This weekend, around 300 students — about 20 percent of Lubbock Christian University’s current full-time student population of 1,500 — took to the stage for three packed performances during LCU’s homecoming weekend.
The Master Follies started with a piano 60 years ago.
The first Master Follies, held by a service club called the Music Masters, didn’t necessarily start with piano music — the event raised funds to purchase a nine-foot grand piano for what was then the Lubbock Christian College music department. That was on Dec. 12, 1958, during the college’s second year in existence, and the event proved so popular, it has continued to this day.
Warren McNeill, vice president of community relations at LCU, said the show may have started as a small talent show, but over the years it has grown into something a little different.
The first Master Follies was won by a brass sextet, with student clubs coming in second and third, including Christliche Damen in second for singing “Some Enchanted Evening,” and Kyodai and Koinonia in third for singing sea shanties while clad in naval apparel. Clubs, dormitories and individuals entered the show.
Nowadays, all eight of LCU’s clubs, which are similar in some ways to sororities and fraternities at other colleges, participate in the Master Follies. They are run by LCU’s Inter Club Council during homecoming celebrations, which come during basketball season in the spring semester because LCU has no football team.
Each entry is not a talent entry as much as a thematic story set to music and dance. Lots of costumes are used, and students tell their stories through modern songs with lyrics adapted to fit their own narratives. Many of the shows have video clips segueing between dances and songs.
And all of this is limited to six minutes for each club’s act.
McNeill took part with his club, Koinonia, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but he said he has observed plenty of changes over the years. When he watched his older brothers participate in the late 1960s, he said there was still an announcer. One year, he said, a funeral home organist was asked to play little ditties between acts.
“I think it was after that, that they decided there was probably a better way to do that,” McNeill said.
Talented students were asked to audition to be hosts of the show, singing and entertaining the audiences while the clubs switched out backstage and prepared for the next act.
“It became a show of all-student talent, really,” McNeill said. He was a host during his sophomore year.
While he remembers putting on shows on tourism and pirates with his club in his last two years, he said shows then relied more on props and vocal performances.
“Now, they use soundtracks or clips from different sources, effects and lighting,” McNeill said. “There’s a lot more technology in shows now than in shows we did back then.”
Bragging rights are on the line for each club, McNeill said. While the students are assessed by judges in each performance and two women’s and two men’s clubs will be ranked first and second, the audience votes each night on the People’s Choice Award, which is most coveted by the clubs.
But years later, he said, the students will remember the bonds they created or strengthened with their friends while rehearsing for the Master Follies.
Kylie Robles, a freshman in Kappa Phi, spoke after a short run-through of the club’s show on Friday. Kappa Phi is telling a story based on the movie, “A League of Their Own,” so there were baseball-themed songs intermixed with dancing and video clips.
“It’s so stressful, but also like the best time ever,” Robles said of the daily, three-hour rehearsals leading up to the Master Follies.
“The best thing that comes out of it is how close we get together,” said Madi Wright, a senior director of Kappa Phi’s show.
It’s possibly that same deepened bond that brings alumni back to the campus each year for homecoming and the Master Follies.
Jeremy Laughery, a junior who is president of Koinonia, said his parents went to LCU and participated in Master Follies. As a high school student, he remembers going to see his brother and future sister-in-law perform. Their excitement about participating, as well as his parents’ excitement about seeing the show again and about their son’s participation, made an impression on him. The Master Follies makes a lot of people really happy, he said.
His father and brother are now sponsors of Koinonia, have been at rehearsals and plan to be at all three shows.
“They’re very supportive,” Laughery said.
Skyler Richardson in Kappa Phi said alumni also attended their rehearsals, even giving some guidance in at least one, and helping to power the Kappa Phi girls through one all-night rehearsal.
“We have one night during practice, any alumni that wants can come in and help us out,” Brittany Michaleson said.
That kind of devotion means that, although some Lubbock community members buy Master Follies tickets, the majority are grabbed up by alumni and families of current students within minutes.
McNeill said tickets went on sale this year at noon on Jan. 10.
“By 12:08 (p.m.), there were straggler tickets left” for the Saturday night show, McNeill said. The best seats for the Saturday matinee and Friday night shows were also gone by 12:30.
“There are a few people in the community who have come to know about the show, and we put it on our marquee, so it’s not exclusively for the LCU community. But I would say the greatest demand is for alumni and families of students who are in the show,” McNeill said.