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                                                                                                                                      Some want the challenge of performing alongside professional companies and are focused on stretching performance skills, others want the opportunity to experience the Fringe as a whole. I open up
the trip to Years 11 – 13 and accept the first 12 students that sign up. The nature of the trip is likely to attract strong performers, but I don’t feel this should be a criteria. It’s up to me as the director to select or write a play that showcases the talents of my cast. I find that high expectations have always been met and our students always make me proud of their professional and mature approach to creating a successful play.
I’m not sure I’ve worked out the ‘right’ play to perform at the Fringe. We’ve taken an adaptation of a known play and a piece of new writing. Both have worked well, but for different reasons. It was easier to attract audiences with an established play, but challenging to find a piece that can be adapted for the cast and the tight 50 minute time slot.
This year I wrote an ensemble piece to allow a more inclusive approach and to explore a range of styles. Audiences loved it, but this was harder to sell as it was unfamiliar.
As an audience member, choosing from the list of plays can be overwhelming if you’re only up there for a few days! Both were successful experiences – just different. One student who performed in both plays said, ‘It was even more fun this year as performing a new play felt more personal’.
Rehearsal
Any drama department knows how challenging it is to rehearse regularly with a full cast, so we rehearse intensively the week before going to Edinburgh. This works well for us as it provides focused preparation for performance, helps the cast bond
as a company and gives an insight into life as an actor. Performers need to be off script after the 2nd day and have the pressure of an open dress rehearsal at the end of the final day! Although exhausted after a full week of intensive rehearsal, I know they will rise to the challenge of performing in front of an invited audience. This also significantly increases their confidence in the play they are about to perform to
a more critical audience! After the dress rehearsal we pack the minibus together as a company which reinforces the shared responsibility within this trip.
There are key practicalities to consider when designing a show for the Fringe, such as the 5 minute get-in and get-out time and the tiny storage space at the theatre! Costumes can’t be stored at the theatre so need to be taken in each day. Our actors wore costumes leafleting and performing on
the Mile, so they need to be eye catching enough to attract attention and robust enough to withstand a lot of wear. Last year our period costumes worked brilliantly, but
it did mean students had to carry around changes of clothes all day. This year I used a range of brightly coloured hoodies which made life much simpler!
Journey
I feel the journey puts some
people off visiting. 10 hours in a minibus from Surrey to Edinburgh sounds horrendous, but it’s actually remarkably smooth. We take a trailer for suitcases and set, etc.
We set off at 5.30am, so have a peaceful few hours as the students sleep until Leicester – then a
couple of stops and we are at the accommodation by 3.30pm. This is the most flexible and cost effective way for us to travel and transport everything needed for the show, without the restriction of timetables, weather or cancellations.
Edinburgh week
Setting off for The Royal Mile
on the first day I see a mixture
of curiosity, anticipation and excitement. As we travel into Edinburgh I love watching the response of the students as they see increasing numbers of costumed performers and musicians all heading to the Mile to advertise their show. The scale and vibrancy of the Fringe becomes reality at this point and, however well-prepared, it takes a while for the students to find their voice in this environment. Our students find themselves side by side with choirs, acrobats, street performers, actors – not just visiting – but performers in this incredible festival.
There is an important moment of realisation that they have to step-up to be successful. Our performance slots on the Royal Mile stages
are booked in advance and our pitch is well rehearsed. However,
as this is a learning experience, I
let the students experiment with their approaches to successful leafleting. This is a valuable real
life experience of working out strategies as a team, learning from observing the approaches of other groups, reflecting and adapting
Students leafleting on the Mile
strategy according to immediate response. Leafleting is cited as
the most challenging aspect of the trip! Managing rejection is hard, but bouncing back from this and sustaining motivation is an important life skill.
Finding the right pitch takes practice. Our play this year focused on individuality and difference. Trying to capture this, one of our students announced, ‘If you’re weird or different you’ll like our play!’ Thankfully the group quickly realised this was neither effective nor selling the play and revised their approach!
After a couple of days all reticence disappeared, students were exploring more creative approaches and confidently working as a team, adapting their pitch appropriately and focusing on their shared goal rather than individual setbacks. As a teacher, it’s amazing to see such huge development in such a short time. Support from visiting parents and staff always gives the students a boost. I always get a couple of extra t-shirts printed so visitors can help with leafleting – all publicity and promotion helps!
Continued >
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