An otherwise dark and dead Centennial West serves as a magical meeting place most Saturday nights at around midnight.
That’s when deep in its dark corridors in room 301, actors and actresses clad in outrageous outfits, poets and songwriters armed with instruments and prose, and comedians equipped with tasteless satire, meet to share their talent and a few outrageous laughs.
The registered student organization Theatre of Ted was started in 1990 by students who wanted a place to perform without being criticized or critiqued by faculty. One act that night set the bar for Ted’s trademark outrageousness—naked jumping jacks, performed by one of the group’s founding members.
Now more than 20 years later, Ted has grown into a creative free-for-all that’s helped Illinois State students from all majors—not just theatre—break out of their shells. Chris Stevenson, a freshman education major, reflected on his first night and introduction to Theatre of Ted last September.
“It’s a whole new world you walk into in here, and things are debaucherous. The strangest things happen. People sing, people dance, people make total asses of themselves, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s so much energy,” Stevenson said.
Since he first attended, Stevenson has become enthusiastic about his late Saturday nights.
“While I’m going between classes, studying up, I’m thinking about what kind of new character I can do this coming Saturday, and what I can do to make people laugh,” he said.
Every year two hosts are chosen to take charge of the chaos and help to curate the many performances and transition between them with snarky remarks usually related to that week’s theme, such as Metal, Passover, Mardi Gras, Wrestletedia, or Pajama Party Ted.
Attendees are encouraged to dress up and contribute skits, songs, and poems related to the chosen theme. Unsurprisingly, it is by no means the rule. In fact, there are very few rules.
The rules that do govern the RSO are common sense, said Pete Guither, faculty advisor for Theatre of Ted. Some of those rules include the restriction of drugs and alcohol and the destruction of property, but what he says is most exciting are the rules that aren’t there.
“It’s completely uncensored,” said Guither. “Nothing is prescreened and anyone can sign up.”
Those that do seem to inherently abide by Theatre of Ted’s motto: Dare to Suck.
“Dare to Suck. It’s taking risks. It’s doing things that are outside of the box. It’s doing the things that you don’t get a chance to do in a classroom,” Guither said.
Illinois State alum Eli Van Sickel, M.S. ’13, a former Ted performer and host, said the organization helped him break through boundaries that were limiting him while at ISU.
“I’ve always struggled with openness, plus I was at a new school in a new state, so I really feel like ‘Dare to Suck’ and my experiences at Ted helped me blossom,” Van Sickel told STATEside. “Secondly, as host, I was performing every week, so that gave me a real creative outlet.”
Van Sickel recalled one such blossoming experience performing at Theatre of Ted, which also helped to raise money for the organization. (That’s right: This gang of reckless artists has the good sense to help the University through fundraisers. Every spring Theatre of Ted hosts a foursquare marathon to raise money for student scholarships.)
“The most outrageous act I was ever part of, a friend of mine and I got naked, put paint all over our bodies, and painted a bunch of canvasses, which were then auctioned off as part of a Ted fundraiser,” Van Sickel said.
Ted is always guaranteed to burn the midnight oil. With attendance varying from smaller groups of 10 to 15 students to larger groups nearing 150, sometimes that midnight oil turns into 5-o’clock-in-the-morning oil.
Regardless, the RSO is open to new participants, whether they are a student in the School of Theatre and Dance or in another major. They are all invited to come out Saturday night and Dare to Suck.
Andrew Avitt can be reached at asavitt@IllinoisState.edu.