This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

UCLA students plan to rock Pauley

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It was 6 a.m. Wednesday in Pauley Pavilion, and dozens of undergrads were hoisting lights onto scaffolding, pounding floorboards and pushing massive speakers on dollies into place. Two days before Spring Sing, these members of the UCLA Student Alumni Association were absolutely energized at this early hour as they prepped for UCLA’s largest annual performance event.

This year, Spring Sing, a campus tradition since 1945 that showcases the best of UCLA student musicians, actors and performers, is expected to be larger than ever when it opens tonight. The show’s relocation to Pauley Pavilion from the Los Angeles Tennis Center increases audience capacity by almost 20 percent and production capabilities by far more.

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Students haul in equipment on a newly designed stage where Spring Sing, a campus tradition since 1945, will take place tonight.
“It is definitely bigger,” said Turner Pope, Spring Sing’s executive director. A third-year political science and Spanish major, he has spent the last 13 months preparing for the big day when students’ thunderous applause and cheers will fill the arena with blue and gold pride. “We sold more tickets the first day than filled LATC (Los Angeles Tennis Center) last year. We’ve sold more tickets so far than the Alumni Association has ever sold.”

With expectations running high, Pope said, “We wanted to create a big experience. When you walk in, it’s going to be very different.”

Equipped with a $100,000 budget, a 13-student executive committee — all members of the UCLA Student Alumni Association (SAA) overseen by the UCLA Alumni Association — takes the reins on some major decisions, from casting and budgeting to production design.

The guiding theme on every decision: “Rock Pauley.”

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Turner Pope, Spring Sing's executive director.
“We’ve done a lot more,” Pope said. “We redesigned the stage. It has much more of a rock concert feel. All the lightboards, the scoreboards… we’ll definitely have fun with that.”

One of the draws, no doubt, is MC Hammer, recipient of the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, which  has been given every year since 1988 to such notable artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews, Lionel Ritchie and Stevie Wonder.

“We’ve never given an award to someone in hip-hop,” Pope said. “We’re really excited for him to be here.”

Celebrity judges are another draw, but their identities are kept under wraps until the night of the show. “We have some great judges this year, and we’re excited for them, but it’s always a big surprise,” Pope said.

Past judges have included Grammy-nominated Spring Sing alumna Sara Bareilles, Jason Alexander, Sean Astin and Candice Cameron Bure — nostalgically known as “DJ” from the TV show, “Full House.” 

The Company

One of the highlights of Spring Sing, and certainly the most talked-about, is Company, a comedy group that writes and performs skits and produces videos for the show. Its hilarious odes to UCLA traditions and places are among the most anticipated and typically light up the crowd.  

Every year, Spring Sing committee members select a cast of talented undergraduates after a grueling week of auditions, improv exercises and interviews. This year’s 12-person cast met for pitch meetings and rehearsals three or four evenings a week and then spent six weekends taping their videos.

“They’re all brilliant,” said Katya Lavine, a third-year English major and this year’s Company director. “Hearing them pitch scripts in meetings was one of the funniest, greatest experiences, because the stuff they came up with was incredible.”

The talent

Students performing in more than 100 acts competed this year for 17 talent spots before a 10-member panel of judges consisting of SAA members, board members and an adviser on staff with the UCLA Alumni Association.
For performer Philip Haro, Spring Sing is the biggest stage for a UCLA student musician.
“In one week, we spent over 40 hours watching auditions,” Pope said. The acts were filmed, scored and split into categories — solos, duets, bands, a capella groups and others — to fill an average of three spots per category, plus one dance group. But that isn’t a hard rule. Pope said he goes with “whatever is the strongest.” Performers have just one chance to make the bill; there are no callbacks.

The selection committee typically deliberates for hours, playing back performance tapes and at times agonizing over their choices. “Some people we can agree on very easily, but it’s hard,” Pope said.

“You do your best, and hopefully they like it,” said Phillip Haro, a fourth-year philosophy major who made the cut to play a song he wrote. “I didn’t want to graduate with regrets that I didn’t try out … Spring Sing is obviously the biggest stage for a UCLA musician. I wanted to see if I could make it. I knew how big a deal it is, especially at the new Pauley Pavilion … This is something I can look back on and be proud of.”

The work

Once the performers were chosen, the Spring Sing talent committee made sure they are as prepared as possible. From late January to mid-May, talent directors attended rehearsals, helping the performers shape their acts. A big focus this year, said Pope, was production.

“My talent directors … wanted better skits, cleaner performances, just overall better production, an exciting show,” Pope said.

In April, two full dress rehearsals took place in Pauley, with students doing their acts on a makeshift “stage” taped off in the  exact shape of what will be the newly designed stage. “Performers get a feel for how big it is, where they’re going. And we get an idea of their needs for props or stage setup,” Pope said. “We even take video of them to send to the lighting company so they can start preparing.”

Based on the energy of the performances, Pope also decides the lineup order. After the last all-cast rehearsal, there are only three more weeks to get it right.

“At that point, everyone is very focused. They’re getting everything perfected,” said Pope.

The energy

What does it take to put on an event of this size?

“My committee is crazy,” Pope said, laughing. “They’re spectacular. they put over 40 hours a week into this … They’re extremely dedicated.”

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Members of the Spring Sing Executive Committee.
“I’ve never worked so hard on anything in my life,” Company director Lavine said. “You make sacrifices, you find ways to get it all done. It’s been crazy, but it’s so fun.”
 
Pope prepared for the heavy workload by scheduling his lightest possible academic coursework for the past two quarters. “My friends are calling me, they’re going out, and that’s not an option for me,” he said.

This week, committee members put in 20-hour days.

“I’m a little out of control,” Pope said, laughing. “I’m very hands-on. I take control of a large amount of things, but I also know exactly what’s going on. I know exactly where people need to be. I love to be involved; I know this is the only experience [as director] I’ll ever have.”

Said Lavine, “I think Spring Sing is my life, and then I look at Turner, and I think ‘This is really truly his life.’ He puts so much into it. He’s calling us at midnight with questions, is always supportive, always accessible … He’s really great.”

The payoff — one incredible night of Spring Sing magic —  makes it all worth it, the students said.

“At other schools, you don’t have productions of this size,” Lavine said. “Extracurricular activities, especially something like this, give you a learning experience you can’t get in the classroom. You have to be involved. Everyone in the show builds the stage, sets up the lights… we do it all.”
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See some of Company’s most popular videos from previous Spring Sings: Club B Cafe, UCLA vs. USC Rap Battle and Finals Week.
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