Echoes of excited conversation bounce back and forth on the walls of Palmer Auditorium. Both students and alumni discuss the coming annual performance spectacle. It’s live theater, but the stakes here are raised to a highly competitive level. It’s a competition between two spirited halves of the university. Glory is not found in modest reviews in the school newspaper. Bragging rights to a 96-year-old homecoming tradition are instead up for grabs.
Outside of those walls, the cool February air hangs without notice of the events as purple and gold ribbons tied among many of the campus trees occasionally seem to wave a tired salute to the homecoming tradition. It’s easy to assume that all traces of College Night are crammed away in Palmer, ready to burst forth into the rest of the small town once the coveted title of winner is announced.
This, however, is not the case. About a three minute’s walk away, a small crowd sits patiently in LeBaron Recital Hall. The middle section of seats is filled modestly, no row completely filled to capacity. A person not familiar with the importance of the night would most likely assume the audience is patiently waiting for a mildly exciting movie of some sort.
A large screen covers the performance area of LeBaron. Built for housing the beautifully acoustic sounds of orchestral or choral recitals, the sound instead emanating from the stage is the dull roar of a digitized Palmer audience.
The audience of LeBaron acts as a more subdued mirror image. The room is comprised of mostly adults — alumni and some parents. A few students are grouped together in small clumps among the rows.
In Palmer the familiar triumphant opening notes of the national anthem push into the room, the buzzing crowd standing to attention. The same also happens in LeBaron. The two crowds begin singing the patriotic tribute, the phoned in verses from Palmer adding a strange microphone affect to the swelling voices in LeBaron.
The screen, showing SGA President Rachael Swokowski leading the anthem, suddenly freezes, the digital choir cuts short. This common interruption of the digital age does not, however, halt the patriotic presence in LeBaron.
The small groups voices blend beautifully into the heart thumping American honesty one might hear in a baseball stadium or a Boy Scout troop meeting. When the Palmer audience “resumes” their singing, the crowd in LeBaron collectively chuckles and rewinds their stellar performance to align with the Palmer crowd.
As the Purples and Golds in Palmer circle up, those in LeBaron do not. Instead, they either politely stare or quietly murmur the songs to themselves. A few hold up a thumbs up or peace sign, hand signals for Gold and Purple respectively.
As the gold side show starts, the LeBaron audience watches the live show in a movie format. The dialogue is predictably tough to decipher. The audience isn’t able to see all of the action at once either, their vision dependent on what the camera operator decides to see.
Lag sadly plagues the performance. Key plot points are lost as minute-long lag freezes the climax of a strong solo. When the footage continues after the lag has subsided, the viewer is suddenly subjected to a totally new conflict in a different scene with no understanding of why the characters are angry or upset.
Despite the distance and the less than ideal viewing conditions, the LeBaron crowd is having fun. They are laughing and clapping, happy to celebrate a beloved homecoming tradition in a new way.
Elsewhere during intermission, the Merchants and Planters Bank Auditorium in Comer Hall is also the site of a streaming location. However, its “crowd” is comprised of seven students, all hopeful Purples.
Trisha Goodrich, a student at the University of Montevallo for 19 years, is pulling for Purple side in the familiar comfort of her motorised wheelchair. A brain injury and several major surgeries have only allowed Goodrich’s college career to happen sporadically.
Despite her handicap, Goodrich’s Purple side spirit has not tarnished in her nearly two decades here. She holds on hope for a Purple victory, glad she is able to witness the action.
The streaming of the 96th College Night did not go down without a hitch. Lagging video and spotty attendance perhaps didn’t quite meet the expectations organizers originally had.
However, there were enough smiles, subtle chants, hoops, hollers and hidden hand signs to show that one musn’t necessarily be in Palmer auditorium on the final night of College Night to get spirited and swept up in the tradition.
If the above account does not prove why the university should enable streaming every year, then the final number of views on YouTube should: 733.