Little Happenings brings absurdism to campus

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Augie senior Jonathan Quigley, Freshman Blake Traylor, and Juniors Tyler Bentley, John Cunningham, (left to right), surrounding the speakers playing random noises during the noise event organised by Little Happenings.

Collin Schopp

It’s a warm September day on Augustana’s Campus. The quad is filled with students rushing between classes.

When you first step out of the Gerber Center, it may seem like business as usual — but then you see the six foot tall foam T-Rex skeleton in the middle of the quad. You see two rows of chairs and people staring rapt at the beast.

As you get closer, you hear something shrill. It takes a minute, but it’s eventually recognizable as the Jurassic Park theme song, played very poorly on a recorder.You’ve run into a Happening.

Little Happenings officially became the only absurdist humor student organization on campus during Spring Term in 2018, but its presence was felt well before that.

Jonathan Quigley is now a senior at Augustana, but in 2018 he was a sophomore and recently-declared theater major.

“I wanted to do something creative and fun,” Quigley said. “I wanted to find a way to express myself on campus.”

One weekend, Quigley binged Adult Swim’s surreal late-night talk show, “The Eric Andre Show,” and decided to bring his own spin on absurdism to campus. 

The show features comedians Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress and contains absurd sketch comedy akin to the work of Little Happenings.

“It’s obviously inspired by [The Eric Andre Show], but we don’t want to just copy the show,” Quigley said.

The performances started out as a solo-effort with 15 random campus-wide pictures of bees that quickly became 200.

Next came a sign that simply stated “help me” taped to a box covering Quigley’s head as he stumbled around campus.

Things continued to escalate; the year would later see the box expand from just Quigley’s head to his entire body, layered with an alien mask and question marks and constantly emananting the sound of 14 digitally down-pitched crying babies.

The performances began to gain attention from other students on campus, some of whom wanted to get involved themselves.

Seeing an interest, Quigley started the process of making Little Happenings an official student group.

Despite it being a difficult sell to former Dean Evelynn Campbell and the rest of the administration at the time, the group came to an agreement with administration.

The administration worried about the group’s potential for “public, weird or crazy content,” so the group agreed to get all potential Happenings approved by Professor Shelley Cooper in the theater department.

Now, the group has around 10 consistent student members, with the numbers growing or shrinking depending on the Happenings being planned. For the most part, events are bi-weekly.

Sophomore Ryan Hurdle has participated in several Happenings.

“They’re super fun and even more weird,” Hurdle said. “I think a lot of people take life really seriously, and I understand that, but I hope that the Happenings make people laugh, or smile or feel confused as they go about their day. Maybe later that night they think ‘What the hell was that?’”

With a whole group now brainstorming, and many performances under his belt, Quigley has some guidelines for what makes a good Happening.

“It’s important to be a presence, not a nuisance,” Quigley said. “People have to have a choice, whether they engage with the Happening or not.”

According to Quigley, it’s also important that Happenings have a degree of “intentionality.”

They can’t be pure chaos, as the best ones are those during which it’s easy to figure out what’s taking place.

These philosophies have led to some of Quigley’s favorite Happenings, including a “cock fight” between two knife-wielding buckets of KFC, a “band” composed of random instruments all playing different songs and a tense Star Wars dialogue that never lead to an actual duel.

Now in his senior year, Quigley has to consider the continuation of Little Happenings beyond his attendance at Augustana.

“It’s a really weird cross of apathy and concern,” Quigley said. “It will be out of my hands, but I can do everything in my power to make sure the group is well equipped. I definitely trust the people we have now.”

For anyone interested in being part of a Happening, the group meets at 5 p.m. in the Black Box Theater on Sundays.

Little Happenings also takes submissions for ideas through a Google Form emailed out by the theater department.