“A place for people like me”

This Summer, nine Mt. A students traveled overseas as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Field School. In this two-year program, funded by the Federal Global Skills Opportunity program, drama and screen studies students handled primary archival material at the National Library of Scotland, experienced the Scottish highlands and history, visited London’s British Film Institute, attended award-winning West End productions, and experienced one of the world’s largest performance arts festivals. All of this took place in under two weeks.


During the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, nearly 4000 shows are performed in the historic Scotland city. During the first leg of the trip, students had the agency to personalize schedules pertaining to each individual’s interests. With thousands of shows to choose from, from cabaret, burlesque, musicals, clown shows, physical theatre, circus, and one-man shows to casts of dozens in every venue imaginable— there was something for everyone. 


 As course instructor Valmai Goggin shares, “You can pack a lot into a day. Some students would do days that were full of shows from 11 a.m. until midnight, other times a student might see a couple of shows in the morning and then they might spend an afternoon at a museum, or an art gallery, or even just sightseeing”. 


“The city is really beautiful,” echoes Ashlyn Skater, drama major and screen studies minor, “The old architecture is stunning.” Compared to the saturated arts scenes of larger cities, Skater acknowledges, “Sackville doesn’t have much to offer in the world of what it means to be a theatre artist, especially when it’s outside of a North American lens.” In the heart of the festival, where the Royal Mile is closed off to traffic and buskers lined the streets, the Fringe could not be more different. “You have people throwing flyers in your face! People like elbow to elbow […] it was just really exhilarating.” Skater specializes in theatre tech, and is currently Mt. A’s General Technician at the Motyer-Fancy Theatre. For her, this trip was a unique opportunity to experience technical aspects of performances.


The Fringe festival also connected deeply with Quinn WayLaing, a fourth-year sociology major who’s current honors thesis explores art-based pedagogical approaches in post-secondary schools.


“I think fringe theatre as a concept really excites me, because it’s theatre that’s for the people by the people. […] It has foundations in accessible social justice, and [it is] funny and witty, and playful, and so that really excites me just because of who I am as a person. […] I was drawn to that world of theatre,” WayLaing shares. “[The program] offers things for students who are not only studying drama but life experiences as well that can be applied to various fields, philosophies — and I see a connection with sociology, so I thought that I would try to apply.”


During their time abroad, students also had the opportunity to tour the celebrated Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness, and additional opportunities to visit London locations such as the Tate Britain and Shakespeare’s Globe. 


A black sticker on Maya Noëlle’s phone case reads: “Keep It In The Kit Kat Club”: the title of the immersive venue for London’s Cabaret musical, one of 31 performances this fourth-year student experienced during the field school. 


During this trip, as Noëlle anticipated, “I am absolutely going to witness art that I’ve just been craving.” She shares, “One of the necessary aspects of becoming an actor and performer and a theatre maker is you need to consume art. You need to consume other people’s art. If you don’t, you can’t possibly grow.” 


It would take months to unpack the long-term impacts and experiences of these few short days at the Fringe Field School. A huge goal, as Goggin shares, is to highlight the experiential focus of the program to students: “You could do this. You are not far off of working at this level”. 


Was this goal achieved? I share with you, reader, a quote from Quinn WayLaing: “A lot of the clown and physical theatre performance made me want to go to clown school […] just seeing circus people, I was like, oh, that’s what they do? I can do that.” 


Speaking on state-of-the-art technical design and execution, on meticulous fight choreography and actors climbing trees in the middle of the stage, Skater tells me, “It helps me understand that there is way more out there than I know of.”


Noëlle’s voice is fiery with passion as she tells me: “There is a place for people like me. There is a place where people will pay to see people like me. there’s a place where people could even give standing ovations to people like me. It’s exhilarating to think about. […] While I was there I turned to someone, and said: ‘I want to live here’. I want— I need to be in this community.”


The A-term course will be offered again in August 2024. To learn more, visit Mt. A’s website or stop by the 2024 Edinburgh Field School info session on Monday, October 2 at 5:00PM at the Motyer-Fancy Theatre.

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