What do an extreme snowboarder, a guitarist from a critically acclaimed rock band, an opening act for Big Sean and a chart-topping country songwriter have in common? Not only did they spend their college years on the Hilltop, but they will all return to perform at the Davis Performing Art Center’s Gonda Theater over the weekend.
This Friday and Saturday, the Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance will be putting on GEMA Rocks VII: The Untold Story, a show comprised of a series of original compositions and covers performed by student and alumni artists, running seamlessly into comedy sketches and short films. Representing not only a diverse variety of musical styles but also six decades of Hoyas, the event will showcase the often underestimated artistic talent of the Georgetown community.
“A spectacle, I think, is a great way to describe it, the heart of which is about 16 or 17 musical performances from Hoyas going all the way back to classes of the ’70s and ’80s, up to current students performing original songs and covers,” director John Deutsch (COL ’07) said of the show in an interview with The Hoya.
The diverse array of performers will represent everything from up-and-coming bands to well-established, Billboard-topping artists. Jim McCormick (COL ’90), a professional songwriter who has written for Keith Urban, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, will sing at the event, along with country artist and champion extreme snowboarder Greta Gaines (COL ’89). One of the most exciting recent graduates to grace the stage during this weekend’s event will be Tate Tucker (COL ’14), a Los Angeles-based rapper who has performed for Lupe Fiasco and toured with Big Sean.
The show will also feature even more recent graduates Mary Ellen Funke (SFS ’15) and Lyell Evans Roeder (COL ’13), who started the band Tigers are Bad for Horses during their time at Georgetown. Since their graduation, TABFH has been named one of the Top 10 Washington, D.C. bands to watch in 2016 by Brightest Young Things and played at the South by Southwest music festival last March.
The show, however, is not simply a showcase of Georgetown’s individual musical talent, as all of the performances are tied together by a central theme.
“We took the best parts of a musical and the best parts of a concert and put them together into one nonstop 90-minute show,” Deutsch said. “To understand the central narrative of ‘The Untold Story,’ you will have to go to the show,” he continued.
The idea for the show originated 10 years ago, but this year — the show’s seventh iteration — will be the most ambitious yet. Show coordinator Teddy Zanbetti (CAS ’80) matriculated through Georgetown almost 30 years before the Department of Performing Arts — now ranked one of the top five theater programs outside New York City by Back Stage — was founded in 2007.
Now the in-house composer at Sirius XM, Zanbetti ran the show for years as just a concert, incorporating comedians Nick Kroll (COL ’01), Jim Gaffigan (MSB ’88) and John Mulaney (COL ’04) in supporting roles.
In the years since, Marcel Arsenault (COL ’07), vice president and head of development for television production company Sharp Entertainment, and Jon Deutsch (COL ’07), a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, joined the effort, allowing for greater ambition in the show’s presentation. The show no longer is constricted to the concert format, and instead has embraced the stand-up comedy that seems to be ever-present on the Hilltop. Emlyn Crenshaw (COL ’15) and Connor Rohan (COL ’16) have not only written a dynamic, compelling script for this weekend but will also act in the production.
“What makes this show so unique is that I don’t think there is another college or university in the country, or maybe even the world, that puts on a show that has alumni and student performers coming together to put on one 90-minute spectacle in a professional way,” Arsenault said.
Arsenault elaborated on the unique quality of the GEMA Rocks show. While Georgetown may not have the reputation or artistic pedigree of an arts school, such as the Berklee College of Music in Boston, it offers an unmatched freedom of thought and collaboration to artists.
“I have a lot of friends that went to Berklee, and when I tell them about the show we are putting on with alumni and students coming together … that would never happen there. At Georgetown we are not all in competition with one another. Because of the diversity of interests and talents, it allows for something like this to exist,” Arsenault said.
GEMA Rocks seeks to highlight and celebrate the Georgetown community’s diversity by covering a variety of musical performances, mixing hip-hop with rock ‘n’ roll, country with comedy and young with old.
“To hear the set list you are going to hear at this show, you would need to tune to 13 or 14 different channels. The music is so different, from so many different voices and touches on so many cultural aspects,” Deutsch said in an interview with The Hoya.
GEMA Rocks VII: The Untold Story has learned from the successes of its past incarnations and has been reinvented for 2016. The biannual event will be held in the Davis Performing Arts Center’s Gonda Theater with shows at 8 p.m. on both nights.