Taking on Theatre: Trip to Edinburgh

Sofia Carlisi ’24 and Claire Jiang ’24 in Arts | September 9, 2022

This year, the two of us went on the Periwig Club’s Harkness Travel Trip to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, where we tested the limits of theatre and produced our own show, Stay Safe, written by Director of Student Activities Ian August. Immersing this experience into our literal every waking moment gave us a different and new perspective on theatre.
Sofia: I never thought I would be able to say that I walked Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in a black tutu, silver face glitter, and eight-inch holographic silver pumps, but alas, I can cross that off my bucket list! 

Acting has always been my way of traveling to new places. When I step into a role, I am no longer fully myself, but instead, a completely different person living in an entirely different world. The worries of reality do not seem so important when you are standing on stage. Theatre transports both me as an actor and audience members to somewhere new and exciting—but I never thought that my love of theatre would allow me to actually travel somewhere new and exciting. 

In Stay Safe, I played the denizens’ virtual instructor, Astrid Starpepper, and boy, was she so fun to play! Astrid’s character wasn’t complete without two elaborate costumes: silver heels that made me well over six feet tall and five neon-colored wigs! Her mannerisms and attitude were so cheery and bright that they were able to also become creepy and concerning. I absolutely loved portraying that fine line between sane and insane and then crossing that line, going full-blown crazy by the end of the show. I was told I made the children in the audience cry, which I can’t say I’ve ever done before. 

At the Fringe, I was enveloped by theatre like a big bear hug. Everyone there held a love for the performing arts, and more than anything, I wish more people loved theatre like that: like it's magic. I have always seen the magic of performing arts, but to be surrounded by many others who saw what I saw and felt what I felt about theatre was simply surreal.  
Claire: In all honesty, my exposure to theatre has been scant. I’ve acted in and watched numerous middle and high school productions, and I love watching musicals. But up until now, all I’ve really ever watched is musicals. Going to Fringe helped me realize how far people have stretched what theatre is; I mean, we went from watching actors on a grand proscenium-style stage to experiencing a show in total darkness while cramped in a shipping container. For just 10 pounds and 50 pence, I saw a one-man performance by Alan Cumming in the National Theater of Scotland’s Burn. For two hours (with no intermission!), we watched Cumming convulse on the ground, dance around, woo brightly colored heels dangling from the ceiling, and conclude the performance with a casual whisky and song. The whole experience was so confusing, yet also wildly exhilarating.

Going to Fringe also allowed us the freedom to watch “bad” shows—yes, some shows were just plain awful. But watching various good and bad productions allowed me to distinguish what works and what flops in a performance. Here are a few lessons: Improvised musicals can be amazing, but with the wrong prompt can spiral into madness. Reuben Kaye is a brilliant performer. Molière, gosh, his plays are simply works of pure bliss. Some high school productions are terrible. Some high school productions can leave me reeling and questioning my definition of theatre for weeks on end. Theatre is incredibly divisive. It can probe tears of anger, sadness, frustration, and happiness. Theatre is healing. It bridges the challenges of reality with our wildest fantasies and dreams. I am so grateful to have experienced the Fringe because when will I, or any of my peers, see a show hidden in a small alleyway, performed in a castle, or tucked into the corner of a bar and learn all of this?