Students in Action
Much loved tradition moves to Byrd Theatre
In the past few years, digital video has transformed the much-loved med school tradition of Take Offs. And this year, it hit the big screen as never before.
Longtime faculty members remember when the show was performed live in the Egyptian Building’s Baruch Auditorium, with lots of singing and dancing. That reckless spontaneity has gradually been replaced with scripted skits shot with handheld video cameras. But, at heart, the annual comedy show is faithful to its beginnings.
“Traditionally Take Offs is a way for M4s to spoof on their time at the med school and hospital,” said the Class of 2009s stand-up comedian Kevin Lee, who directed some of this year’s installments along with classmates Mo Bajaj, Catherine Schuller, John Au and Brian Le. Brian, whose video for the Geriatrics Forum was a hit with the medical school in 2007, shouldered the lead director’s responsibilities and will soon make DVDs of the show available to classmates.
Knowing Take Offs 2009 would be a fully videotaped production, class leaders decided to capitalize on that technology and move the show to a new venue: Carytown’s Byrd Theatre. “In the past, the event had been held in either the Larrick Center or the Alumni House,” said Branden Engorn, president of the Medical Student Government Association and VP of the class of 2009.
“However, this year we wanted to go bigger! We wanted to put it on a big screen and where better than the famous Richmond venue, the Byrd Theater?” Later in the week, the class of 2009 made some memories at another historical Richmond landmark, The Jefferson Hotel, where they held their graduation party.
The Byrd normally offers $1.99 showings of second-run films. But for one night only, the M4 class stole the show, commandeering Richmond’s landmark movie palace for a night of “gross exaggerations, over-simplifications, and stereotypes.” That’s per the disclaimer on the back of the show’s program.
There’s really nothing like seeing your classmates projected larger than life on the screen at one of Richmond’s cultural icons. Especially when they’re poking fun at the faculty’s mutant powers, FCM interviewing techniques, bodily functions and each other.
The trials of the past four years of training are fair game, from the hopelessness of pleasing the resident on call or ever finding good food at the hospital in the middle of the night, to the secret temptations and pitfalls of certain specialties.
Favorite faculty move out of the audience and into the scripts
Pre-taping the performances has opened the door for involving faculty members in the skits. And Kevin Lee gave this year’s audience fair warning, saying “You’ll see some people you know very well do some outrageous things. You may never look at them the same way again.”
There was surgical oncologist Brian Kaplan’s increasing agitation over the arrival of the Milton Bradley board game Operation in his living room. Finally reaching the limit of his tolerance for his daughters’ dangerous disregard for maintaining a sterile field, he declares “If we’re going to play this game, we’re going to play it right.” He decks them out in gloves, masks and gowns and peppers them with questions about their patient’s anatomy.
Then there was the skit featuring Chris Woleben, M.D, who is completing his first year in his new role of associate dean for student affairs. Consumed by his newfound power, he’s shown in the skit as misusing his influence over students and trading scholarship monies and recommendation letters for favors and food. In short, he’s taking the “pimping” of medical students to an entirely new level – and dressing the part. Ultimately, Janet Mundie stops him in his tracks, confiscating his leopard print fedora and flashy walking stick.
Woleben admits that this is not his Take Offs debut. The class of 1997 alum took to the stage at the end of his own fourth-year. Together with more than a dozen classmates, he sang a trio of songs from Disney’s animated movie The Little Mermaid – but instead of lyrics about Ariel’s underwater world, the verses described life on the MCV Campus. “I wish I could remember them now,” he said.
Student affair’s Janet Mundie, too, is a Take Offs veteran, making regular appearances in the shows ever since video skits were incorporated. Those cameos are one sign of the students’ affection. Another is the bushel-full of Golden Apples she’s accumulated during her tenure. Awarded by the graduating class to an esteemed faculty or staff member, the prize went home with Mundie again this year.
The MCV Campus archivist theorizes that modern-day Take Offs evolved from something called Harvey Haag Day. Each year the students would come in dressed like the pharmacology professor, complete with bow ties, mustaches and cigars.
Let us know if you have more information on how Take Offs got its start! Send your favorite Take Offs memory to MedAlum@vcu.edu.
Dr. R. Arthur Gindin, M'59, does not recall any connection between Take Offs and Harvey Haag Day. He writes that when he graduated in 1959, Take Offs “was held in the 12th Street church and was thinly attended.” He remembers the night’s theme reflecting some of the unrest that lingered in the medical school over the 1956 recruitment of transplant pioneer Dr. David Hume from Harvard.