My informant describes himself as a “theater kid” in high school. He told me the rituals he and the other cast members go through before every show they perform. He said that the male and female members of the cast start out separately, and that they have slightly different traditions. This is his description:
“I obviously don’t know all that much about what the girls do before a show, because it’s kept secret. I do know they listen to… What is that 90s song? Oh, it’s ‘If You Wanna Be My Lover’ by the Spice Girls. And they listen to that and dance around, and I don’t really know what else they do. But the boys… There is a knife that has been kept up in the suspended ceiling of the boys dressing room for several years know, and we use the same knife to cut up lemons every show. And then we listen to Bohemian Rhapsody, and jump around and are crazy, and everyone eats a slice of lemon and throws it in the urinal. I don’t know who started the lemon tradition, but I know that the senior class that was there when I was a freshman… it had already been there for a few years when they were freshmen. So that’s about ten years now. So after the lemon eating, they do a stupid chant. It’s really sexist and terrible, so I don’t think I should repeat it. I actually didn’t participate in it for awhile because I was like, ‘This is stupid.’ And then the girls came up with their own rival chant, so now I participate because sexism is fine as long as it’s an eye for an eye? Right? No. Whatever, anyway… We yell this chant in the dressing room, and because the girls and boys dressing rooms are right next to each other, we like, will have battles between the girls and the guys to see who can be louder, which is usually the guys. And then everyone gets together and we get in a circle, and we pass a pulse around by squeezing each others’ hands in a circle. And we do a big a chant together which is not sexist and is just weird, which is, ‘Everybody, have fun tonight! Everybody, wang chung tonight! And in the honor of Kristin Wendel, let’s kick some ass!’ Kristin Wendel went to my high school several years ago. She was a very quiet girl who yelled, ‘Let’s kick some ass tonight!’ before her last show of her senior year. Anyway, another thing we do is, if you haven’t yet performed in our auditorium, we make you kiss the stage. It’s very low-key hazing, basically.”
This is a tradition that initially creates purposeful rivalry, but it ultimately ends by unifying the students. The chants the cast members yell divides them by gender, and they compete against each other to see who is louder. Furthermore, the nature of the chants is apparently quite sexist. Despite these divisive aspects, my informant says these traditions bring the cast together. They also pump up their energy and get them all excited to perform. They convert all their nervous anxiety into positive exhilaration. Another function of these customs is to remember and pay homage to those who came before them, such as Kristen Wendel. The fact that they repeat these same rituals before every show means that they keep the customs that had been in place for years alive. In this way, they are connecting their past to their present. By teaching these things to younger members of the cast, they also ensure that they are building connections to the future. Each student likely hopes to leave some kind of legacy, and for a few of them, a part of that will be the new variations they make on the pre-show rituals.