Harvard in Drag: The Collected Works

In the bowels of the Hasty Pudding building at 12 Holyoke Street, a clubhouse with theater built in 1888, is the so-called Elephant Room, a narrow, bare-bulb, basement cell made glorious by its inhabitants--the costumes of Harvard men in drag from years and years of Hasty Pudding Theatricals. When the run of this year's show, Snow Place Like Home, is over, the costume of Diane Comebacktolife, the tabloid journalist murdered by the end of Act I, and those of all who had means and opportunity at the Catskill ski resort that winter, will join their outrageous predecessors in the Elephant Room, if only briefly.

close up view of the Hasty Pudding costume closet showing many colorful costumes
Photograph by Jim Harrison
The Elephant Room got its name, incidentally, because when the wretched space was made barely usable for costume storage sometime in the 1980s, says Daniel Ring '99 (music director of the current show), masses of sand that had been put there had to be removed. In the sand was found the skull of an elephant. It sits today just outside the prop room.

But the days of this décor are dwindling. Soon, the costumes of yesteryear, this sequined and boaed alumni association, will have to go elsewhere, along with the posters, props, and other detritus of the Hasty Pudding decades.

The well-worn building, acquired by Harvard in 2000, will close for a top-to-bottom overhaul just after the 2003 show. Renovations will cost $15 million to $20 million and take about a year and a half, displacing the 2004 show to a theater the Theatricals will rent in Boston. The schedule minimizes disruption of the shows. Had renovations begun this fall, Pudding shows for two years would have been displaced. Harvard was not prepared to begin renovations this spring because of an unexpectedly prolonged planning process. "It's a very complicated building," says David P. Illingworth, associate dean of Harvard College, who notes that he has spent so much time on the project that he has come to think of himself as dean for Hasty Pudding.

When it reopens near the start of 2005, the entire building will be reserved for use by student groups. The Hasty Pudding Theatricals will continue to be staged in the refurbished building, although the student parties customarily associated with them may not be. In a building to be used by other student organizations as well, no storage space will be provided for the collected costumes of the men in drag. They will be banished to not-yet-identified precincts more distant from the Yard. And what will become of the elephant's skull?

This year's Hasty Pudding woman and man of the year are Sarah Jessica Parker (who stars in the cable-televison series Sex and the City) and Bruce Willis (Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, and, currently, Hart's War). How would Willis look in one of those outfits from the Elephant Room?

       

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