All the World's a Stage
Tufts' Pen, Paint and Pretzels theatre troupe performed in Edinburgh at the largest arts festival in the world.
[09.17.10] Sarah Ullman (A'10) attended the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
in Scotland as a child. In thinking about a perfect coda for her four years at Tufts, she came up with one crazy idea: return to the world's largest arts festival to direct a play.
Pretty daunting, right?
Ullman and the ten students [ full list ] comprising cast and crew from the Tufts student theater troupe Pen, Paint and Pretzels-known as 3Ps, and celebrating its centennial this year-raised $25,000 doing everything from web fundraising to selling grilled cheese sandwiches at 1 a.m. for a buck apiece to finance the trip.
In mid-August, after months of rehearsing and earning the money-with help from University Advancement, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Undergraduate Education-they boarded a plane to Scotland and staged a 16-night run of two plays by Sam Shepard, "Icarus's Mother" and "Red Cross."
From left: Logan Reed (A'11), Rachel Schoenbrun (A'13), Joe Pikowski (A'10), Zoe Marmer (A'13) and Brady Pierce (A'11) in "Icarus's Mother."
"I still can't quite come to grips with the fact that we actually did this," says Brady Pierce (A'11).
For the actors, the prospect of representing Tufts on an international stage for more than two weeks was hard to pass up.
"This is the theater we do every single day, every semester. This is how we grow," says Logan Reed (A'11). "It's wonderful to share that with other people and show the world how we represent Tufts theater."
The biggest barrier to entering the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is simply getting yourself to Scotland and finding a venue to host your production, Ullman says.
On the Fringe
In Edinburgh the students stuck to a routine-exploring the city, putting up fliers for their show and catching other performances during the day, and then cooking a group dinner before walking to Merchants' Hall, a 19th-century building in the heart of the city, to perform their 9 p.m. show.
Ullman chose the two Sam Shepard plays because they are challenging, but also because she wanted to bring an American playwright's work to the U.K.
"Although the plays were written about 45 years ago, they remain highly relevant," says Reed. "It is very much our world and the feelings that people are feeling."
The group spent a significant amount of time trying to understand Shepard's work and who the characters were they were each playing.
Schoenbrun and Pikowski in "Red Cross"
"They're so obscure and so absurd that our main goal in the way that we translate this to the audience is to just get the feeling across," says Zoe Marmer (A'13). "Our main goal is to make [the audience feel] uncomfortable and weird along with us.
Performing at the festival allowed the group to develop the show over a long run-a rare opportunity for college actors. For any given show at Fringe, the average audience is about a half dozen people-some nights more, some nights less. With a small audience, the performance became more personal.
"It became more about what was happening on stage for us," says Reed. "We began to realize the show was more about developing this piece and challenging ourselves in this piece, and whoever showed up would get to experience this with us."
"The hardest part was getting used to the fact that you can't take any audience member for granted," says Ullman. "Anyone who comes to your show is a gift."
Over the months of rehearsing, fundraising, traveling and performing, the members of the troupe grew close. "It's one of the best things about student theater, that you build relationships with people," says Joe Pikowski (A'10).
They were also inspired by being in residence with an international community of professional actors. "It was nice to get to talk to people and feel a sense of importance that we made it to Edinburgh to be a part of that large community," says Reed.
A scene from "Icarus's Mother"
Reed, who will direct Torn Ticket II's fall production "Assassins," says his Edinburgh experience-both what he learned from performing with 3Ps and from watching other performances-will influence how he approaches the show.
Pierce says he derived a different, but no less valuable lesson, from the experience: "If you want to make something happen, the only way to do it is to engage yourself and make sure that something is happening," he says. "I don't know if I'll be doing theater the rest of my life, but I know I'll have to advocate for things I believe in for the rest of my life."
Story by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications
Photos courtesy of Pen, Paint and Pretzels