"The stairs are chairs!"

Each year for the past three decades, Harris students come together for one hilarious evening to blow off steam at their teachers’, peers’, and school’s expense—all in good fun, of course. The night is called the Follies, and this year’s event poked fun at everything from the school’s brand new home, the Keller Center (“The stairs are chairs!”), to faculty and staff (from mean tweets to an undercover professor), to class and career pressure.

On Friday, February 1, Harris students, faculty, and staff gathered in the lobby of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts for a reception before heading into the theater for the main event. Nearly 20 skits, songs, and videos comprised the performance, each a big hit with the audience. That’s no surprise—the crowd could certainly relate to the jokes.

The evening opened with a “Bad Lip Reading” video of Dean Katherine Baicker, replacing her words with a silly voiceover. Students then sang an ode to their fearless Dean, listing out her accomplishments both related and unrelated to policy (did you know she’s a jewelry maker who’s pretty handy with a blowtorch?)

As the night progressed, skits included a Civil War-era soldier’s letter to his loved one, except instead of war, he faced a stats class (and tragically lost). Another highlight was “Harris Update,” a spoof on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” that shared parody news items about Harris life.

“Follies is one thing that brings the entire Harris community together in the dead of winter,” said second-year MPP Edward Chiu, who was on the Follies steering committee this year. “I think just getting a big group of people together, laughing about our daily lives here at Harris, I would say that’s the most important part.”

In one video, Austin Wright went undercover as a student, wearing a beard over his beard.

Harris offers one of the most rigorous public policy programs in the country, so the opportunity to collectively blow off steam is an important one. But Follies ends up being about more than poking fun; for the students involved in the process, it teaches valuable career and life skills that aren’t always front and center in the classroom.

“It’s definitely forced me to step outside of my comfort zone,” said Derek Hagaman, a second-year MPP on the Follies steering committee. “Especially this year in a leadership role, I’ve had to manage my time even more than I already do because Follies is a big production, and there are only five of us running it.”

Hagaman said working on Follies has also taught him a lot about communication. He and the rest of the steering committee had to coordinate with one another, 32 student performers, the venue, faculty, administrators, and more to pull the event together. Not to mention the communications skills required of him as a performer on stage. He said it has helped build his confidence in public speaking, which he’ll carry forward in his professional life.

Follies mainstay Fay Booker channeled her inner Hunger Games fan as she pitted students against each other for a job.

Follies taught second-year MPP Keira Kennedy a whole new hard skill: video production.

“Last year, I was really craving an opportunity to do something creative because a lot of our program at Harris is obviously super analytical,” Kennedy said. “I think participating in Follies definitely sparked a whole new interest for me in filmmaking. I did some digital production last year for one of the sketches, and that got me really excited. I learned a whole new program just for that; I decided to teach myself Adobe Premiere Pro.”

After that, Kennedy pursued an internship in film and media this past fall, and now she’s focusing on figuring out a way to blend digital storytelling with public policy.

“I think a lot of the skills I learned in making Follies are transferable to a career in policy analysis, filmmaking, and storytelling,” Kennedy continued. “I don’t know what that’s going to look like, exactly, but we’ll see.”

Each individual who participates in bringing Follies to life is able to use humor to tease out the ridiculous aspects of graduate school, and they learn transferable skills while they’re doing it. But maybe the best part about Follies is the way it strengthens the Harris community, provides an opportunity for new friendships, and places students, faculty, and staff in a different, and much more laid-back, context.

“Follies allows you to step back and realize that everyone’s human, and all the things that you think are ridiculous, other people think are ridiculous, too,” said second-year MPP and Follies steering committee member Kjersten Adams. “I think one of the main roles of Follies is it fills this spot of needing connection and having a space to just let it all out. You can make fun of things, and there’s a little truth to all of the things you’re making fun of. It’s just nice to recognize that other people see that, too.”

“Often, we’re really focused on problem sets and studying for exams. You get lost in your own world,” Chiu said. “But we all come together at Follies to laugh about the struggles we go through in everyday life here at Harris. Sharing that experience with a group of people with similar interests really makes my experience at Harris that much better.”

Learn more about the 2018 Follies.