Thirty Years of Theatre Physics

Theatre physics group on stage

Photo by Benji Inniger

The cast for Theatre Physics 2023 included current students and seven alumni.

Alumni return to join current cast for beloved skits

By Emeline Gullixson (’21) – Bethany Magazine, Winter 2024

For the past thirty years, Theatre Physics has been a highlight of Bethany Fall Festival Weekend. Unlike the rest of Bethany’s Theatre productions, Theatre Physics is the annual fast-paced, physical comedy show filled with ridiculous and memorable skits. Audiences never know exactly what hijinks they’ll be treated to, but that’s part of the charm. This year marked the thirtieth annual show, a momentous occasion for Bethany, and for show director, Professor Peter Bloedel.

“The first year we started it, we weren’t sure if it would continue, but once you do it twice, it’s a tradition,” said Bloedel. who has directed and taught at Bethany since 1991. 

The preparation and format for the show has generally remained the same over the years. Once students are cast, the actors and director have a little over two weeks to create, rehearse, and perform the show. Bloedel explained: “[After casting] we sit around in a circle for the first few rehearsals and spitball ideas, show videos to the group, and ask, “Can we do this?” This schedule and process might be unrealistic for most productions, but the collaboration and mixture of personalities and talents are what carry the show and make it unique.

Though much has remained the same for this beloved Bethany tradition, the show has evolved since its first performance. One unexpected but impactful change was the dawn of the internet.

three people with ballerina tutus on posing on stage

Photo by Benji Inniger

Alumni (from left) Hans Bloedel (’19), Olivia (Lippert ’19) Lundsten, and Nick Bruss (’17) in Theatre Physics 30.

“It used to be that people would give me ideas and I would write them down in a notebook. We would also just order things by catalog, hope it’s good, and hope you can build a skit off of it—or maybe it’s just a piece of junk. Then suddenly the internet came around, and now people send YouTube videos, and you show those to students,” said Bloedel.

For the thirtieth anniversary, Bloedel and the cast had the chance to reminisce on and reimagine some old favorite skits—both Bloedel’s and fan favorites. They watched old videos, figuring out how to put fresh spins on classic skits. Audiences were then treated to hoverboard performances, a marshmallow ballet, a phobia party, and fire eating, among many other skits, old and new.

Seven beloved Theatre Physics alumni also graced the stage this year. For Bloedel and the alumni alike, it seemed like no time had passed.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to the students who are here now, and not only that, but the alums that came back,” remarked Bloedel. “They’ve been in the show. They know what it’s like. It’s all hands on deck—you’re moving stuff, helping people get costumes. They were doing all that, and they gelled so great with the students. It speaks to the caliber of the students in this show. They’re always so gung ho. And it speaks to the alum, that they want to make the show something special. This year was a blast.”

groups of students some seated at table about to eat peppers
Male figures with pirate hats holding mugs while standing in small boat
Three females with ukuleles on stage

Photos by Benji Inniger

More scenes from Theatre Physics 30.

One alumnus who returned was Nick Bruss (‘17), who performed in Theatre Physics 22 and 23. Bruss was thrilled to get an invite from Bloedel and eager to reprise his role on stage.

“It was really fun to see skits performed again that I had originally seen so many years ago, and watching the cast make those skits their own was incredible to see. It felt good to be back at Bethany, and I had flashbacks to when I was a student here,” reflected Bruss, who performed the marshmallow ballet skit that he had originally performed when he was a student. “Being in the show was just as chaotic, hectic, and fun as I had remembered it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

This landmark year also ushered in some bittersweet changes for the future of Theatre Physics. Going forward, Theatre Physics will be offered every other year. Though it will surely be missed come Fall 2024, Bloedel sees this transition as a sustainable one, and one that makes room for other, smaller-scale productions.

Though Theatre Physics might appear as a relatively bare-bones show with thrown-together, scrappy scenery and costumes, the production still takes considerable effort. Even compared to Bethany’s other shows with intricate sets, costumes, and lighting, Theatre Physics has become a show that takes as much planning as other productions, if not more. Bloedel admitted that it is the Theatre Department’s biggest technical, prop, and costume show. The set may be minimal, but the sound and lighting preparation are major undertakings, especially with only weeks of preparation.

“To not have to build a set is great, but when you look back and you see the hundreds of props in every Theatre Physics, or every costume change, those things add up,” said Bloedel. The quick turnaround from Theatre Physics to the fall play in November also leaves Bloedel with little to no downtime in between shows.

However, Bloedel was optimistic about other theatrical opportunities for smaller scale shows, perhaps in a tent on the green or in the lobby, with less scenery and less technical production. It might not demand the same effort, but it would be something.

The new biennial tradition of Theatre Physics is sure to make the anticipation for the show that much greater. And, perhaps, it will make room for new traditions.