More than 30,000 performers from around the world descend on Edinburgh each summer to take part in the world-famous Fringe Festival. This August, a group of actors from Pacific Ridge School joined their creative ranks. Nine Pacific Ridge students from the Advanced Theater Class, traveling as members of the American High School Theatre Festival, performed the play From Up Herefour times on the international stage. Theater director Alison Trattner talks about the challenges and rewards of what she considers to be the “ultimate global experience”:
How did the opportunity to perform at the Fringe Festival come about?
It was actually amazing serendipity. Years earlier, Steve Dziekonski [Pacific Ridge Music/Arts Program Facilitator] had mentioned it to me as a wonderful experience he had at his old school. The American High School Theatre Festival (AHSTF) runs this great program that makes it possible for 35-40 American high schools to perform at the Fringe every year. When I finally looked into it, however, my heart sank to find out schools have to be nominated to AHSTF by an outside organization which has seen the students’ work. With us being a relatively new school with a relatively new theater program, I couldn’t imagine who might nominate us.
The very next day, as I was sifting through miles of emails, I happened to open one from the Playwrights Project, an organization that has been helping us write our one act plays for years. Playwrights Project was so impressed with the students’ work creating and performing the plays, that they had nominated us for AHSTF.
The very next day there was an email in my inbox from AHSTF saying “Congratulations.”
Why From Up Here?
The Fringe came to life as a reaction to mainstream theater. As such, Fringe shows can be very experimental. They can be shows that have never been done before, a new way of looking at an old classic, or plays with themes that are almost prescient in their significance.
We chose From Up Here because we felt that it addressed something that is definitely an issue in our country – school violence. We also felt that the relationships between the people in the family were very real and very current; they weren’t pretty.
From Up Here is this kind of fresh, perspective-driven piece that is not only relevant, but a little bit on the edge.
What sort of preparation was required for the trip?
We rehearsed and rehearsed, practiced and practiced. When everyone else went on their end of year trip we stayed here…we had so much to do.
We also had to pack every item that we were bringing with us. Our set designer ensured that everything, from our PVC pipe projection screen to our kitchen table-cum-all-purpose desk, could collapse and be taken apart rapidly. He color-coded everything – even the screws. Everything came apart. We practiced it over and over. We would time it. We would say “okay go” and they would have to undo their entire prop, put it in the suitcase and leave the theater. Then they’d have to come in, unpack, set the whole thing up and run off stage as though the show was starting.
[Editor’s note: actors had just fifteen minutes on either end of each performance to move set pieces and props in and out of an unfamiliar venue, and had to stick to a strict, 90-minute running time.]
After we did all that, we had to make flyers and posters to publicize our performance.
The students worked all summer long to pull all these elements together.
What were some highlights and challenges of the Fringe experience?
A huge highlight was our second night, when we finished the play in less than 90 minutes. We had really pulled the show together. They had learned how to put it up, take it down, and swing as an ensemble. There was this exhilaration at the end. It felt so hard the first night; we barely finished in the required time, there were some problems with set changes…and the second night the show was up and running. The satisfaction of really figuring out how to do this hard thing… that was fun and exhilarating.
Another highlight was climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat [Editor’s note: Arthur’s Seat is a looming hill with panoramic views of Edinburgh] on a sunny, beautiful day just after a performance. I told the students to separate and just have a solo moment on the mountain to just look out at the city and the sea and think about where they were and realize what they’d done.
Our biggest challenge was raising the money. In December, after working so hard to raise $9,000, we sort of hit a wall where we didn’t know how we could possibly raise $18,000 more. Then we were lucky enough to receive a generous, $8,000 matching grant, and suddenly it was possible.
Other challenges included giving up the summer to work, striking a balance between performance and pleasure on the trip, working together as a group to see everything we wanted to see and also accomplish all we needed to accomplish.
But even the challenges were their own rewards in the end. All the coins had flip sides.
What kind of performances were you able to see while there?
The students saw a multitude of diverse performances – from a one-man show to a South African gospel choir, from an improv troupe that creates musicals on the fly to a Brazilian samba act featuring percussion and freestyle soccer. One of the absolute highlights of the trip was a show by VOCA people, an Israel-based ensemble performing vocal theater combining a cappella and beat box vocals to reproduce the sounds of an entire orchestra.
How did the Fringe Festival experience relate to the Pacific Ridge School Mission?
Academic excellence …students used critical thinking and creative reasoning to select the play, profoundly research it and put it out in the community.
Ethical responsibility… students gave a lot of thought to the message the play sent. They embraced their responsibility to appropriately convey the message, and also to check in with the audience and make sure the message was being understood.
Global Engagement…it is the ultimate global experience. The students met people from all over the world – both tourists and performers. Everyone marching in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo was staying at our dormitories, so every morning you could eat your bangers and mash with someone from India, or Nepal, or Singapore or Belgium. It was quite extraordinary. The students really embraced it, and they definitely brought a piece of that world experience back with them.
Thank you to all the teachers who donned kilts and bought donuts in support of our fundraising efforts. Thank you to the to all the parents and community members who bought tickets to our shows, allowed us to wrap their holiday gifts, and bought extra concessions at volleyball and basketball games. Thank you to our undisclosed and incredibly benevolent donor and granting foundation. It is because of the generosity of the Pacific Ridge community that we were able to have the experience of a lifetime! Alison Trattner