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Preview Fri May 04 2012

Special K: A Variety Show that Makes Business Fun

by Andrew Daglas

Kelloggeddon.pngLet's face it: When you think of mirth, excitement, and song-and-dance numbers, you think of MBAs.

At least, that's the hope of the more than 80 Northwestern graduate students behind the comic variety show Special K! Produced and performed by matriculators at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, the revue hits the stage this week at the Norris University Center in Evanston. Nightly shows were from May 2-5, with two shows tonight. The assemblage of amusements -- including live-action and digital skits, song parodies, a short film, and a riff on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segment -- represents the culmination of months of extracurricular work.

So what's funny about business school? Plenty, according to second-year marketing major Chris Reynolds, one of the creative directors. He says the show mines humor from human relationships and heightened emotions, not accounting textbooks. Audiences who don't know their fixed assets from a hole in the ground can still relate to the tension of working with peers in close quarters, or of striking out on an uncertain career path.

"The stress of recruiting is very high. It's ridiculous how high it can be," says Reynolds, who also wrote and performs in several of the sketches. "What Special K! provides is an avenue to make fun of that, and relieve the stress of it. It's almost like a catharsis for the whole year."

While it may be funny, it's also business. Unlike other campus clubs and organizations, "Special K!" receives no university funding. Appropriately, its fate rests in the hands of the free market. So the organizers rely on two key rules of business: turn out a product people want, and use your connections.

The entire budget--this year, in the neighborhood of $50,000 -- is funded by ticket sales ($25, available at the window) and local business sponsorships. Leading contributors include Groupon, Bain & Company, United Airlines, and Mars, all companies with deep recruiting roots on the Kellogg campus. Every penny goes into the production, which Reynolds says typically breaks even on costs.

Pulling the show together is a year-long process, and nearly as extensive a time commitment as more prosaic concerns like classes or job-hunting. A board of directors begins laying the groundwork in the summer. They're jotting down potential jokes and observations before the school year even starts. They're constantly culling and refining material, then nurturing the cream of the crop into fully-formed scripts. In January, at the start of Kellogg's second term, the entire student body is invited to pitch additional ideas. Auditions are held shortly thereafter. Then come months of rehearsal for the two dozen performers who make the cut.

All that effort belies loftier ambitions than a mere school talent show. Reynolds says that audiences expecting a bunch of B-school bean counters will be surprised: "We have people who I think might make you say, 'what are you doing in business school?' They're so talented."

Those high standards stem from the program's history. After beginning life in 1980 as an SNL-inspired batch of sketches, "Special K!" quickly grew into a school tradition. Performances consistently sell out (two of this week's five already have), and the pressure to exceed expectations is high.

The short film included in last year's installment, for instance, featured a high-speed chase, an aerial escape, and a skydiving sequence -- all real, no green screen. That gives this year's cinematic centerpiece -- a "somewhat sci-fi" story called Protocol 37, shot with professional grade digital equipment--a lot to live up to, according to Reynolds. "Everyone says, 'wow, that skydiving movie!' So we have to think, how can we do that, and how can we do that better. When someone sets a high bar for you, you can't help but try that much harder."

For more information about the show, click here.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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