“An evening of music, comedy, tears, pain, and blue ribbon-winning Thai peppers” is just how the University Singers brought a new “spice” to Minsky Hall on the evening of Oct. 19 as they showcased their first “Voices on Fire” fundraising event. The event, which programmed ten performances in addition to the finale, required that prior to singing, each performer must ingest one thai pepper and then attempt to successfully perform their song without being overcome by the intensity of the pepper’s fire.
Laughter erupted from the crowd as they watch each performer wince as they swallowed the thai pepper (almost 40 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper). The performances also included ironic references regarding the theme of the night. “My favorite [performance] was ‘Agony’,” said third-year student Brianna Cirone. The fittingly titled performance was sung by Francis Vogt and Zachary Fisher, who slightly altered the “Into the Woods” hit’s lyrics in order to fit their state, post-thai pepper ingestion.
The event is the brainchild of third-year education student and University Singers member Andrew Cloutier. “I’ve had this idea for about a year and a half now,” Cloutier said. “I just suddenly decided it would be hilarious if people tried to sing while eating [the peppers].”
This past year, Cloutier was voted to become a part of the group’s executive board, which is when he decided to present the idea for a fundraiser.
After having the idea for “Voices on Fire” voted in by the board, Cloutier had only 2 1/2 weeks to put on the show. But luckily, getting his hands on the peppers wouldn’t be the tough part. Cloutier grew the Thai peppers himself. He’d started dabbling in organic farming in high school after being inspired by the Common Ground Fair held annually in Unity, Maine. This past year, the peppers won first place at the fair.
However, having grown the blue-ribbon peppers could not save Cloutier from their wrath, as he was the Master of Ceremonies of the event and also performed several times throughout the night. “It was very painful,” Cloutier admitted of eating the peppers, then attempting to sing. “But it was hilarious.” The audience clearly thought so, as the sound of laughter filled the hall just as much as the voices of the singers themselves.
Eric Schessler, a member of the University of Maine Steiners, was another singer who found himself victim to the peppers’ intense fire. “It just starts as a nice zest, then all of a sudden it erupts in a pain.” Schessler admitted to having to take a slight break to catch his breath in his first performance. “There was a point where I just buckled over.”
While this momentary loss of breath was common for most all of the singers who subjected themselves to the fiery peppers, they walked away from the performance with a smile, laughter and only a few tears.
As for the event’s finale, all of the performers congregated on stage, all ate a pepper together and appropriately closed the show with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” all the while accompanied by a few gallons of milk to dull the pain.