Scotch'n'Soda is a student-run theatre organization that resides on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University. Its initial dedication was the creation and production of original musicals, but due to declining student interest in writing musicals over the past decade, it has taken to performing both professionally published and student-written materials. Students are welcome to write, compose, design, direct, perform in, and otherwise become involved with every aspect of each production. The organization is open to all Carnegie Mellon students from all backgrounds who are interested except Drama Majors, due to restrictions from faculty, and all performances are public with varying ticket prices.
Scotch'n'Soda Theatre is the nation's second oldest student theater group, and is one of the oldest and largest student organizations at Carnegie Mellon University. It was founded in the fall of 1907 as The White Friars Club, providing a theatrical outlet for the students of the Carnegie Technical Schools. Their first production, in the spring of 1908, was entitled "All in a Dormitory" and gave a comical look at life on campus. The White Friars Club was short-lived, as student theater went on hiatus during World War I. It wasn't until 1932 when a student theater group called The Bacchanalians formed to produce a musical for Carnegie Tech's Spring Carnival.
The organization took its current name in 1937 during a vote by the membership. Unconfirmed rumor has it that the name with the most votes was Hop'n'Scotch, but the leaders of the organization fixed the vote so that Scotch'n'Soda came out victorious. In any case, the newly named student-run theater troupe founded by three drama majors began producing original full-length musicals for Spring Carnival. With the exception of a five-year break from 1942 to 1946 for World War II, Scotch'n'Soda has been producing musicals for Carnival continuously to the present.
In the 1960s, Scotch'n'Soda began expanding its season by producing shows for Homecoming. While still heavily populated by drama majors, or "dramats," S'n'S provided a theatrical outlet to students of all disciplines, allowing for high degrees of collaboration on original works. Certainly the most notable of these original works from the 60s was the musical "Pippin, Pippin" by drama student Stephen Schwartz, produced for Carnival 1967. This show was produced on Broadway just five years later in 1972 under the shortened title "Pippin", and was directed and choreographed by the famed Bob Fosse.
S'n'S continued to grow in the 1970s, winning two Broadcast Music, Inc. awards for Outstanding Variety Show. In a major blow to the membership, the School of Drama forbade acting majors from participating in Scotch'n'Soda productions starting in 1976. Despite the fact that they were the founding and most numerous members, the remaining membership decided to press on with completely student-run, non-major theater.
Not satisfied with only doing musicals for Homecoming and Carnival, Scotch'n'Soda introduced the campus' first long-form improvisational comedy production in 1988. This began a 20-year period of growth and change for the organization. In the early 1990s, they expanded to a three-production season. In 1993, a subsidiary group that existed for one year called Club Soda formed, which taught new skills to the diverse membership. This led to more submissions of both student and professionally written plays, and in 1994 the theater company began regular theater "seasons" of three shows plus the Spring Carnival Musical. In 1996, another subsidiary troupe formed, The No Parking Players, Carnegie Mellon's first improv comedy group. In 1998, Scotch 'n Soda expanded to a permanent five-production season.
Today, Scotch'n'Soda proudly produces six to seven shows each season, ranging from full-scale musicals to intimate black box plays, performing in a variety of spaces in the University Center and elsewhere on campus. With a strongly committed and talented membership spanning all six of Carnegie Mellon's undergraduate colleges and representing over 30 different majors, Scotch'n'Soda is growing still and is well poised to continue providing student-run theater to the Carnegie Mellon campus community for years to come.
Scotch'n'Soda is governed by a board of nine directors . Each position of the board is elected annually by the general membership. These positions (along with the current students who occupy them) include:President (Ryan LaPré)
Vice President (Grace Lazos)
Artistic Director (Maggie Davis)
Managing Director (Keaton Shapiro)
Technical Coordinator (Michael Wagner)
Secretary (Alexandra Halberstadt)
Public Relations Coordinator (Caroline Hermans)
General Membership Coordinator (Heather Graci)
Executive Board Member (Emily Broude)
These nine students work to contribute and act as executive producers to each production. They also hold weekly meetings to discuss all issues related to the organization and hold responsibility for selecting material for production. They are assisted by 12 auxiliary board members who handle various facets of the organization and include the webmaster, historian, costumes/makeup head and various liaisons to the subsidiary troupes within the organization. All auxiliary board members are represented at Board Meetings by the Vice President.
Scotch'n'Soda welcomes scripts presented from any student on Carnegie Mellon's campus, though it does not have to be student-written. Playwrights who are not Carnegie Mellon students may submit their own material as long as it is submitted through a current CMU student. All scripts must be approved by the board, who examine each script and approve those that appeal to the community and membership, and are technically feasible. After scripts are approved, all Carnegie Mellon students are welcome to submit a Director's Proposal to the Scotch'n'Soda board. In a publicly held meeting, directors present their proposals to the board. The meeting is then closed to the public as the board selects a specific show for production. Several weeks into production, a Board Preview performance is held—which includes an open rehearsal of the show, as well as reports from all members of the technical staff on the production. It is at this Board Preview that final approval must be given to a show before it may begin performances.
Scotch'n'Soda is funded by a specific allocation of a student activities fee paid by all students and distributed by Carnegie Mellon's Joint Funding Committee. Scotch'n'Soda does not profit from its productions, nor does any member receive payment for services.
Originally, Scotch'n'Soda presented all its performances in Pittsburgh's Carnegie Music Hall, located less than one mile from the school's campus. Eventually, due to rental fees and time commitments, Scotch'n'Soda had to leave the large performance hall and was transplanted into the Carnegie Mellon gym. This was soon followed by a move into a specially constructed stage in Skibo Ballroom, part of the Skibo University Center on Carnegie Mellon's campus. In the summer of 1994, this building was torn down to make room for the school's current University Center. During the two years of construction, Scotch'n'Soda was completely homeless and performed in various lecture halls, the drill deck of the old student center and off campus at Temple Rodef Shalom.
Upon the completion of CMU's University Center, Scotch'n'Soda has been alternating performance spaces throughout the building including: The Connan Room, The McKenna/Peter/Wright Room, Rangos Ballroom, and McConomy Auditorium. This has proven difficult for the organization to this day, as access to the performance spaces is very limited, and in most cases they can only use each performance space for a maximum of seven consecutive days (Spring Carnival performances in 1997–99 were able to reserve Rangos hall for two weeks). This limited amount of time includes load-in, rehearsals, performances and strike. In fact, unable to find a suitable venue, the May 2001 production of Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" was performed outside in the Highlander Compass.
Some other venues have been used in recent years, including Porter Hall 100, Porter Hall 125C and the Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theatre (in the Purnell Center). As of Fall 2016, most performances are held in the Cohon University Center Studio Theater, a black box theater constructed as part of the University Center expansion and opened in 2016.
Founded in 1996, the No Parking Players is Scotch'n'Soda Theatre's improv troupe. NPP practices improvised theatre of all kinds, with a focus on the comedic long form. At the core of the NPP experience are the weekly workshops, open to the entire campus community. People of all experience levels are welcome, including those who have never tried improv before. Most workshops are composed of regulars and newcomers side-by-side. The No Parking Players performance group also has regular shows, featuring a mix of improv games, storytelling, and audience participation. In 2009, the troupe began offering a class on comedic improv for free elective credit via Carnegie Mellon's Student College.
Founded during the 2012–13 academic year, Tisbert is Scotch'n'Soda's sketch comedy group. A combination of student and professionally written sketches, Tisbert presents one show a semester. Tisbert is audition-only and open to any member of the Carnegie Mellon Community. A trademark of the notoriously secretive troupe is the hashtag #whatistisbert, alluding to the unknown origins of the name.
Workshopping embraces the ideals of the early years of Scotch'n'Soda, facilitating the creation of new original works by its members. The subtroupe provides members with the tools they need to get from idea to script, and hosts readings, stagings, and productions of work by current and former members of Scotch'n'Soda.
Scotch'n'Soda is currently developing an Alumni Clan, which is devoted to keeping all past members of the organization in touch and organizing reunion events. It also presents the Buzz Blair Award for the Performing Arts, named after founding member Leonard 'Buzz' Blair, and given annually during Carnegie Mellon's homecoming festivities.
Numerous renowned figures in the performing arts started with Scotch'n'Soda. Two of the most acclaimed are the playwrights John-Michael Tebelak, author of Godspell, and Roger O. Hirson, author of Pippin. Other performing arts alumni include:Jerry Adler
Iris Rainer Dart — Novelist
Barbara Feldon — Actress/model
Herb Gardner — Artist/playwright
Frank Gorshin — Actor/comedian
Javier Grillo-Marxuach — Emmy-winning TV writer & producer
Stephen Schwartz — Composer/lyricist
Michael Patrick Walker — Composer/lyricist