Webb Players treated like professionals, grew as actors at The Fringe
Posted January 3, 2012
“The obvious maturity that appeared from where I sat in the light booth was that we all began to feel like true professionals. We were performing in front of an audience of strangers who had voluntarily paid to attend our show. Having only a few minutes to move in and out of the venue was especially hard, but it let us have just a small taste of what it is like to be on tour. We all loved interacting with professionals who started off just like we are. Instead of being treated like talented high school students, we were treated like professionals. Therefore, we were forced to act like professionals. The trip was truly an experience in which we all grew as actors, as well as crew.”
–Jami Averwater, sound and light operator, stage manager and assistant director
Junior Jami Averwater captured exactly what it meant to be a part of The Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, the world’s largest and most prestigious performing arts festival. The Webb School theatre program was among 50 U.S. high schools selected to perform as part of the American High School Theatre Festival at The Fringe in August. The Webb cast and crew were among 21,000 performers from 30 countries, who gave 41,689 performances in 2,542 shows at the festival.
“The trip to the international Fringe Festival was an incredible opportunity,” said Ruth Cordell, director of the Webb theatre program, Webb school productions/Webb Players, who saw her troupe mature, gain confidence and hone their acting skills as they staged four performances of The Rivals in a venue where well-known actors have given break-through performances.
When they arrived in Scotland, the Webb Players rehearsed, observed other groups rehearsing and familiarized themselves with their performance venue. The group also took part in the tradition of performing short vignettes from the play and distributing flyers on the Royal Mile to attract an audience for the Webb shows. When they had the opportunity, they saw as many performances by other high school groups and professional troupes as they could fit into their schedules.
Senior Ryan Pryor spent much of his free time seeing other shows and meeting the cast and crew members. “It was a humbling experience,” said Pryor, of seeing the “best of the best.” Pryor thought the Webb production fared well at the festival. “Our show was well rehearsed, well directed and well put together.”
Pryor also made the most of sightseeing opportunities in Edinburgh and London. Particularly in Edinburgh, he said, there was a strong contrast between the modern and medieval. ”It was absolutely amazing to see.”
The lengthy Fringe application process began in the fall of 2009, and it was May 2010 when Cordell was notified that Webb had been selected to attend international event. The Webb Players staged their annual fall play season in 2010, and then preparation for the Fringe performances began in February.
The cast memorized the two and a half hour play for an April 2011 performance at Webb. Two roles were recast for the summer production of the 70-minute traveling version, and the show rehearsed for 10 days. Two summer performances were staged prior to the group’s departure for Scotland.
“If this weren’t enough of a challenge, we had two actors playing one of the roles, covering our bases in the case of illness,” said Cordell, who thanked seniors, Scout Turner and Sarada Kolli, for the “willingness to go through this very necessary and what seems thankless step in taking a show on the road.” Each got to perform the role of Julia two of the four performances. Kolli was thankful for the opportunity to perform internationally. “I really enjoyed getting the experience of acting in front of people I don’t know.”
The importance of the shared role was reinforced for everyone when, while attending “Billy Elliot” on the London West End, the fire curtain was lowered, and the stage manager announced that the role of Billy would be taken now by the show’s understudy. “It was amazing how the understudy for Billy Elliot was just as perfect as the boy originally cast for the part,” said Kolli.
Cordell noted that a professional performer, Jody Shelton, who attended one of “The Rivals” performances at The Fringe questioned why such a difficult play was chosen. This play is typically advanced college fare. Cordell said she had researched the history of the American High School Theatre Festival, and this play did not appear on the list. The rest of the answer stems from Webb’s approach to training students as professionals from the start and expecting that they will rise to the challenge.
“The students disciplined themselves to stay rested and on task and embraced the adventure of learning and performing,” said Cordell. “There was very little drama off stage and very well placed drama on stage.” She added, “There were so many compliments from professionals, high school directors and peers.”
In a big “small world” moment, Shelton told Cordell that he grew up in Manchester, Tenn. Talking a bit more, they found out that his parents’ farm is adjacent to Cordell’s. Shelton, part of the New York musical comedy troupe, “Baby Wants Candy,” was touring the UK and also performed at The Fringe.
Cordell and the students were joined on the trip by Ralph Jones, history teacher and technical director, Janet Linton, fine arts department chair, music teacher and choir director, and Dr. and Mrs. Murali Kolli and Jhansi Kolli, Sarada’s parents and sister.
“The trip to Scotland and participating in The Fringe was a unique and invaluable experience,” said Linton. “The students had the opportunity to work with professionals who had their start in Second City (comedy theatre). They also participated in a master class with one of the staff actors at the Old Globe in London. The students worked on a scene from Macbeth. By taking the students through several exercises, the actor demonstrated how an actor should learn a scene emotionally, technically and verbally,” added Linton. “It was very exciting.”
Jones appreciated that the students were exposed to a number of historical sites as they traveled in England and Scotland. Touring London and visiting the Stirling and Edinburgh castles in Scotland were highlights of the trip. Jones noted that the students also expanded their horizons with new friends, new foods and experiences. Additionally, he said, “They saw some good shows, and their performances were very well received, which underscored the strong theatre experience they receive at Webb.”
“From the “Broadway” West End show, Billy Elliot, in London, … to the castles, coaches and all the shows by both professional groups and high school players, we had a busy and lovely experience,” said Cordell. “It was thrilling to watch our students navigating London and Scotland. Even more thrilling was watching them grow as performers.
Cast and crew members traveling to The Fringe included the following: 2011 graduates, Helen Bartlett, Harley Walker, William Fahrnbach, and Mary Kathryn Menck; seniors, Kayetlyn Jones, Scout Turner, Sarada Kolli, Ryan Pryor, Callie Kerbo; juniors, Sam Fuller, Jami Averwater and Coleman Walker. Tea Phillips, Cascade High School junior and Webb summer program participant, was invited to complete the traveling cast that was one actor short.