When the lights go down and the curtains rise at the Beacon Theater on Monday night, it will be time for the freshman class of 2017 to experience the Reality Show — a 70-minute performance that captures the joys and traumas of college life through song, dance and comedy.
Now in its eighth year as an NYU-run performance, the Reality Show is commonly viewed as the highlight of Welcome Week. The show kicks off this year at 2 p.m. on Aug. 26 with a welcome from NYU President John Sexton.
“It was hands down the most memorable thing I went to all week,” said Gerianne Perez, a 2013 Tisch graduate and cast member of this year’s show. “As a freshman, I remember everything seemed so big. Big stage, big school, big city. The bigness of the show and the impact it had on me really inspired me to be a part of it.”
Putting together a performance of this magnitude takes months of work and rehearsing. The cast is selected in April through two rounds of group auditions that whittle down a selection pool of over 100 to a final list of 15 cast members. Rehearsals begin in early June, three to four hours a day, five days a week.
“We have a very organized and grueling process,” said Preston Martin, one of the directors. “It’s difficult work and you really have to throw yourself into it.”
“We expect certain topics to be addressed every year, but the cast decides how to portray these issues in a way that will touch their peers,” said Zoe Ragouzeos, the assistant vice president of NYU Student Mental Health.
Original content comprises about two-thirds of this year’s incarnation of the Reality Show.
“Songs, skits and movements are all created by the cast,” Perez said. “We change and morph it every year to the kind of music and trends that are popular.”
In July, the focus shifts to finalizing the script and staging the show.
“The performance has a very clear arc that starts with the actors saying, ‘Hey, we’re just like you. We’ve been where you are. Now let us show you some of the things you might come across,’” Martin said.
After establishing a connection with the audience, the actors dole out advice on topics like time management, budgets and roommates. The content then takes a turn to a deeper, darker place, addressing issues like substance abuse and mental health.
“We want to create a conversation about things that people are sometimes too ashamed to talk about,” Martin said. “Just being aware that there are others out there who may have the same issues can allow someone to release their shame and take that first step to becoming better.”
On Monday night, before the curtains fall on the final show, the performance will drive home a concluding and uplifting message with one of the more simple lyrics, something that rings true for every incoming student studying at the university:
“You’re in New York, New York.”
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 25 print edition. Daniel Huang is a deputy news editor. Email him at [email protected]