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What a weekend! Last Saturday and Sunday served as the culmination of two very important events for Galens – the 2014 Smoker production Grand Roundhog Day and the Centennial Gala celebrating the 100-year history of Galens Medical Society. Galens was founded in 1914 as an honors society and has performed a vaudeville-type show each year since 1918. For the 1962 Smoker, Bob Bartlett (inventor of ECMO) had the idea of doing a show with a cohesive theme – Medicine Man, based on the musical The Music Man.

Almost 200 medical students were involved in this year’s Smoker with preparations beginning in September for this completely student-run, -written, -produced spectacular. All of these students are shepherded by a collection of fourth-year medical students known as czars (2 Director Czars, 2 Producer Czars, 3 Dance Demi-Czars, 2 Music Demi-Czars).

At the first meeting in early September, medically related story titles are suggested, such as Prader-Willi Wonka (2010 Smoker) or Thrombin Hood and His Merry Meds (2012 Smoker). Voting yields the six-ish pitches that could become the new Smoker theme. Later in October is the pitch meeting, where each writing group describes and advocates for their theme with the final theme selection decision made by the end of the night.

Until mid-November, students work in scene writing groups to create their jokes, one-liners, parody songs, and dialogue. After they have finished, the Director Czars and the Producer Czars take all of the material and incorporate it into a cohesive script, a massive undertaking.

Auditions are held in December and actors learn their roles in early January at the script read-through with the entire cast. In addition to the acting rehearsals, dance and singing rehearsals also begin in earnest at this point.

Throughout this entire process thus far, the titles, pitches, and scene ideas are shrouded in the deepest secrecy and jokingly referred to as the Smoker-HIPAA. This year, the Smoker title was officially announced on February 2, a very fitting choice. The Smoker poster was also unveiled:

This past week, known as Tech Week, the entire cast and crew moved from the STAC (Student Theatre Arts Complex) where we had been rehearsing to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre where the show is actually performed. The lighting cues are hashed out, and the microphone scheme updated (to get a sense of what a monumental undertaking the latter is, imagine trying to determine how to distribute 16 microphones to the over 50 people that were in each scene).

We were at the theatre starting at 5pm every day and most days left close to midnight – the cast really began to bond (frankly, who wouldn’t after that concentrated amount of time near each other). After the dress rehearsal on Thursday, we were all excited for the live shows on Friday and Saturday.

The shows themselves were amazing – everyone performed the best they had all week, and the audience spent almost the entire time laughing. The most entertaining part for me came during one of the faculty cameos on Friday (each night, 2-3 faculty members come on stage and deliver a line instead of the medical student portraying them).

During the second act, Dr. Mark Orringer, the thoracic surgeon whose day just kept repeating itself, attempts to teach a third-year medical student how to two-hand tie a knot. He tries direct instruction, slower direct instruction, and even cheerleading in attempts to help this hapless medical student. But, sadly, you can’t save them all, and Dr. Orringer suggests that the student consider another worthwhile specialty (after several minutes of thinking, he finally names radiology). This last suggestion was made by the actual Dr. Orringer on Friday night’s show, and the audience loved it!

After the show, all of the Orringers assembled (the true Dr. Orringer and the five different medical students who played him at various points during the show) to recreate the “Orringer Centered Experience” (based on the Family Centered Experience, part of the medical-school curriculum for first-year students).

From left to right: Peter Finin, Adam Weightman, Colin Mervak,
Dr. Mark Orringer, Brian Salata, Matt Rausch

After the Saturday show wrapped, many of us went directly to the Centennial Gala, where we were able to meet alumni and faculty members of Galens. We were even treated to Bob Bartlett and another member of his original barbershop quartet sing a few songs from Medicine Man!

We then went to the Smoker after-party, which was a blast! We all had so much fun, but it was definitely a bittersweet moment – our cast really came together during Tech Week and we are all rather sad that it’s over. We can’t wait for next year to do it all over again!

Sara is a fourth-year medical student at UMMS. When not in the hospital, she can usually be found on the golf course or at a Michigan sporting event cheering on the Wolverines.