Sketch comedy is the birthplace of many a comedian. Take a few whacky ideas, some props, and musical accompaniment, and anyone can produce a revue. In 2005, some intrepid young USyd science students decided they wouldn’t take their underrepresentation in the arts any longer and put on a show with around 50 students to extreme success in 2006.
Comprised of science students who dare to audition, Science Revue (otherwise known as SciRev) has been the place for STEM students to nurture their performance skills for over 15 years.
SciRev soon became a mainstay of the faculty revue season (typically held in Semester Two), standing alongside Medicine, Law and Arts as one of the biggest revues on campus. Its early years were marked by punny titles, gradually increasing budgets, and eventually a live stage band. Many of the sketches relied on science-related jokes, effectively making use of the cast’s scientific knowledge from various majors. In 2009, Honi reviewer Tom Clement noted that “even when the show is failing to be funny, it has scientific accuracy to fall back on.” In 2008, just two years after SciRev’s inception, the performing cast totalled 92 people!
In recent years, the show has kept up its reputation as one of the biggest revues on campus. Separated into acting, singing, dancing, and band troupes, SciRev is a place where any and all creativity is welcomed. Rather than centring the show around the actors, SciRev showcases parodies of songs, acrobatic dance sketches, and the occasional funny musical arrangement. While there is a running joke that the show holds its audiences hostage (thanks to the almost 3-hour run time of the 2018 show), when all four troupes are carefully balanced, the show whisks by.
In the spirit of improvised comedy, some of the best elements of the show’s culture are a product of encouraging outlandish ideas during development. SciRev is different to other productions because the band is not considered part of the production team. Instead, they are considered another troupe of performers. This means that they are involved in the show-building process and contribute sketch ideas and other comedic elements to the show. So adored is the band that, in 2019, one too many cries of “yeah the band” spawned the 2020 Band Revue.
Pitched as a SUDS summer slot, The Good, The Band & The Ugly brought SciRev’s musical accompaniment to centre stage. With a Western theme, the show incorporated strong musical numbers, comedic performances, and the occasional plot-related sketch. It was well-loved, with Honi reviewer Puranjay Kumar stating they were “completely floored” by the show and the number of times they managed to play the infamous jazz lick. With a 15-piece band and a sub-$100 budget, the show sold out two of its three performances and spawned a tradition.
Despite SciRev’s success, large shows with long histories don’t come without controversy. There goes an urban legend in the SciRev community that tens of thousands of dollars of the society’s money mysteriously disappeared in the summer of 2018-19.
Whether true or not, the revue did find itself financially strained after increases to Seymour Centre hiring fees. Despite being owned by the University, the majority of a revue budget is sunk into venue costs. Even with a combination of faculty and USU funding, and a broad range of sponsors, 2019 tested the SciRev community which was now much poorer. To counteract this, 2019 producer Julie Hoang told Honi that there were weekly bake sales, huge sponsorship drives, and mysterious donors to thank for the show’s success that year.
The newly-elected 2022 Co-producer, Rafael Owen, told Honi that “there is a perseverance of spirit in SciRev which is very special”. Take the most recent show: executive members and troupe directors were elected in 2019 and waited until 2022 to finally put on their show; casts auditioned in early 2021, were forced to reschedule once for lockdown and then again when there was a false positive, before finally performing. There are several people who have been involved in the show for over five years — taking on cast, production and executive roles to sustain the revue’s lifeblood.
Like any other show, cast members become family, finding their niche in an enormous university and sticking it out together throughout the years. Science Revue has a long-standing relationship with Cystic Fibrosis Community Care NSW. When a cast member’s relative was diagnosed with the condition in 2007, the community decided to support them by donating all show profits to the charity.
Revues at the University of Sydney are truly unique. Less serious than plays and more professional than stand-up comedy, they are an important part of the arts scene on campus. People join revues not only to perform but to build community; Science Revue is a perfect example of this. When auditions open over midsem break, we hope to see you there!
Note: article was amended on 13/04/2022 to correct a factual error from an earlier draft.