The line snaked its way out the door, down the hall, around the corner, and almost down the stairs and outside. Some people were playing video games on a large screen TV while others either slept or did problem sets. The hall was strewn with tents, sleeping bags, extension cords, and Ethernet cables. Only at MIT. It was noon on a Saturday, the show wouldn’t start for another 12 hours, and I was already exhausted. As a member of the Chorallaries of MIT, I had reason to be. The last few months had been devoted to organizing, writing, producing, rehearsing, publicizing, and simply preparing to survive the annual Concert in Bad Taste. Even with a full 12 hours until curtain there was still a staggering amount to be done. Not only did I have to do it, I had to photograph it.
The Chorallaries’ Concert in Bad Taste is an MIT tradition going back almost twenty years. Every year, the Chorallaries rewrite the lyrics to their songs and perform skits around them. The goal is to offend every single member of the audience at some point during the show. No subject is taboo – anything goes. From ballads about fellatio to skits about ethnic stereotypes to poems about drinking, the show mows down quite a wide swath of moral fiber. Hundreds of people anxiously await its return every year and in order not to disappoint them, the Chorallaries always prepare a new show – a process known as “Bad Taste Season”.

Bad Taste Season usually commences two months before the concert and entails three phases – writing, frantic writing, and concert week. The first two take place in an Athena (computer) cluster on campus. Almost every night, the entire group gathers and starts to flesh out ideas for skits and songs. We usually enter the cluster like gangbusters whooping, hollering, and cracking raunchy jokes. Though this particular cluster is out of the way and empty most of the time, we do occasionally come across random people trying to get some work done. Over the past three years, there have been very few non-Chorallaries who haven’t been scared away. Sometimes in a moment of quiet, a ribald joke will jump from one monitor to another and the whole group will burst out laughing for (apparently) no reason.
This year not only was I trying to be part of the group, I was shooting like a madman. When we’re together, the Chorallaries do not sit still too often. I had to write my share of the show and record every funny, spastic, visually appealing situation that came along. One minute Lisa is being tickled to within an inch of her life. The next, Dan and Ross are using their rolling chairs to sandwich Emily. Sometimes I catch my reflection in a monitor with two different cameras (different film and lenses) going at once in a sort of John Woo meets Walker Evans. Entire nights slip by where nothing is written except, “Leah is white trash.” Even though at the writing stage the show seemed far away, it was stressful nonetheless.

“Bad Taste is fun, but it's also a lot of work." said Sebastian, "With classes, problem sets, house duties, and everything else, 3 hours a night is a lot of time to devote for weeks on end, but it's definitely worth it!"

Two weeks before the show, we go into “frantic writing” mode. Skits are finished, songs are polished, and an order is established. At this point we disallow any new ideas in order to concentrate on finishing the material we have. Though the show looms close, this part of the process is comparatively boring. It is not nearly as fun to write background dialogue as it is to write punchlines, and after seeing the same 16 people for several weeks in a row, cabin fever starts to set in. Sometimes tempers flare as ideas are kept or cut. As the show gets closer and closer, the group members become more and more distracted. For 21 hours a day, time hurtles forward as the Chorallaries deal with the rest of MIT life. Two projects, a problem set, a midterm, a job, class time, and a shadow of a social life try to squeeze on top of each other and suddenly it’s nine o’clock again. When the writing starts, however, time stops. Three hours is three weeks with the same quirky, frazzled, sleep-deprived musicians.
Soon our frantic writing week turns into concert week and Bad Taste begins to suck up more and more time. Charlene prints posters and the group puts them up all over campus. Bad Taste posters (like most things related to Bad Taste) are unique. The Chorallaries maintain a long list of quotes (mostly by professors) that are suggestive when taken out of context. For example, “You stick your finger up in there and then kind of massage it a little.”, “I cannot believe I suck so well!”, or “F what? F this?” (a charm school instructor explaining how to tie a tie, a physics professor demonstrating pressure differentials, and a calculus professor trying to determine which function threw his calculations off, respectively). At first, the quotes are alone. Far from a heavy-handed attempt at subtlety, the fans know. A week before the show, we add the details (time, date, room, etc.) for those who don’t already know.
Concert week is for more than publicity though. Last-minute changes are implemented in the script, and dress rehearsals begin as well. Though most years the script isn’t finalized until a few hours before the show, we managed to pull everything together early this year. Even so, rehearsals begin at 9:00pm and often run until 12:30am almost every night of the week. Most of the group struggles to stay abreast of coursework and retain a bit of sanity.

About mid-week, we notice that the line has started to form outside of 10-250 (the lecture hall that traditionally houses Bad Taste). Since there are no tickets for Bad Taste, people must wait in line to guarantee a spot at the performance. Each year, the line starts a little earlier as different living groups from around campus vie for the coveted first spot. Students erect tents in the hallway and casually roast marshmallows over a can of Sterno. Though the tents are taken down during the day so as not to block the room, at least a few students take shifts outside at all times in order to reserve their spot in line. For the truly die-hard fans, Bad Taste is a several day affair. In addition to tents, people bring lounge chairs, televisions, video game systems, card tables, and mini-fridges to make themselves comfortable. They entertain themselves by playing games, doing homework, napping, or completing a gigantic 6 foot by 6 foot crossword puzzle. While the fans wait outside, inside, at night, we begin to block out skits, rehearse songs, practice timing, and make sure that props are where they should be. By the end of the week the show is running rather smoothly.

Though we work incredibly hard, the Chorallaries have a rule – no rehearsal the night before a concert. It is a nice change of pace to have a Friday night off. We get a chance to rest our voices and catch up on some of the work we put off. Saturday, however, begins bright and early at 11:00am (which, for a Saturday, is indeed early). We begin by preparing the room, laying down tape in the hallway to contain the line, and making all of the signs and visual props we need. Afterwards, we run the show once and give each other feedback. With just hours to go, we try to limit the discourse to constructive criticism and comments that ease raw nerves.
As Saturday wears on, the line grows at an unbelievable pace. It seems like the entire campus comes out of the woodwork. Walking up and down the Bad Taste line on Saturday is the closest most of the Chorallaries will ever come to being celebrities. The crowd knows us by name and offers encouragement, food, and backrubs (among other things).
When we finally let the line in, there is a mad dash for seats. People pour into the room as fast as they can. Within minutes, 10-250 is buried knee deep in paper. Traditionally, the crowd brings different paper products such as toilet paper, paper balls, and paper airplanes to throw at us during the show. Some fans buy toy disk guns to shoot at us after the really offensive stuff. Many people can’t help letting a few fly before we start. Backstage, nerves are almost at their breaking point as group members run through the racy offensive material they’re about to perform in front of a large crowd. When asked how she felt about performing the show Lisa said, “At first I felt a little weird about it, but after being up there on stage with the whole lecture hall packed with people who camped out to see the show, I was psyched about performing.”
Two and a half hours later, we are taking our final bows. This year Aneal managed to teach the crowd about interest rates, Geoff played a convincing SIPB (Student Information Processing Board) nerd, and Matt and I introduced the world to the newest Olympic sport – Male Pairs Luge. The toilet paper from almost every bathroom on campus is strewn about the hall. As we begin the massive cleanup, the air is thick, hot, and silent. “I’m tired,” says Amy to nobody in particular.

After the last song has been sung, the last fan leaves the room, the last piece of paper is in the trash, and the last Chorallary leaves the post-Bad Taste celebration, the work is hardly over. This year we decided to record a CD of all of our Bad Taste songs. Patriot’s Day weekend was spent in a small makeshift recording studio reliving some of the show’s greatest musical moments. The group spent much of last year’s time and money professionally recording a CD. This year’s production had to be quick and cheap. We were able to borrow most of what we needed from friends, alumni, and fans. Surprisingly, the recording went without a hitch and we actually finished ahead of schedule. A few of the group members took the raw recordings home to digitally smooth them out and burn master CDs. A few days later, the group was taking turns manning a booth on the Infinite Corridor selling them for $7 each. Now at last the fans don’t have to remember the witty lyrics – they can listen to them again and again. In stereo.