Theatre at the Fringe

By Bill Church, Director of Theatre Arts

The words on the upstage wall of Kresge Auditorium have served as an inspiration to many Interlochen students and alumni: Dedicated to the Promotion of World Friendship through the Universal Language of the Arts. This past summer, 24 Academy Theatre Arts majors were able to participate in a major international event, fostering stronger ties between Interlochen and the rest of the world.

The world’s largest arts festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe was founded by theatre companies who were not invited to be a part of the original Edinburgh Arts Festival, which began in the aftermath of World War II. Known for its amazing variety of performances, the Fringe, as it is now called, is an inspiring three-week celebration of the best performance and entertainment from all over the planet. For the Academy students who were involved in this experience, it was an exceptional opportunity to connect their work here in Northern Michigan to the world at large.

For our Fringe debut, we selected Jose Rivera’s “Sonnets for an Old Century.” In the script, a group of souls speak from the afterlife about their experiences on earth in the late 20th century. They speak with humor, passion, regret, remorse, and a keen sense of what it means to be a human being. Throughout the rehearsal process, the actors found themselves having to ask difficult questions and wrestling with meaning in their own lives. If it all ended today, how would you describe your life? Would you be left with regret? With a sense of pride? If you had one final chance to tell your story, what would you say?

As we dealt with these questions in rehearsal, one important theme came up - creation. Actors and students of theatre have chosen to pursue an art form based on storytelling and creativity. In preparing for Edinburgh, they were living the kind of life they had hoped to lead. Parallels were made between our desire to communicate our stories with an audience across the ocean and their desire for an artistically satisfying and inspiring career.

I can’t remember an experience more satisfying than being immersed in the theatre culture of the Fringe. Theatre was everywhere as venues were created out of churches, assembly halls, meeting rooms, parks, even a huge inflatable cow udder. For the students, this full immersion into such a theatrical environment was an incredible opportunity, and they took full advantage. One of our students managed, somehow, to attend seven performances in one day. But it was more than just what occurred on the various stages; all over Edinburgh there was a palpable sense of creativity and community. To experience all of those people coming together to share in the creation of this beautiful art form, while telling such powerful stories of humanity, was truly profound. For the students, seeing themselves on the world stage and part of such a meaningful event was both humbling and inspiring.

One of the most powerful lines in “Sonnets for an Old Century” comes in the final speech, which is essentially a listing of 41 important events that could happen in a lifetime. As Amrita Newton, who came to Interlochen as both a Camper and Academy student, said the line, “The first time you realize that every day of your life should be a work of art,” it was clear that everyone on stage was undergoing a significant realization about their chosen art form and their place in it. The Fringe provided an incredible venue for these students to share the nurturing artistic vision of Interlochen while providing motivation for the fascinating careers that lie ahead.