The comedy show is the culmination of a semester’s work in English 307: Studies in Fiction and Poetry: Stylistics. Every fall the course is offered as “Gram-O-Rama,” the same name given to their textbook, written by UNC English professor Daphne Athas in the 1970s.
The current professor Ross White took over from Marianne Gingher this semester, who took over from Athas in 2007 after co-teaching the class with her for six years until Athas’ retirement.
“I taught it from 2007 to this year when I passed the torch to Ross White. I’m not saying that I’ll never teach it again, but I think it’s the sort of course that benefits from the infusion of fresh ideas, younger faculty,” she said.
Senior Lauren O’Connor takes the class as part of a much smaller legacy — she saw the show when her housemate performed in it last year and loved it.
“At first, it put me out of my comfort zone because I was nervous to be in front of people, and I felt vulnerable, but after we got to know each other well, it was a really fun thing, and it became really normal to be ridiculous,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it, and it’s been probably one of my favorite classes at UNC.”
For the first half of the course, students worked together to create approximately 200 sketches based on different grammatical principles. The students, who are required to pass an interview for enrollment, become a tight-knit group during the semester.
Senior Annie Harrison said the process was highly collaborative.
“We get into pairs and small groups, and we would meet outside of class and brainstorm ideas for what the exercise was and write the whole script together,” she said.
Students spent the latter half of the semester cutting down the number of skits to about 40 and honing their performance skills. This portion of the class sees guest appearances from Kenan-Flagler Business School professor Gregory Hohn, who teaches Applied Improv and carries over these principles for Gram-O-Rama participants.
While grammar would seem like a logical strength for the class of creative writers, theatrics were challenging.
“Most of the students in the class weren’t actors, so it’s been challenging, but we’ve also taken a lot of time not just into the writing of it but into the performance as well and perfecting the performance. It’s not just going to be some kids reading off of a script of something we wrote in class,” O’Connor said. “It’s probably going to be more fun than you’d expect a grammar show to be.”
But the nerves are all but gone for the 13 student performers, and the result is an offbeat take on grammatical conventions and rules.
“Our sort of sound bite for the class was that it’s ‘grammar as performance art,’” Gingher said.