Words by Maximus Schintler, Images courtesy of Max Schintler, Bek Davies, and Swetha Das. If you’ve ever owned a hat, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The Engineering Revue, that starry famous event on the stupol/revue/drinking calendar for Sydney Uni students. Everyone knows the tropes, that is, that Engo Revue is full of punch-down humour, loud heckling from the lubricated crowd, crudeness, debauchery and nudity.
As a now fifth year student I felt it was my time now to attend the fabled Engo Revue, so it was with great ambivalent curiosity and fear that I woke one morning to see my notifications jammed with “Engo Aid” changing the name of their event and the event description. The show, up til this time, had been billed as “Queengeneers and Engobeers” and promised to be the usual hosh-posh affair of stick slapping, beer-greased mayhem we had all hoped for. And now? Well. The description informed us that the poor, impoverished Engo students had never had a good revue in their lives, and that the culturally affluent Bono-esque community of writers, directors, producers and actors from the Revue Community were coming together to put on a benefit show, a one-off spectacular of hastily-assembled skits and musical pieces.
At this stage it was abundantly clear that the talent was there, but with less than 72 hours to curtains-up, could they pull it off? They would surely need to use every weapon at their disposal, including the President of SURG FM. My well-placed sources close to the show told me that nearly the entire cast and crew of the original show had up and quit, sans reasoning and that the director of Engo Revue was left with almost nothing and found a plucky group of sleep-deprived creatives from the other Revues who had a glut of cutting-floor sketch numbers to mine and massage until show time.
Show night, 4:30pm.
Leave my house with a cool bag full of beers. Who can afford to drink at Courtyard anyway? Wearing a bobble-topped beanie I am stopped mere metres from campus by a crazy-eyed stoner draped red, head to toe, telling me that I have a “nice beanie.” I thank him and tell him I am enjoying the full red cloak he is wearing and he gently corrects me, saying, “it’s a poncho.”
“Nice poncho then,” I reply, and he smiles bashfully and says “it’s my mum’s,” before swirling off into the gathering gloom in a flourishing of red-mother-poncho.
On campus now and night is coming down fast. I enter Courtyard looking for my trusty Vice-President, Bek, but she is nowhere to be found. We had planned a full SURG FM outing to Engo Revue with other broadcasters but nobody seems to be here. The place is jam packed full of aspiring young corporates in chinos and collared shirts with the top button undone, all scoffing down craft beers and probably speaking of how many unpaid internships they’ve secured for the summer. Relax, smile, don’t let anyone know that you don’t belong here, turn the collar of your Belgian army coat to the wind, pretend you’re not walking around with a cooler bag full of Aldi beers and go chat pleasantly with the people at the wine tasting stall, then the craft beer tasting stall. See some Board Directors. One advises me to drink my beers here, while another says not to.
I retreat downstairs to the Holme Basement, pop the top off one of my beers and sit down to make some phone calls. Where the hell is Bek? And Jake, for that matter. They all ought to be here, unless someone tipped off their location and they’ve been seized. No. Bad paranoia. Facebook informs me that the meeting has been shifted to Hermann’s, so I powerwalk over there.
6pm. Darkness and the spiritual home, the true crowd.
Hermann’s is the true place for students. Always will be. None of the faux corporatism of Courtyard, none of the in-betweenness of Manning, unsure of whether it is a student or yuppie bar. I find my people, have a couple more drinks and we head over to Manning to start lining up for tickets. When we arrive we are among the first there, and for a short moment I mistakenly believe that the show may be cancelled, and that we just haven’t heard. Soon enough, though, the hordes descend from all parts of campus, converging on the front doors at level one, Manning House.
6:45pm-??? And now we play the waiting game…
We wait for what feels like an inordinately long time just chatting and speculating about whether the rag-tag cast and crew will Pull It Together in time. The crowd grows restless, unruly; one wonders whether a riot might break out before remembering who the crowd is. At last, they let us in, and none shall know how close the mob outside was to burning down Manning House. We are each presented with a drink voucher on entry, and the tone of the evening is clearly established. Is anybody still reading this?
Inside, milling around up the back and a twitter war with the Revue.
We get inside and immediately stake out some stools up the back of the room so as to be clearly out of range of the bodily fluids of anyone on stage. Bek buys beers, we exchange our vouchers for freebies, and Bek logs in to the SURG FM twitter account to start the heckling before anyone has taken the stage. Shots fired early, out on the front foot and good move too, we get a bite, as Keating said “this is the salmon that actually jumps on the hook for you.” We heckled them, they said “fight me.” We decided to fight the Engineering Revue the only way that seemed sane at that point: I had to infiltrate.
I had decided that in order to write a better review of the show, I would need an insider’s look at the cast, crew and sketches. The first half of the show passed by in a flurry of tight pieces from the band, who were really on their game, and sketches that were mostly too incomprehensible to follow due as much to their insanity as to the constant stream of people yelling “dick” and “kiss”. Intermission.
Second half of the show. My cue. Does anyone have a news reader script???
During the intermission Alex Mildenhall and myself snuck backstage with the intention of being in a sketch. She said to me, “Max we’ve got to get in the show.” I said “Goddamn, yes.” So there we were backstage and there was chaos. In the last sketch before intermission one of the actors had skulled a beer on stage, which we heard from Davis Murphy was a violation of Manning’s license and hence Tim Doran was getting chewed out behind the bar. We asked how we could get into an ensemble sketch and were told to try and find Tim. Failing that, I found a script lying around somewhere for the newsreader sketch and quickly grabbed it.
“Has anyone seen a newsreader script?”
I quickly turned away and ducked into the green room, and did not see Alex again, as she slipped quietly back to the audience. Inside the green room now and all was a chaotic flurry of activity – shirts being whipped off, costumes changed, scripts revised and directions given. “We’re trending #6 in Australia!” someone yelled, to our rapturous applause. “Let’s make it number one!” someone else called back.
Madness here. I took off my jacket and stood running over the lines of my script, although I was unsure which part I was playing. I was banking on the fact that the cast had known each other for little more than a couple of days to secure my plausible anonymity and prevent my being turned out to the harsh, barren world of the audience outside.
“Has anyone seen a newsreader script?” a woman in stage blacks asked the room at large.
“Right here!” I yelled, brandishing the crumpled piece of paper, “We can look on together with this one.” Next thing we were both looking over our lines and working out which voices we would be in the ensemble piece and then “shut up, shut up, mics are on!” came the call from the producer, and we were all silent as the second act of this cruel melodrama began. I was ready.
All aboard. Almost every star you see at night is already burnt out.
And then there we were. There were two cast members on stage for the first minute of the news reader sketch, rumoured to be the show’s longest. Then “go, go go go!” was the call, and my new cast member Friend/Partner and I were ushered on stage, script in hand, yelling the lines from our script. I could see members of the SURG FM community in the audience in shock, horror and hilarity responding to the unexpected presence of the President on stage. The sketch crescendoed and collapsed back off stage, while I ran from the green room back to our spot in the crowd. But it didn’t stop there.
Next, a gigantic set of PVC pipes arranged into a kind of xylophone were wheeled onto the stage and a pair of cast members played various melodies on them, thwacking the open tops of the swan-off pipes with thongs before breaking it down into a passionate rendition of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’, joined by the whole band, then the PA system and an all-in dance party on stage which brought the audience to its feet.
Gripped by a moment of passionate insanity I felt my moment and sprung from my seat, sprinting full bore at the stage and leaping up in a single bound just as the curtains closed, a true Indiana Jones moment, only that I had no hat and once on stage I immediately had to avoid colliding with a member of the cast petrified with terror and confusion, before continuing my sprint to the stage-right wings where I found myself alone. The rest of the cast was either in the wings on stage-left or in the green room, also stage-left.
Stuck inside of Engo Revue with the Manning Blues again
So there I was, backstage with no friends and no clue what was coming next. I’d thought I was rushing into a big dance party on stage but instead I was alone in the wings. I cast around desperately for some kind of ballast – a prop, a costume, anything that would help me justify my presence and disguise myself from prying eyes. At first glance there seemed to be nothing except cables and audio equipment until I saw it, yes, a bear costume.
In that moment, I knew what must be done. As I buttoned up the bear onesie, a peculiar sense of calm flooded over me and I relaxed, ready for whatever would come next. Before the curtains could open to usher in the next sketch, I made another dash, across stage this time, and emerged in the wings opposite in front of a cast member with an uncomprehending look on her face.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured her, looking rather chunky in my bear suit with my heavy coat still on underneath, “I’m ready.”
Incredulously, she replied “ready for what?”
“Don’t worry,” I repeated, before assuming the look of intense concentration that I presumed all actors wore backstage. I bided my time, wondering and waiting and hoping that there would be an appropriate opening. Two or three sketches passed by, more shouts of “kiss” and “dick”. The nude sketch. The audience finally got their dick, bless ‘em.
“We’re trending #3 in Australia!!” Cheers. More shouts of “kiss” and “dick.”
Intense vibes, bad omens flashing through my mind finally an ensemble sketch came: high school rugby boys having a playground stoush, exchanging insults and whatnot. Difficult to discern the plot but another sketch, like the newsreader one, which began with two characters going back and forth before a swarm of ensemble cast members rush onto stage. Well, why not? This is as good a moment as any to skewer myself in a bearsuit in front of a raucous, drunken rabble of my peers. I joined the throng of rugby boiz as they swept onto stage, positioning myself at the back.
Looking out into the crowd I made eye contact with Steph, Swetha and Alex, and then Bek. Looks of disbelief, not wanting to accept the harsh reality of the show before them, control being lost, quickly… Where is the man in his mum’s red poncho, now? “Dick!” “HORSE FOR HONI” more inchoate yelling of absurdities.
On stage, once more, with a bunch of boys dressed like burly teen private school rugby players, me in a bearsuit feeling righteous and weird, on point for the vibe of the sketch. Yelling, making masculine grunting noises, easy to improvise for me. Then off stage again and feeling indisputably a part of Engo Revue by now, I joined the full cast on stage for the final musical sketch, waving wildly to all I could see in the crowd…
Hunkered down, final thoughts and reflections
EngoAid was not a show, so much as it was an experience for all involved either in the audience or on stage. It is a night that will live on in our memories long after we have become jobless grads or soulless corporate hacks. And I hope that in years to come we will recall fondly that this is what university life is supposed to be: unscripted, unplanned, chaotic and wild, a bit of fun, surrounded by friends and strangers – all of us just trying to muddle our way through as best we can with brash certainty that all will be well if we throw caution to the winds of Manning’s exhaust vent. Raising money for Engineers Without Borders, this year’s revue actually tried to do some good in what very frequently appears to be a harsh and unforgiving world; the show brought out the best, worst and weirdest in a wide range of people who pulled together with limited resources to do the best they can at the very last minute. If that isn’t the essence of the student experience, I don’t know what is.