After 80 years, low participation leaves future of Varieties unclear

Sorority and fraternity members perform their musical “A Trip Down Memory Lane.” The 2019 Varieties semi-finals day one took place in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union on Feb. 8. Varieties showcases performances from students and Greek pairings.

Averi Baudler

For over 80 years, Iowa State students adorned in flashy costumes have taken on alter egos while also flexing their talents on stage each winter. With declining participation, it’s uncertain if this tradition will have the legs to continue. 

Many current students and alumnae can’t imagine Iowa State without the theatrics that accompany the annual Varieties competition. This spectacle brings in large audiences consisting of peers, family members and members of the community, all who flock to the Memorial Union year after year for a few nights of entertainment.

As students continue to get busier and participation declines, however, the fate of Varieties seems less certain than ever.  

Kate Price, a senior in marketing and advertising, decided to fill the position of Varieties director after the previously appointed director chose to step down. Price, who works mainly behind the scenes, has only performed in Varieties once, during her freshman year.

“I do a lot of the dividing up tasks for the committee to make sure everything is going as it should,” Price said. “If there’s any big decisions, like with this year there only being five pairings instead of six, deciding what we were going to do was a part of my role as well.”

This year marks the first in recent Varieties history where there has not been enough participants to eliminate performances between the semi-finals and finals. Usually, at least two pairings have been cut after the first performance and the remaining four move on to compete in finals.

Though dwindling participation is seen as a problem, it does not come as a surprise to Price and her fellow members of the Varieties committee.

“Varieties is changing and there are a lot of things that are changing in the greek community, which is a huge driving force in Varieties participation,” Price said. “[The Varieties committee] knew it was coming and it is heartbreaking because we love Varieties for the tradition behind it and how long it’s been at Iowa State and how unique it is, but smaller participation wasn’t a huge shocker.”

Julia Kusy, junior in elementary education, decided to take on the role of co-chair for her sorority’s pairing after performing in a skit as a freshman and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

“As a co-chair I work with nine other co-chairs to come up with the show and the script and the song lyrics and everything that goes into making the show possible,” Kusy said. “The time commitment as a co-chair is a lot larger because of how much goes into our 20-minute skit.”

After having experienced Varieties on both the performance and creative sides, Kusy said she believes the biggest deterrent for student participation is the amount of time and effort that goes into the mini-musical for what some see as little reward.

“I think the reason why Varieties seems to have less greek participation in comparison to Yell Like Hell and Lip Sync is because it doesn’t go towards anything,” Kusy said. “Yell Like Hell goes towards Homecoming and Lip Sync goes towards Greek Week, so people have more of an incentive to participate and watch their chapter do well.”

Kusy said in addition she believes the amount of work and talent required to do well can be intimidating to some greek chapters and their members.

“It’s a lot of work and there’s only so many fraternities and sororities who are willing to put in the work to participate,” Kusy said. “It’s your real voice singing and you’re dancing and acting. Yell Like Hell you can get away with just jumping around and yelling things whereas I think Varieties is a little more talent-based and it’s more of show than it is just a competition.”

The time commitment of Varieties is also what many students cite as the reason why they decide to opt out of the performance. The season stretches nearly four months, from late October to late February, and overlaps with both Yell Like Hell and Lip Sync practices.

Allison Buckert, sophomore in kinesiology and health, chose not to participate in Varieties this year after performing with a pairing as a freshman. Buckert said though she enjoyed it, she simply could not work the six hours of rehearsal a week into her growing course load.

“My academic obligations got a little heavier this year and I also decided to get a job on top of that,” Buckert said. “Varieties is such a long season and I just didn’t think I would have time if I wanted to be successful in school and in my new job.”

Though she will not be seen on stage this year, Buckert said she still believes Varieties is a crucial part of Iowa State’s traditions that deserves to stay on campus.

“Yell Like Hell is kind of like cheerleading, Lip Sync is more for dancers and Varieties is for people who have singing and acting ability and enjoy theater,” Buckert said. “They should be able to showcase their talents just like anyone else.”

Even as participation declines for a multitude of reasons, Price and the rest of the Varieties committee are confident Varieties is a tradition that will manage to persevere for years to come.

“There’s a fear every year of ‘how are we going to get people to participate?’ but it pulls together every year,” Price said. “Varieties pulls on everyone’s heartstrings because of how long it’s been happening, and though it may have to change and adapt to keep up with student interest, it’s a tradition that I think will really continue on.”