Friday, October 3, 2008
Heathrow, High Street and a healthy fear of haggis: CCHS students perform in Edinburgh
For two weeks this past August, 39 students from Concord-Carlisle High School visited London and Edinburgh in a whirlwind of theatre and international culture. Invited by the American High School Theatre Festival (AHSTF) to perform in Edinburgh, Scotland, were the cast and crew of the Marx Brothers’ comedy Animal Crackers.
Director George Kendall was largely responsible for organizing not only the itinerary, but also the fundraising and rehearsing that went into the year-and-a-half buildup to one of the school’s most exciting trips.
As one of the students on this trip, I can tell you that it was simply amazing. Months of rehearsing, rescheduling, planning and packing culminated in two weeks in the U.K.
The logistics of the trip were fairly simple: AHSTF invites about 200 schools across the nation to come to Scotland, in close proximity with the Fringe Festival, a well-known celebration of the arts. The reality, however, was much more than that. By the time the trip ended, we had become familiar with the streets of Edinburgh, had learned to decipher the strange accents of the natives, and could easily tell a pound coin from a two-pence coin.
At the very least, the group became well acquainted with airports. Collectively, the time spent in airports or airplanes was only a little less than a full day. Our trip started – really started – at Heathrow, where we were surrounded by PA announcements with British accents and signs saying “Lift to garage.” (Why would we have to lift to the garage, we wondered? What would we be lifting?) We even spotted a few natives, who weren’t fooled by our fake British accents.
Asleep and awake in London
Rather than feeling out of place, we reveled in the abnormality of our situation. Despite the five-hour flight and the six-hour time difference that made it 3 a.m. back home, we were wide awake. We greeted our first tour guide of the trip with cheers and applause. (He told us later that he used to be an actor, but I bet that was the best reaction he had ever gotten for saying, “My name is Tim.”) By the end of the bus ride, everyone had come down from their adrenaline rush and had fallen asleep in their seats, leaving Tim to drive aimlessly around London for two hours.
During our two-day stay in London, we visited the National Theatre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Natural History, Harrod’s (of course), and the Globe Theatre, where we saw Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. This was the first time I had seen Shakespeare performed by professional actors, and their ability was captivating. We stood in the pit in front of the stage where Shakespeare’s audience would have stood. As a result, we were showered with spittle, but we were also the closest to the action.
When we returned to our hotel rooms after the theatre, we realized just how late it was – almost midnight – and how little sleep we would get, since we had to leave the hotel by 5 a.m. the next morning for Scotland. Resigning ourselves to the inevitable, we slept with contact lenses in and clothes on, falling asleep only to hear our cell phone alarms go off seemingly seconds later.
A bagpiper’s welcome to Edinburgh
Everyone was awake six hours later when we stepped off the train that carried us from England to Scotland, but for our real crossing of the national boundaries, half of our group was asleep. In a ridiculous sort of self-preservation act, the entire CCHS group (including the adults) developed the habit of being able to fall asleep instantly in any sort of moving vehicle.
When we got off the train, we were welcomed by our first real bagpiper and were shown our rooms at the University of Edinburgh, which was only a short walk from a public pool and the bus station. Over the next ten days, we would learn which buses would take us to High Street, the main street of Edinburgh.
High Street, also known as the Royal Mile, stretched from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a castle we also visited on one of our numerous guided tours. High Street was where our group met in the evenings if we were to go to a show; where we met for our Ghost Tour of the city; where we all knew the shops by heart. The epitome of tourists at the beginning of the trip – excited yet completely lost – we were savvy travelers by the end. We knew how to flag down a cab, how to get back to our rooms one minute before curfew, and how to locate the best grab-n-go diners. (Who knew Subway was so big in Scotland?)
The Fringe Festival
High Street was also the gathering place for thousands of actors and street comedians from all over the world. The Fringe Festival was started in 1947 by gathering from the fringes of the Edinburgh International Festival those who were uninvited to the theatre festival but who still showed up. Today, the Fringe attracts amateurs or traveling troupes who want to spread their name. One memorable street comedian called Ben H. told the crowd that he had been performing for 15 years. (He then pretended to drop one of the machetes he was juggling on his assistant.)
A phrase regularly heard at the Fringe was “you don’t have to pay to get in, but you have to pay to get out.” If the audience liked the show, they would drop a pound or two (about $5) into the actors’ caps or jars. If you couldn’t spare at least a pound, Ben H. told us, “You must have no bloody sense of humor.”
Of course, the entirety of our trip wasn’t spent watching plays; we had to perform our own! AHSTF provided us with a theater and a room to store set pieces and props in, but the rest was up to us. We had a 15-minute time frame to set up before a show and another 15 minutes to pack it away afterwards. The second the audience’s applause died away, the stage was swarmed with techies and actors working together to take things apart and fold things up in the time it took for the theater to empty. When we exited the building, there was another group waiting to start setting up for their own play.
On with the show
Animal Crackers was a hit with our audiences; apparently, Marx Brothers humor is universal. Although we performed only four times, each one was an uplifting experience. Our cast and crew learned how to work together and under pressure. With the help of Mr. Kendall, we were able to improve upon each performance. By the time we flew home, we had accumulated masses of “inside” jokes and references to our trip.
Now, with only pictures and souvenirs to remember the trip, the details are already fading into obscurity. There are memorable shows we saw or trips we went on, such as a tour of the most haunted cemetery in Scotland, and there are particular stores we scouted out, such as The Scotland Store or the Pie Maker (a delicious pastry shop), but the days of our trip have all blended into one. Scotland, in the end, is not a particular place or thing, but rather a feeling of adventure and camaraderie. Those of us who went on the Fringe trip became a closer community, if not forever, then at least for two weeks. We discovered a new-found tolerance for others and a healthy fear of haggis.
Most importantly, we learned how to survive, at least temporarily, on our own. As a senior in high school who is applying to colleges left and right, this is extremely important to me. On our journey to Scotland, we were allowed to wander the streets of Edinburgh on our own. The four-person buddy rule applied, but we did not need to include a chaperone. On our own, we scheduled shows, meals, and outings. We learned how to be independent and responsible (well, at least most of us did), and this experience is definitely going to help us in the future.
More information about the Edinburgh trip, as well as pictures, can be found on the CCPOPS website at www.ccpops.org. ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito