Spexes is a form of amateur comedy theatre common at Swedish and Finnish universities and colleges. The earliest forms of the tradition dates back as far as in the 16th century in university cities such as Uppsala and is still regularly performed in numerous other places. Many universities have at least one official spex-organisation, and performances can have quite big budgets and impressive choreography for amateur theatre. Spexes are usually musicals and to varying degrees performed in rhyme. In earlier days, spexes were commonly written in latin and since women weren't allowed in Swedish universities before 1873, they were exclusively performed by males, even in female roles. Even today, some spexes are performed exclusively by men or by women casts, but much more common is mixed performances where some male roles are played by women and vice versa.
Spexes tend to have historical themes, even if they tend to care little for historical accuracy and have few problems mixing historical characters from widely different eras and places in order to create comedy. The songs tend to be parodies of classics or current popular music with texts written specifically for the play. Another common theme is a high degree of Audience Participation. If the audience finds a particular song or joke particularly funny (or bad) they are encouraged to shout "One more time!" or "Restart!" and the actors are then expected to do another variation of the joke or sing a new variation of the song. This makes it common for the performers to have a truly mind-boggling number of encores prepared beforehand, but also makes it important for the actors to be good at improvisation if the audience demands a joke to be repeated in a specific way (such as backwards, once more with feeling, in German or in slow-motion). The term "Spex" itself probably comes from the word "Spectacle". (No relation to the "spex" which also mean spectacles...on your nose.)
This genre contains examples of:
- Anachronism Stew
- Artistic License History
- Audience Participation
- Crosscast Role
- Historical Domain Character
- Historical Hilarity
- Historical In-Joke
- Hurricane of Puns
- No Fourth Wall
- Pun-Based Title: There are different traditions on how to name spexes, and some include at least one pun (such as Ivan III or A Tsar is Born).
- Rhymes on a Dime
- Short Title: Long, Elaborate Subtitle: There are different traditions on how to name spexes, in some towns they have really long name, such as the Uppsala Pharmacists spex: Frank Einstein or The Modern Prosthesis or In Search of Lost Life.
- Silliness Switch: Some spexes have "Buskföreställningar" in the last show. This means that people who usually aren't on stage come up on stage for jokes and skits, the Fourth Wall is broken a lot more than regularly (if there is a fourth wall, that is) and sillier props are put in. (Such as a closet being replaced by a bouncy castle, a cane being replaced with a battleaxe, and a smoke grenade being replaced with a Poké Ball.)
- Spontaneous Choreography
- World of Pun: Puns are a large part of the comedy. The weatherman predicts at least three or four hurricanes per show.