A Drama Teacher's Fringe Diary
by Mr Nigel Williams
Day 1 - Friday
The staff team of Mr Parker, Mrs Dabell and Mr Dabell meet at school in the morning and, after coffee and a quick catch-up, unpack the costumes that have arrived from the Royal Shakespeare Company and load them with the set and props from our two shows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Columbinus, in to the large hire van. Job done, we return home to get ourselves sorted.
Day 2 - Saturday
Early morning departure to Edinburgh with me and Mr Parker driving the mini bus and van respectively - joined at school by students Jonathan, Bronwen and Sarah who travel with us.
Arrive in the early afternoon at the accommodation which is self-catering university flats brilliantly located in the Cowgate, a short walk from the Royal Mile and our performance venue, the Edinburgh College of Art. All twenty two students students slowly arrive during the course of the afternoon and early evening without any problems.
Have time to catch a physical theatre show at the Pleasance called The Overcoat by Gecko and meet Mr Bakewell (Head of English) and his family in the queue. The anorak members of the staff team also queue and see a one-man Lord of the Rings where all three books are performed in under an hour. How sad we are!
First team meeting with all the students and staff, including our Assistant Directors, Sarah and Louisa, who will also supervise the students flats.
Day 3 - Sunday
A very busy and very stressful day spent re-rehearsing the two shows in their two different spaces within the venue. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performing in a small 100-seater studio theatre with seats on three sides. There has been very little technical preparation for our arrival and we rehearse all day without lights. We have the added problem of cutting the show down from two halves of 50 minutes to one continuous run of 80 minutes! We manage it but lose some favorite moments.
Columbinus has similar difficulties in the larger end, a 160-seater space, which is very problematic for the show as it has a very complex lighting and sound plot. All the students are fantastic and work really hard all day without complaint.
It is a long day including an induction session with our venue hosts, Sweet, and the students continue rehearsing late in to the night back at the accommodation in order to get the shows right for the opening day tomorrow. They show great commitment and dedication to the shows and a real desire to show the work at its best. I’m really proud of them.
Day 4 - Monday
We arrive early to try and fit in another technical run before the shows begin but no one is there from the venue to meet us. We wait and wait and wait. Eventually we get support but there are more technical problems with the control board and video projector and we continue waiting. The performance of A Midsummer Night Dream arrives at 1.20pm and we have not had a technical run. The cast quickly change into costumes and we rig the set in 20 minutes. Ten minutes into the show the power blows and we are without lighting and sound. The cast continue as if nothing has happened until we could re-set fuses and power up again. The cast were outstanding. Unfortunately we get reviewed during this performance by Broadway Baby and we will have to see what they say about the power cut.
The show is well received by a full-ish house and we lurch on to preparing and performing Columbinus at 5pm which again begins without a technical run. There are again problems with lights and the projector but the cast pull through and give a tremendous and intense performance which is very well received. The show finishes and we get the set out by about 6.30pm and then we have the evening off.
The staff team enjoy a meal and a cabaret evening of songs performed by a mock Eastern European group (from Australia!) Mikelangelo and the Dead Sea Gentlemen (later to receive a 5* review) before we return to the accommodation for the routine Team Meeting and reflection with the students,
Day 5 - Tuesday
Spend the morning trying to resolve technical problems before The Dream performance. Camilla has arrived even before me to work on technical aspects of Columbinus - I’m humbled by her commitment. Another full house and another power cut - this time ten minutes before the end. It’s very frustrating but we seem to be drawing more power than the space can provide.
Lots of familiar faces attending the show in terms of parents and OGs. It’s lovely to have that support. All the other companies at the venue are envious of our full houses. We are sandwiched between The Tempest performed by Western Connecticut University and Dr Faust performed by Oxford University Drama Society. What we see and hear of those shows look and sound wonderful.
Columbinus is building its audiences slowly and the cast, led by Miss Daniell, are using all their spare time to leaflet and advertise their show on the Royal Mile and in other venues. They are working really hard to promote the show and it is working. They are selected from the hundreds of other shows at the Fringe to be interviewed and filmed by Edfest TV today and do really well. You can see that interview and film at:
After the show I was lucky to get two tickets from a visiting American friend for the Official Festival production of Faust at the Royal Highland Ground in a huge hangar. Mr Parker and I get lost on the way in the mini bus but just make it in time to watch a 100 strong cast perform an adaptation of Faust in Romanian with video subtitles and create the most spectacular production I have ever seen. The 600 strong audience watch and are then promenaded through disturbing images of hell created by rock bands, actors, dancers, animals, fork lift trucks, fire breathers and acrobats. Breathtaking, unbelievable and overwhelming. Check out the video link
Arrive back at the accommodation for the end of day Team Meeting and to celebrate Jack’s birthday. I am amazed at the quantity and quality of the shows that the students are seeing led by Jake and Kiki and using their performers’ pass, which gives them discount, and we stay up sharing experiences of the day. Alex has become the expert at stand-up but everyone is seeing a whole range of things. The Fringe is not just about performing it is also about seeing other groups and meeting people and our students are taking full advantage of those opportunities. I’m really pleased.
Day 6 - Wednesday
Spend the morning hopefully resolving yesterday’s technical disaster and then spend time meeting a few OGs and catching up with old friends visiting and performing at the Fringe before we enjoy a technical problem-free performance of The Dream to another full house.
Hurray! The review comes out and we receive a wonderful 4* response from Broadway Baby which mentions how well the students dealt with the power failure on Monday.
There is also big audience for Columbinus made up of school groups and American groups. The cast are nervous but pull off another emotionally charged performance which receives a terrific response. The cast stay behind meeting and talking with the young audience but they can’t stop for long because both The Dream and Columbinus only have short periods of time to set up and get out before another show is on in the space. Very exciting but very tiring. The students become very adept at this and look very organised and very professional as they rig and de-rig the sets before getting out of costume.
After the show a large group of us try and get tickets for Cambridge University’s production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which is an A-Level Drama text, but it is sold out and so we sit and chat instead before heading back for the Team Meeting.
Day 7 - Thursday
Today is the planned day off in the middle of the run. It is A2 and AS results day and we await news from School and from the students as to how they have done. It is a good day as A2 results are excellent and generally all the students are pleased with their AS results, especially those studying Drama with a plethora of A grades. A few disappointments and tears as well but plenty of willing ears and arms for consolation.
I use the time to catch a few shows and see a friend’s production of The King of the Gypsies which is being considered for a Fringe First Award. It is a monologue performed in a portakabin and it is very crowded and very hot. Many of the staff also mange to see an a capella singing group from London called The Magnets who put on a very upbeat programme at the Udderbelly venue to a large and full house. The average audience at the Festival is supposed to be 8 this year but everywhere I have gone has had a full house and so have our shows. I begin to wonder about the poor souls and groups who are getting very small audiences in order to make the average 8. Anyway, listening to The Magnets was a great way to end and celebrate a successful day before making our way back to the accommodation for the Team Meeting,
Day 8 - Friday
We start the day by leafleting the Royal Mile in our Dream costumes. It’s a lovely day and we get lost of interest and attention. One of the small stages outside the Fringe Office is free and we put on a impromptu performance of scenes from The Dream to hundreds of passers-by who gather to watch. Sarah, Dan, Kiki and PJ re-enact their lovers’ tiff scene in amongst the crowds to great amusement. Bronwen in the donkey’s head is of particular interest to tourists who all want their photo taken with her.
Gabby gets a chance to show her great voice off with a song on the stage. We work the street for an hour and use the huge banners of both the Dream and Columbinus that we had made to draw attention and crowds. Mrs Dabell and Miss Daniell are almost blown away with the banners - they are huge! It’s great fun and our Pucks Camilla and Hannah manage to leaflet everyone and appear in every other companies sketches and photos!
Raising the profile of the shows seem to work as The Dream is now sold out for the entire run and Columbinus is building audiences of around 90.
In the evening the staff take our own families, who are visiting for the day, to an amazing performance group called the Tom Tom Crew who create a sort of hip-hop circus with acrobats, drummers, beat-boxers and DJs.
I catch a late comedy sketch show by the Penny Dreadfuls before returning for the Team Meeting. Jake and a group of the cast have been to see The Bone Room which is supposed to be the scariest show at the Fringe. They are petrified and traumatised and share their experience with us. Others now want the challenge of the show. Good luck – not for me! Immy cheers us up with her description of the show she has been to see – Puppetry of the Penis!
Day 9 - Saturday
Our time is almost over. The students are in a fantastic routine of leafleting, setting up, performing and clearing up ably led by Miss Pyper and Iona, JK and Aaron set a great example to us all. Every performance has been brilliant and they deserve huge credit for the way they have paced themselves and given everything to the shows. I could not have asked for more. We celebrate the week with a social gathering at our venue headquarters Sweet Heart.
The Headmaster, who has supported most of the shows, has also organized a meal for the staff and we enjoy a wonderful evening in a small French restaurant just off George Street, already reminiscing on a week that has been hard work but memorable and very worthwhile.
Then we return for the Team Meeting and a few words of thanks are given and the Columbinus cast say thanks before their final performance tomorrow, particularly to Miss Daniell who has given so much to the origination and running of the show in Edinburgh,
Day 10 - Sunday
The final day of performances to full houses for both shows. The Dream goes really well but we are not sad because the show lives on and will be touring California in April of next year. We are all very excited by what we have achieved and the possibility of sharing the work in LA.
Columbinus is a little more emotional as it is the last performance of a very intense piece. The cast raise their game yet again and give a really powerful and emotionally charged performance. Staff, performers and audience are blown away.
After each show the van is driven to the door of the venue and the costumes, set and props are packed away ready to be driven back that night. As we are packing the van the review of Columbinus comes out. It is a wonderful 4* review and finishes by saying…
“Go and see it before you leave Edinburgh. This is one of those shows that just cannot be ignored and when produced by such a talented young group I don't know how it could be.”
Great review and thought but the show had now finished! Oh well! Mr P sets off in the van and I follow in the minibus thinking ‘if only we had got the review earlier’. A few students come back in the minibus with me and spend the journey chatting and sleeping. We arrive back at school at 1am.
Day 11 - Monday
Into school early and meet Mr and Mrs P and Mr and Mrs Dabell. We unload the van and pack our beautiful costumes up to send back to the Royal Shakespeare Company. We are all sad as we wrap Benjy the donkey’s head in bubble wrap and place him in the box but look forward to seeing the old boy again in April for our next ‘expotition’ to California!
Well done Aaron, Jack, Peter, Jonathan, Dan, Alex, Jake, Andy, Hannah, Immy, Camilla, Sarah. Gabby, Tanya, Kiki, Anna, Lucy, Bethan, Iona, Bronnie, Stef and all the staff for a great week!