A Performance to Remember

Celebrating its bicentennial, Harvard Law School hosts an arts festival—and a revue highlighting one of its great traditions

A Performance to Remember 1Next week, the HLS in the Arts festival will welcome back alumni who have gone on to use their legal skills in the arts industry or have become writers, composers, and performers. Some of them honed their skills at Harvard Law School through the HLS Drama Society, which most prominently produces the HLS Parody, an annual tradition since 1961 that satirizes the school, professors, and the legal profession.

The festival, scheduled for September 15-16, is part of Harvard Law’s yearlong bicentennial program, and will feature a performance of the best of the HLS Parody over the years, a chance for alumni to display their non-legal talents and relive treasured moments of their law school experience.

“It’s a really passionate group of alumni, of people who came together in law school because we all had this shared interest in theater and music,” said Brienne Letourneau ’10, a senior associate at Jenner & Block in Chicago. “People’s bonds are really strong. Some of my best friends not just in school but in life are people who I met through the Parody. We’re all really excited to have an opportunity to come together again—people from all different years and all different shows—and come back to Cambridge.”

The Parody, as the show became commonly known in the 1990s, typically uses as a source a work of popular culture, as did “Laws,” a play on the movie “Jaws” in the 1970s, or “License to Bill,” a James Bond spoof in 2001. The productions are known for their pun-filled titles—including “Harry ‘Issue’ Spotter and the Goblet of Breyer,” one of the two shows inspired by the J.K. Rowling series—as well as many inside references to HLS life. (For some productions, audience members have received a cheat-sheet to decode such allusions.) Part of the fun is good-natured cameo appearances by HLS professors—in the early days of the show, W. Barton Leach LL.B. 1924 performed, and others who took to the stage include Abram Chayes ’49, Arthur Miller ’58, Alan Dershowitz, as well as deans Robert Clark ’72, Elena Kagan ’86 and Martha Minow.

The show also has included student participants who would go on to careers in the performing arts. Among them is David Zippel ’79—a Tony Award-winning lyricist who wrote the musical “City of Angels” and also lyrics for animated Disney films—who will be interviewed during the arts festival. Others include Academy Award–winning producer David Sonenberg ’71; Broadway theater manager Lisa M. Poyer ’80; and film, TV, and stage actor Hill Harper ’92, who will also appear in the festival.

Of course, most student performers go on to careers related to the law. Two of the law school’s most well-known graduates in politics, Senator Ted Cruz ’95 and former Congressman Barney Frank ’77, were members of the Drama Society. Several future federal judges also took part, including Laurence Silberman ’61, Jed Rakoff ’69, Colleen McMahon ’76, Amy Berman ’79, and Jennifer Walker Elrod ’92.

As some alumni have noted, there’s a connection between drawing attention on a stage and captivating an audience in a courtroom, classroom, or the political arena.

“One of the reasons I chose a litigation career as opposed to a more transactional career is that I love the theater of the courtroom,” said Dale Cendali ’84, a partner focused on intellectual property at Kirkland & Ellis in New York who is scheduled to appear on a panel during the festival. “To try a case is a little bit like putting on a play, where you try to figure out a persuasive winning presentation to be followed by the jury.”

Regardless of the stage they perform on today, alumni will make their case for the creativity of the HLS community during the upcoming festival.