March 14th, 2014
Interview with Tony Parise of Hasty Pudding Theatricals
by Jordan Nickels
Twenty one Harvard students came together to form a club in 1795. This organization became the Hasty Puddings Club. Hasty Pudding Theatricals has been producing centuries of student-written theater and every year, Hasty Pudding nominates a Man and Woman of the Year and hold a special show and ceremony to celebrate their career and poke a little fun at them as well. This year, actress Helen Mirren and Broadway favorite Neil Patrick Harris were honored. I had the chance of interviewing Tony Parise, who has interacted with these stars and directed these events.
Hasty Pudding has been around for over two centuries.
Why do you think this organization has been able to be around for this long?
“The Pudding” is steeped in tradition. It is a rite of passage for many Harvard guys. Multiple generations have had grandfathers, fathers, and sons as Pudding cast members. The tradition continues today with a growing number of alumni who see the show year after year.
What is your role within Hasty Pudding and how did you first become involved?
I am the director of the show. With that, I also guide in the script writing process, and serve as dramaturge. I make sure that what is written can be done on stage. I got the job through an interview. Before me, there was a new director every two years. I just completed my eighteenth year.
What is your favorite part about working at Hasty Pudding?
The Harvard students are so smart, and very willing to learn new skills.
What is your job specifically working with the Man and Woman of the Year Awards?
The Man and Woman of the Year awards are two separate events. Each contain a roast of the person being awarded, and each a presentation of the show. The woman’s event is in the afternoon, for which I prepare a preview of the show, and the man gets to see the entire show. I prepare them for the roast to try and set the tone as one of friendly fun.
The honorees have a wide range of work in the entertainment industry. How do you decide what aspects of their career will go into the performance and roast?
There is a delicate balance between making fun, or making light, and being mean-spirited. The honorees are chosen for their “lasting contribution to the world of entertainment”, so it is a serious award, but The Pudding is a comedy, so laughter is key.
The Man of the Year this year was Broadway favorite Neil Patrick Harris. What was it like working with this amazing song and dance man?
Harvard can be intimidating to even the most accomplished performer. Neil Patrick Harris was very humble and appreciative. He totally “got” the spirit of the award.
The Woman of the Year was actress Helen Mirren. What was your interaction like working with her?
Helen Mirren was charming and delightful. She also went viral for her “twerking”.
In these roasts, the honorees have to have a sense of humor as they perform with Hasty Pudding cast members in hilarious sketches. How are the celebrities able to be so relaxed and light-hearted while making fun of themselves?
That is the beauty of how smart the students are. The roasts are fail-proof. If a celebrity just stands there and “takes it” it works just as well as when they actively jump in with their own comments.
What is it like interacting with these amazing men and women of entertainment? Have you ever felt scared or intimidated working with any of the honorees?
The roast is basically a press event for the celebrity, so they are working. They have, for the most part, been very professional. They understand that theatre is a dictatorship and do their part. They want to be shown in their best light, after all. The only time I was a bit intimidated was on opening night one year. I had been working with two Harvard students who were the composers-both female. I asked for many changes, and threw out several of the things they had written to get the best possible show. They were great about taking the criticism. On opening night, one of the girls pulled me out of the crowd and said- “Tony, I want my dad to meet you.” I went with her, and there stood Quincy Jones. The girl was Rashida Jones.
Do you have any other favorite memories of past honorees of Hasty Pudding?
The best Woman of the Year was Jamie Lee Curtis. She was so appreciative and honored to receive the famous Pudding Pot. In her speech after she was roasted, she told the audience that her mother taught her to bring a gift every time she visited someone’s home. Without our knowing, she had snuck into the theater and taped a chocolate (wrapped in her initials) under every seat. It was such a classy gesture.