Six students and two theater faculty members from State University College at Oswego participated in August in the world’s largest performing arts festival, taking their production of “Desdemona, A Play About a Handkerchief” to the stages and streets of Edinburgh, Scotland.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival — a monthlong kaleidoscope of more than 2,100 theater, music, dance and comedy productions — drew the SUNY Oswego troupe for a jam-packed 11-day trip.
“It was really inspiring,” said Joan Hart Willard, adjunct instructor of theater and director for the college’s production of the Paula Vogel play.
“The most valuable part for the students was they learned they were competing with these different professional (and other college) actors, and it takes a very strong commitment to go out and do your best all the time. It’s hard work, but it pays off,” she said.
Dana Ernest (Desdemona), Robin Rubeo (Emilia), Clare Bawarski (Bianca) and stage manager Kelly McMenemon, backstage and props manager Carlos Clemenz and lighting director Tyler Eldred made the trip with theater chair and professor Jessica Hester and Willard.
An “Othello” spinoff, “Desdemona” played in SUNY Oswego’s lab theater in March.
The troupe left Aug. 1, stayed at the University of Edinburgh and could walk to the festival’s stages and “the Royal Mile” (High Street) where they did two 20-minute performances — a traditional form of promotion known as busking — and handed out postcards inviting passersby to their four productions in Surgeons Hall, one of six theaters collectively known as The Space.
“It was a lot of fun,” Willard said. “They are a great group of students, very mature and responsible. They were real troupers.”
Competitors from some other colleges around the world produced homegrown plays, another object lesson for the Oswego group.
“If you want to make a living doing this profession, you sometimes have to plan the production, find the money and do it yourself,” Willard said.
Research and funding
The road to Edinburgh was paved with research, planning and funding.
“I took a theater group from Syracuse University years ago and it was a very positive experience,” said Willard, who is also a playwright and actor.
She spoke about the idea a couple of years ago with Hester, who journeyed to Edinburgh for the festival last year during the international college competition.
Hester returned and started writing grant applications, receiving support from the International College Theater Festival as well as numerous on-campus resources. She said the effort was well worth it in terms of educational value for the students.
“They were able to perform in the largest performing arts festival in the world,” Hester said. “They saw so many different types of performances from so many countries, their understanding of what theater can be has expanded far beyond their experiences in New York. It was literally a life- and career-changing experience.”