With increasing crowds attending My Mother’s Fleabag’s Big Shows at the O’Connell House, the comedy troupe has had to consider whether keeping traditions is worth losing audience members.
It was 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night—somewhere around 35 degrees. I walked briskly past Mac, hopped across CoRo, and bolted up the stairs to Upper faster than I ever had when I lived there as a freshman. With the November air grating the inside of my lungs, I stumbled into the O’Connell House out of breath, only to find what I knew I would but hoped I wouldn’t.
A growing congregation of freezing and upset BC students stood outside of the packed house waiting, pointlessly, to be let into the building for the final performance of My Mother’s Fleabag’s Fall Big Show. The cop at the door didn’t have to say a thing. There was no more room, and there was no way he would break the strict capacity limit.
Students began to turn away, disgruntled, hypothesizing about how early would have been early enough, making sarcastic comments about going to see Hello … Shovelhead!, and deliberating whether they should find a party to crash or just get mozz sticks at Late Night instead.
Fleabag sold out three of its four un-ticketed shows this weekend at the O’Connell House—the first one, at 7 p.m. on Friday evening, had space for only six extra people. The others left dozens stranded outside of the venue. Those who were lucky to see the improv troupe arrived anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour before show time to be assured seats.
Gaining admission to Fleabag’s Big Show performances each semester is notoriously difficult. It’s so hard it’s almost funny (until you find yourself walking back down to Lower, trying to make jokes about the situation that inevitably fall flat). It’s not the kind of thing you decide to check out on a whim—you have to plan to go, and you have to plan to go early.
Demand from the student body has been so high to see the group that it actually added the fourth show in the past couple of years to adjust to the growing crowds. Even that, though, hasn’t been enough to match Fleabag’s popularity.
This fall, Fleabag was approved to have 142 people in the O’Connell House per show. That’s not a huge number—especially when you consider how many students would have been there, had they been allowed inside. Although the group has been encouraged by the Office of Student Involvement to solve the capacity problem by switching to a larger venue, Fleabag is understandably hesitant to do so.
Founded in 1980, Fleabag is the oldest collegiate improv troupe in the country, and it doesn’t take that distinction lightly. Tradition is at the root of the group’s character—its red and white baseball t-shirts, its routines and sketches, and, of course, the O’Connell House are just a few of the components that every Fleabagger from famous alumni like Amy Poehler, BC ’93, to this year’s graduating seniors have come to love about the group.
When you think about it that way, it’s hard to even wish that Fleabag give up its current venue for more seats. It’d be like asking the group to give up a part of itself. Sure, it’d be nice to fit 304 people in Devlin 008, for just one show, but then, it wouldn’t quite be a Fleabag show. Tradition may not be accommodating, but it’s important—ask any Fleabag member or fan.
The O’Connell House is Fleabag’s home, and it’s welcomed us to share it. The group has opened its doors countless times over the past 34 years, promising its guests a free show and a good time every time they visit, and while it probably would love to host as many fans as possible, that’s not in its power. That’s the University’s decision. It’s not fair to be frustrated with Fleabag—no matter how disappointing it is to be turned away from one of its shows in the dead of winter. The O’Connell House may be Fleabag’s house, but it’s not the one making rules.
Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Photo Illustration