Rhinoceros Reaches World Audience

The following are excerpts from a journal I kept during the Theater 520 trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. The festival is the largest arts festival in the world, drawing over a million people every summer to the city of Edinburgh. The cast of Rhinoceros performed at the festival in cooperation with the American High School Theatre Festival (AHSTF), which brings the best of American high school theatre to the Fringe every summer. Hopefully the following will give you a sense of what the cast did during our two-week stint in the U.K. Sunday, August 10th – Day 2 I woke up this morning, still exhausted from the 35 sleepless hours the cast endured in our preparation and travel to the U.K. for the European debut of last spring’s Rhinoceros. Following a sub-par “English breakfast” at our dorms in London, I set out with a couple female companions to the famous Notting Hill, where the girls proceeded to browse through nearly every vintage clothing store. We ended up spending virtually the whole day on Portobello Road in Notting Hill, sweltering in what proved to be London’s hottest day in recorded history (no joke). Despite my complaints of the tedium of the endless vintage stores, we ended up having a good afternoon, culminating in some dashing modeling of a purple sparkly shirt by yours truly. Later in the afternoon, we met up with the rest of the cast to see the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Bombay Dreams. The show, which British critics acclaimed as “an orgy of song, colour, and dance,” was cut from a slightly different mold than most musicals. Allegra Asplundh-Smith ’04 commented, “Bombay Dreams is provocative social commentary, uplifting love story, and Xtina dance extravaganza all cooked together in a modern Indian curry.” Following our musical journey through Bollywood, the whole cast ate dinner at Wagamama, a new-school noodle restaurant in London. It was here that Ms. Edwards and I bonded over conversations like, “What are you going to get?” “I don’t know, I was thinking about the moyashi soba. How about you?” “I’m thinking probably the ebi chilli men.” (Neither Ms. Edwards nor I had any clue as to what we were talking about). Friday, August 15th – Day 7 Today we had our first performance, and as far as I could tell, it went pretty well. The show itself has remained largely the same as it was when performed as the spring Theatre 520 here at school. The only major changes to the script were made to accomodate the 90-minute time limit, imposed on all high school shows at the Festival. In the spring, the show was staged and designed, bearing in mind we would have to transport the set and props overseas. Fortunately, the three enormous rhino heads made it safely across the Atlantic, as well as the rest of the obtrusive set pieces. Getting them through the airports and customs is another story altogether. There isn’t much room backstage and the theater gets really hot, making it a less than ideal situation, but there’s nothing we can do about it. There were no catastrophes today, though, and I think we’re all happy about that. Once we wrapped up our performance at around 4:00, a couple of cast members and I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed over to Churchill Theatre, the other venue for the AHSTF across town. Twenty minutes and a cross-town bus ride later, we arrived at the theatre, flashed our High School Theatre Festival I.D.s (which granted us free admission), and witnessed New Rochelle High School’s production of Hair. The musical, which is set in the ’60’s and features songs such as “Hashish,” “Ain’t Got No Grass,” and “I Believe in Love,” fully embodies the hippie mentality. Despite the show’s complete lack of a directed plot, the cast’s beautiful singing and movement on stage was redeeming. The next high school show, at 8:15, was Richmond, Virginia’s Pippin, a Stephen Schwartz musical about Charlemagne’s son. Set in the eighth century, this musical follows the disgruntled Pippin through his journey to find his purpose in life. This show was well liked by those who saw it. The last high school musical of the night was Shorewood, Wisconsin’s Batboy, a spoof of the infamous tabloid spoof Weekly World News. Before the show, everyone had his or her doubts about its legitimacy, and rumors were flying about the main character: he had shaved his head this morning in preparation for the show? He was thrown in jail a week before the trip? By the end of the show, its legitimacy was still questionable, although many loved the show’s campy, raw style. Without a doubt, it definitely was out of the ordinary and thoroughly “Fringe-y.” Thursday, August 21st – Day 13 This morning was taken up by the AHSTF closing ceremony, where they packed hundreds of high-schoolers into a little room and recognized the directors of each show and gave final thoughts, etc, etc. Fortunately, no one started crying. Maybe we were all too tired. From there I went souvenir shopping on the Royal Mile with a few other students. In the early afternoon, the whole cast joined up to see Hoipolloi’s new comedy My Uncle Arly. This play followed in the unconventional tradition for which Hoipolloi has made itself known. The clever humor, mixed with physical slapstick comedy and song made the show very enjoyable. Hoipolloi’s history with PA made it even better. Two years ago, the British theatre company came to Andover to perform and workshop with the cast of Parabox, the Scotland show then. Taking advantage of this pre-existing relationship, many members of the cast were able to talk with the writer/director of My Uncle Arly, an added bonus after the impressive show. In an effort to quench my desire to see as much theatre as possible before leaving Edinburgh tomorrow, I saw “Thick” at the Jongleurs Comedy Club. This black comedy, which was hailed by the Scotsman as “genius,” lived up to its hype. Three actors went back and forth between twelve characters in this thought-provoking play about life in a dysfunctional family through the eyes of a dim-witted (or “thick”) boy. The rest of the evening featured a modern dance show entitled “Fallen,” followed by a silent play focusing on the lives of a couple in Bosnia entitled “Birds of Sarajevo.” But everything that evening palled in comparison to the spectacle I would witness later in the form of a show simply entitled, “The Paint Show.” As we walked out of Birds of Sarajevo, we were greeted with the startling sight of teenagers and grown men and women donning white space-age body suits, reminiscent of those worn in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Though it was past curfew, we decided what the heck and paid our six pounds to join in the fun. We had no idea what we would be getting ourselves into. An hour later, we emerged from the venue sweaty and covered with paint of all colors. The Paint Show turned out to be a unique, trippy dance party, complete with actors decked out as aliens of different colors, encouraging us to join in as they proceeded to cover everyone with paint. The Paint Show had a plot along the lines of a battle between colors, complete with pool-noodle fights and paint splashes. At the end of the hour, I was exhausted and strangely fulfilled. Despite our late sign-in at the dorms and the early morning looming ahead, it has been a night to remember for a long time to come.As anyone can see, the trip was an amazing experience for all of us in the cast. Much thanks go out to Judy Wombwell, director, as well as chaperones Mark and Cindy Efinger, Mark Broomfield, and Marlys Edwards.