86 years of variety: A history of Varieties


Photo: Lyn Bryant/Iowa State Daily

Students perform a one-act play titled “Caught in a Pickle” in the semifinals of Varieties on Saturday in the Memorial Union’s Great Hall. The finals will take place on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25.

Jill O'Brien

This weekend, a variety of students will be showcasing their many talents at the Varieties semifinals in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

An Iowa State tradition for 86 years, Varieties brings together students from different communities on campus to perform in “mini musicals” or perform other talents, known as “vignettes,” as well as compete with their peers to move onto the final round of performances. Not only do student groups compete, but student emcees compete among one another while keep the jokes flowing throughout the night. The final round consists of four mini musical pairings, four vignettes and two emcees.

Varieties is not only rich in comedy and community but also rich in history. Here’s a timeline of when and how Varieties began at Iowa State, and how Student Union Board got involved with the show.

1931: A new program called Campus Varieties was established to provide free entertainment to students during the Great Depression. The shows were an hour and a half long and featured acts from all around campus as well as the city of Ames.

1935: After the program’s continued success, the Memorial Union Council decided to sponsor the event.

1943: The MU Council steered its support away from Campus Varieties in order to support the war effort.

1947: Student Union Board assumed the sponsorship of Campus Varieties. After SUB took over this role, many changes were made to the program.

1948: SUB made the 10-week series of performances a judged competition, and 10 weeks was reduced to five weeks in 1950. The five weeks had four different skits performed each week.

1951: The judging process changed again; instead of choosing a clear winner, the judges sent the top five skits to perform at Veishea in the annual Veisha Vaudeville event.

1960: After 10 years, the organization of the show changed, as one of the five nights was turned into the “finals night,” where performers would directly compete for the Sweepstakes trophy.

1963: Varieties took on its present form and has been the same ever since then. The show’s current form involves a preliminary round, consisting of three nights of three skits each, with three skits advancing to the final round.