News Column

Performing at the Fringe

August 7, 2014

By Marta Hepler Drahos, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Aug. 07--TRAVERSE CITY -- Interlochen Arts Academy will make its debut next week at Scotland's prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The "Fringe Festival," as many call it, is the world's largest performing arts event, with nearly 3,000 shows in 2013. The theater-driven event features comedy, dance, physical theater, circus, cabaret, puppet theater, musicals, opera, spoken word and more.

"I've never experienced anything like it," said Interlochen director of theater Bill Church, who attended the festival for the first time last summer. "The size and the scope are really impossible to convey. There are tens of thousands of people all over Edinburgh, this beautiful Medieval city, and they're all there to see theater."

Church will lead two dozen Academy theater students -- all recent graduates, post-graduates or returning students -- in four performances of "Sonnets for an Old Century" Aug. 15-20. The edgy -- even "fringy" -- play by award-winning Puerto Rican playwright and producer Jose Rivera is a series of monologues voiced by characters in a sort of purgatory, who have one final chance to speak to the living.

Many of the students, like Sarah Pidgeon, will enter prestigious drama schools immediately after the festival. Pidgeon, of Ann Arbor, is an incoming freshman at Carnegie Mellon University'sSchool of Drama and will head to the Pittsburgh campus directly from Scotland. Other students along on the trip include a stage manager, an assistant director and a marketing and public relations specialist.

"I hope it's the first of many trips to the Fringe," said Pidgeon, 18, who will study with the next generation of directors, filmmakers and actors. "I think that the Fringe festival is the perfect place to showcase new and exciting works. It's so amazing that so many art forms can be in one place, and being immersed in the arts for 10 days is amazing. Every second there's something completely different from what you saw the second before."

Acceptance into the festival is a two-year process that includes nomination to the event, Church said. Interlochen -- named by The Hollywood Reporter in June as the country's top high school for theater -- was nominated by the American High School Theatre Festival, which is helping with trip logistics.

Church said the students have not had a chance to get together since May, when they staged the show at Interlochen Arts Academy. They worked on their monologues individually during the summer from their homes as far away as Hong Kong and Australia.

They'll gather at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on Saturday for a flight to London, where they'll participate in a workshop at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and attend a production of "War Horse." Then they'll board a train for the four-hour trip to Edinburgh.

They'll make up for lost time along the way.

"We will actually start rehearsing in the airport," Church said. "And we have had some Skype or video sessions. We will also have time in Scotland to rehearse before we perform."

The troupe will give four performances at the Church Hill Theatre, an 1800s Gothic Revival-style church made of pink sandstone, that was converted to a theater in the 1960s. They'll rely on the church's atmospheric architecture and 75 battery-operated candles to set the stage.

Church said the students will each pack three of the candles, along with their costume, to avoid costly overseas shipping and to simplify their production.

"What's interesting about the Fringe is that every theater company has just two hours. You move in, the audience comes in, you perform, you strike the set, all in two hours. The students will actually wear their costumes to and from the theater," he said. "The other interesting thing is that each theater company has to go out and bring in their audience. So one of the days we'll be going out on the high street, which is also called the Royal Mile, and perform there for about 20 minutes just to recruit an audience. They'll pass out flyers on other days."

The students will stay in private dorm rooms at the University of Edinburgh, which overlooks "Arthur's Seat" mountain. During their free time they'll take in a guided tour of the city, the Scottish Highlands, a military tattoo at Edinburgh Castle, a traditional Scottish dance -- and lots and lots of theater.

Church said the trip not only will expose them to "the amazingly wide range of theater that is out there" but also will give them a memorable last week with their Interlochen friends. Most of all it will give them valuable experience and bragging rights.

"For the rest of their lives on their resumes they'll be able to say, 'I performed 'Sonnets for an Old Century' at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. That's a huge thing," he said.


(c)2014 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

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Source: Record-Eagle, The (Traverse City, MI)

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