A group of 11 theater students from Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn took their act to the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland last month.
All the students performed at the festival — including in an original one-act play written by one of the students — and they saw at least 10 other shows, their teacher, Tony Cimino-Johnson, said.
Cimino-Johnson said the Rock Ridge group was the first theater troupe from the Loudoun County public schools to travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which he described as “the largest theater festival in the world.” The festival offered more than 50,000 performances this year, according to its Web site.
“Everything turns into a venue, from a church hall to a pub,” Cimino-Johnson said. “Everything becomes a theater space. But nothing [costs] more than 10 pounds. So sometimes you’re going to see Broadway-level work for eight to nine U.S. dollars.”
Four students from Liberty High School in Carroll County, Md., where Cimino-Johnson taught before going to Rock Ridge when it opened last year, traveled with the Loudoun group.
“I was so interested to see how the entire city of Edinburgh became a theater,” said sophomore Shaila Seth, 15, of Brambleton. “You couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a street performance.”
With so many performances taking place, it can be a challenge for the performers to attract an audience for their shows, the students said.
“A day before the show, we were out on the streets advertising our show,” said senior Lucky Vemuri, 17, of Dulles. “And people do that. It’s like another type of performance.”
“It’s like a giant theater love-fest,” said junior Hailey Brunson, 16, of Brambleton. “The streets were filled with performers advertising their shows, so we would go up to people and . . . learn about their show and also learn about them, and how they got into theater.”
The students split into small groups so that they could see the shows that appealed to them, Cimino-Johnson said. They saw performers from all over the world in a variety of disciplines, including puppetry, physical theater, dance, stand-up comedy and musical theater.
Vemuri said she was particularly moved by a puppetry show about ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
“In theater, you can have crazy facial expressions and you can sob onstage when you’re really sad to get an emotional message through to the audience,” she said. “We saw this puppetry show where the puppet’s face did not change, but I was sobbing at the end of the show. It was a beautiful show.”
The Rock Ridge students each gave performances drawn from last year’s drama class. “We did everything from monologues to scenes [from plays] to musical numbers,” Vemuri said.
The Fringe Festival also provided an international audience for Brunson’s one-act play, “The Absence of Sound,” which she wrote for Cimino-Johnson’s class. The six-character play is about a mute boy who chooses not to speak because he doesn’t feel as though he is being heard in his dysfunctional family, she said.
“I had never read a script that sophisticated before from the students,” Cimino-Johnson said. “And so when I read it, and then I saw it performed by the students, self-directed, it was like, ‘Wow, this could really go somewhere.’ ”
Cimino-Johnson said that he hopes to take another group to the festival in two years and that his goal is to include students from other drama programs in the county.
Vemuri enjoyed her visit so much that she plans to return to Edinburgh after she graduates.
“I will be coming back to see the festival and stay for a whole month and just take it in,” she said. “It was a beautiful experience.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.