars. What’s the time commitment like?
B: As far as the rumors go about how much time it takes, all the rumors are true. It is a huge time commitment, but the people you’re doing it with are so talented and interesting that it really doesn’t feel like a work commitment. It feels like a 3-hour chunk of interacting with some of the coolest people on campus.
M: Sounds like every time I go to Butler…

M: So, what’s the cast dynamic like?
B: It’s fantastic. I’m not sure how it’s been in years past, but this year we’re all on the same page in every way, and it’s nice that we can actually choose to hang out with one another after rehearsals, and have it not be forced at all. Like we get out of rehearsal and the cast still really wants to see one another.

M: Speaking of that, what’s your policy on inter-office dating?
B: Um…[insert meaningful, must-be-investigated-at-a-later-date pause]…no comment.

M: How has it affected your academic life? (Bob is one of those nerds who actually does his computer genius homework.)
B: My grades have actually gotten surprisingly better because I know that I have this 3 or 4 hour chunk of time that will be directed somewhere else, so I find myself doing work a lot during the day. It’s actually doing wonders for my grades.

M: What’s been the hardest part of the experience?
B: The toughest part for me personally is definitely the dancing element of it because aside from a few stupid swing dancing classes that my mom made me take, I’m pretty incapable of movement to music. So that’s been tough, but we have a nice choreographer named Sarah Miller, who’s willing to work with us anytime.

M: How about the most fun part?
B: During the first stages of the show, there’s only a rough outline of the plot and characters, so how the process begins is with the creative team giving us prompts. You know, Character A and Character B are in John Jay. Improv a scene and see what happens. So, for someone who does improv that was definitely the most fun for me. It was fun to see them take a lot of the stuff that we did and put it into the show, so in that way it’s a really cool process.

M: What can fans expect?
B: They can expect a smart show that isn’t necessarily mean, but it pokes fun at Columbia in all the right places. It’s been a tough year for everyone, so I’m sure this will be a nice way to sit back and kinda laugh at ourselves. I think we need to do that.

M: That’s deep. Is it acceptable to make signs?
B: Signs?
M: Like Go Bob signs?
B: Yes, but I’d prefer it if you painted your body.

M: Careful what you wish for. Anyways, I read about a tradition called Turkey Day. You perform the show for the alumni so they can critique it. Can you tell me about that, and how it affected the show?
B: Yep, we do that every year. It always affects the show, in terms of the fact that it’s just nice to have a well-learned audience, people that have done it before, people that have written it before, acted in it before. There’s always gonna be healthy changes made, whether it’s just to tighten up the plot, or sometimes even to change the show completely. In our case it was just a matter of working out the confusing tidbits and making the plot more focused. It’s nice to have eyes and ears that have been through it telling you what to do. They also gave us advice like say goodbye to your girlfriends, and your other friends outside of the show.

M: What has your experience been with the “professional” aspect of the production?
B: It’s really noticeable. We have writers and composers. We have kids our age writing music and orchestrations for 10 different instruments, 12 different voices. That’s something I could never imagine myself doing. It’s really cool. We have a director who’s just so on top of her shit and keeps us so focused. It’s things that years ago I would have expected from like older adults working in the theater, but there’s people our age doing all this stuff, and it’s pretty amazing.

M: Are you excited?
B: I’m pumped. It’s gonna be great. I just can’t wait to see how it’s gonna be taken by the community. I’m sure people are gonna love it. It’s like High School Musical, but with better hair, and hotter bods! (OMG #ZacEfron)

M: So last year’s show was called Walk of Shame, are they gonna get more progressive this year and call it the Stride of Pride? 
B: Maybe. Or The Crawl of Regret. No I’m kidding, I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you the name.
M: So much for exclusive reporter access.

Then Bob spent 42 seconds (according to my fancy tape recorder) trying to adequately respond to my request for a pithy ending quote. At 43 seconds I suggested that he could email it to me, which he immediately agreed to. However, that wasn’t necessary because as we were saying our tearful (on my part…just kidding…kind of…whatever) goodbyes, he dropped an accidental ending on me.

“Just make the article fun and campy because that’s what it is, you know?” he said. “You don’t feel like you’re at Columbia when you’re seeing this show. Everyone’s just happy to be there, and you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.”

Someone’s been reading Tuesdays with Morrie. Now for those of you still reading, do you really wanna miss possible nudity, A-grade wit, and the chance to mock Columbia right before finals? Didn’t think so. Get over to TIC, and look for me in the audience with my body paint.

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