Mackey ’04 Brings ‘The Giant Squid’ to Swarthmore

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Cryptozoology-horror-comedy: 1. “An exploration of the human fascination with strange and mysterious creatures” (see Big Foot, Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster, Jersey Devil, etc.) 2. “A blend of the adrenaline of fear with the excitement of laughing.” 3. A whole new kind of comedy.

This is what The Berserker Residents and Swim Pony, two Philadelphia based comedy/theater collaborations, are bringing to Swarthmore this Saturday with “The Giant Squid”. The comedy, directed by Adrienne Mackey ’04, combines Mackey’s love of theater and science, beginning as a scientific lecture given by a certain Professor Brum. However, the audience soon undergoes a “trying instructional seminar on underwater survival, a deadly ‘mer-fu’ martial arts demonstration, and other lessons on sea-safety and proper squid dissection.” Like many of Mackey’s pieces, it is a devised show that allows everyone involved to collaborate in creating the work—from plot to script to lighting.

Tom Powers ‘13, who is organizing “The Giant Squid” performance at Swarthmore, has regularly brought different types of comedy to campus. The main venue for doing so is the annual Comedy Week, during which comedy shows and workshops are held. “Theatrical Comedy isn’t really done on campus or at least isn’t done in such a professional setting,” explains Powers. “The kind of theater they are trying to create is unlike anything I have really seen before. It is a site-specific performance which uses just props and lights to completely transform a space.”

The show was created to be performed in a lecture hall, and thus uses extremely portable and inventive ways of creating set and environment.  “Everybody has had a class in Sci 101, everyone knows that space,” says Powers. “But on Saturday the classroom will be transformed into this insane environment that you’re transported into. By using this space in this way, they are creating two different worlds out of the same space. This show is very much one of a kind.”

“The Giant Squid” is the second in a trilogy which began with “Jersey Devil,” a piece created solely by The Berserker Residents. “Jersey Devil” centered on its namesake, another legendary creature, which is said to resemble a kangaroo with bat wings and which resides in Southern New Jersey. When Mackey became involved with “The Giant Squid” she wanted to do a completely different creature, and so selected a water-dwelling animal.

“The Giant Squid” was first performed in 2008 at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was well received, with reviews printed in both “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Broad Street Review.” The show was revived in May of this year with almost the original cast and is currently on a “college lecture hall tour” featuring Swarthmore, Penn, and the University of the Arts.

Mackey was a founding member of Swat’s only sketch comedy group, Boy Meets Tractor (BMT), in her sophomore year, and was an honors Theater major and Chemistry major. According to Mackey, BMT “was originally a second improv team […] but at some point [they] realized that everyone in the group, while enjoying comedy, really had more of a passion for crafting it ahead of time rather than improvising in the moment.” Since then, BMT has grown into a well-known, award winning group within the Philadelphia comedy community. Along with Vertigo-go, Swarthmore’s improvisation group, it forms the core of Swarthmore’s comedy community.

Swim Pony is the name that Mackey has given to her body of work, which has built off of and expanded since her time at Swarthmore. She describes her senior thesis, a devised work of her own creation, as starting her interest in the Philadelphia theater scene. “Being in charge of that, overseeing, writing, directing, and producing it, set the pattern for the way I made work once I left Swat,” says Mackey. The influence of her time at Swarthmore is evident in shows such as SURVIVE!, which offered the audience a choose-your-own-adventure theatrical experience, similar to the show “Fefu and Her Friends,” which was performed by senior company last year. Mackey acts as artistic director of these shows and brings in collaborators such as The Berserker Residents to create the various projects she dreams up.

“The Giant Squid” will be showing in Science Center 101 on Saturday, September 22nd at 8:00 p.m. It is funded by the Drama Board, Forum for Free Speech, and SAC. If you have any questions about the show, contact Tom Powers ( Treasure Tinsley can be contacted at

Photos courtesy of Adrienne Mackey.

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