While other Rice colleges create elaborate floats for the annual pre-Beer Bike parade, Martel College does things a little differently.
For the past eight years, its students have constructed elaborate “builds” that have included everything from a “Game of Thrones”-inspired set on Martel’s sundeck — complete with an Iron Throne made of beer and wine bottles — to last year’s upside-down Spiderman-themed dorm room in the Martel commons that drew people from across campus to pose “suspended” from the ceiling like Peter Parker.
And for the past four years, Martel College senior Gigi Rill has been in charge of each one.
“That means I’ve been doing this for half the time Martel has been doing builds,” said Rill, who’s graduating in May and has a job waiting for her at Boeing.
A mechanical engineering major who built theater sets in high school, Rill is a natural at construction. She wanted to end her Beer Bike build career at Rice with one final, fantastic flourish. That’s why this year’s build started even earlier than usual — in January.
“I was painting during Super Bowl,” Rill said.
She wasn’t alone, though. Fellow builder Amanda Suarez, a materials science and nanoengineering major, spent her entire Spring Break on campus working on the build. It’s designed after this year’s Martel Beer Bike theme: “The Emperor’s New Booze.”
A giant headdress modeled off Kuzco’s crown in the Disney animated film “The Emperor’s New Groove” is made of hand-painted cardboard and hardboard and decorates the entrance to Martel’s commons. Inside, “Marteltopia” features Instagram-worthy set pieces and backdrops from the movie, some with a few Rice and Martel Easter eggs thrown in for those looking closely enough.
“We picked out a couple different scenes and references that we liked,” Rill said.
Students can pose on Kuzco’s massive throne or grab a seat inside Yzma’s roller coaster car to her secret lab. In lieu of the levers Kronk must pull to get to the lab, there’s a space where a keg stood on the day of Beer Bike.
“Pull a lever, tap a keg,” Rill laughed. “Either way it’s fun.”
Finally tapping that keg was a welcome moment after what Rill and Suarez estimate added up to between 800 and 900 man-hours spent on the build, with 15 other students pitching in to help in the weeks leading up to its March 24 unveiling at midnight — just in time for another Martel Beer Bike tradition: first beer.
This final build for Rill is bittersweet, but she knows she’s leaving it in capable hands with Suarez, a sophomore with two more years of builds ahead of her. Not only did Suarez help with last year’s complicated upside-down room, she — like Rill — also spent her high school years making theater sets.
“I’m definitely, obviously staying on,” said Suarez, who will serve as build head next year. “And I’ve got to find my own protégé to carry it on after me.”
But Rill is leaving on a high note — and not just because they figured out how to construct a three-dimensional roller coaster car using chicken wire, cardboard and two wooden chairs. Her Iron Thronemade from recycled wine and beer bottles just won her an all-expenses-paid trip to New York for the April 3 premier of the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
“I don’t do Instagram,” Rill said of the social media site where the contest was posted. Luckily, her friend Andrew Grottkau does, and the McMurtry College senior encouraged Rill to submit photos from the 2016 “Thrones”-themed Martel build after he saw the contest publicized there.
A couple of weeks later, Rill found out she’d won. It was a completely unexpected victory for the “Thrones” fan, who had recently charged her boyfriend with catching up on all seven seasons of the show so they could watch the April 14 premier on HBO at Martel’s viewing party together.
Now, however, she’ll attend the red carpet event with fellow Martel builder and Rice alum Errol Jordheim, who helped her create the throne three years ago. They’ve been sworn to secrecy following the premier, which kicks off the last season of the wildly popular show, with non-disclosure agreements preventing them from revealing anything that happens in the episode until it airs on HBO April 14.
Rill is still planning on attending the Martel viewing party for the show that night. But instead of concentrating the episode, she’ll be focused on the crowd reactions.
“I’m just going to be watching everybody else,” she said. “It’ll be fun.”