Dancers from Lawrence Academy performed in the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival earlier this month; the fourth time the school has been invited to perform. In this article, we’re presenting two accounts of the overseas trip, one from Dan Scheibe, Lawrence Academy’s Head of School; and a diary written by Conner Melvin, a Lawrence Academy student who made the trip and kept the chronicle of the group’s journey. For another point of view, look at Groton resident and LA dancer mom Patricia Lawrence’s blog about her family’s trip to the Fringe.
For the past few months, the Lawrence Academy Dance Theatre Company has been working long hours to bring together their piece, See Change, just in time for their departure to the United Kingdom and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The students started work on the material during the Spring Term, and then performed during Reunion Weekendâ€™s dance show. This past week, the group put all the pieces together, rehearsed every day â€“ all day â€“ and concluded the week with three local performances. The first was for the LA summer language immersion program on Friday, July 26 in the Black Box studio on the Lawrence Academy campus in Groton; for the public on Saturday, July 27 in the Black Box studio; and a final public performance Sunday, July 28 at The Dance Complex in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The group leaves for the U.K. on Tuesday, July 30, with its first performance on August 6 at 5:30 at the Church Hill Theater in Edinburgh, Scotland. Weâ€™re all very excited to begin the trip as weâ€™ve heard so much about the festival from people involved in LAâ€™s three previous appearances.
â€œThe response to the three prior Fringe journeys has been overwhelmingly positive,â€ said Director of Dance Brian Feigenbaum earlier this month. â€œVirtually every student who has participated has found this experience to be positively transformative and life-changing.â€
After having arrived in London on our red eye flight Wednesday morning, our group boarded a coach for our tour of London and spent the day exploring the city (while at the same time battling some jet lag). At the end of the day, we checked into Bankside House at the London School of Economics â€“ which during the school year serves as a dorm and in the summer serves as a bed and breakfast â€“ just south of the Thames River.
We began to meet some of the other students from many different locations, who will also perform different types of theatrical pieces. Later that night, we had dinner at Bankside House. After the meal, those who couldn’t bear to keep their eyes open went off to bed. Those who could (including me) went for a nice walk along the Thames.
On Thursday, we grabbed breakfast at Bankside House and then ventured out for a ride on â€œThe Tubeâ€ (a.k.a. the famous London Underground transit system) in order to get to our rehearsal space called Moving Arts Base, located in the Islington neighborhood in Central London.
There, we ran a two and a half hour rehearsal, going over some notes and running some sections.
The school year hasn’t started, seasonal and commercial signs to the contrary. And yet, a recent trip to see Lawrence Academy students perform See Change at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland clearly shows that the LA educational process is in full swing and full scale.
I will leave it to more visual/media proficient areas of the web to fully portray the awesome range of experience that flourished in the care of Maestro Feigenbaum and troupe. But here, I simply want to declare (and celebrate) the powerful, sweet core of a Lawrence Academy education powerfully expressed outside the country and outside the school year.
And what is that core? The description of the pedagogy and philosophy of the dance program (as stated in the flyers distributed in the Fringe performances) can describe what we hope to achieve beyond the dance floor and beyond the festival. Only slight adjustments to the language are necessary;full texts and edits are included below.
Lawrence Academy’s dance program focuses on the creation of original material and the movement technique by which ideas are conveyed. See Change was born out of this kind of experimentation and play in which these eleven students improvised around ideas about their relationships from childhood to adulthood.
Though the correlation and identification can perhaps be taken too far, the organic connection between the experience of a handful of students during the summer and the Lawrence Academy student body during the year is deep. All Lawrence students create original material. All are trained in the precise language of technique. All are called on to experiment, to play, to improvise. And all of this takes place in a relationship-rich environment, where we acknowledge that the fundamental quality of individual and human experience underlies all of the work we do.
These abstractions aside, what I and many others witnessed in movement and expression at the Fringe was a beautiful, vibrant, physical exercise in humanity. Through sweat and grace, great imagination, and superb adult leadership, these were not just LA dancers, but LA students in the finest sense of the phrase: young people forcefully shaping and claiming their own education and thus their own lives, and not incidentally, profoundly influencing the lives of each and others. As either postlude or precursor to an actual school year, there could be no better orientation.
â€œSee Change continued to evolve and change, even after the two final performances at LA and in Cambridge before we left,â€ LA Director of Theatre Joel Sugerman said. Sugerman joined Feigenbaum, former LA Technical Director Adam Mendelson, and NGP chair and visual artist Dina Moreno on the trip. â€œRehearsals at the studio in Londonâ€¦were not only to get the performance as sharp and clean and rehearsed as it could possibly be, but also to continue to look at how the piece could get better and clearer and more effective. Therefore, it wasn’t just about running the piece and cleaning it up, but also making changes up until the last performance.â€
Following the rehearsals and finding some lunch, we split off into groups to see more of the city.
Some went to explore the museums in the Kensington neighborhood, including the science, natural history, and Victoria and Albert museums. Some chose to head to the Tate Modern Art Museum, while others went to go see Buckingham Palace.
That night, we met up for dinner at Wagamama (a Japanese restaurant that had something for everyone) and ended the night by going to see a Tony Award-winning musical called Once, a spectacular show full of great music and romance.
As I write this, we have just left King’s Cross station in London â€“ a very exciting place for the Harry Potter fans in the group â€“ and are on a charter train bound for Edinburgh, full of many American high school students who are here for the Fringe Festival.
Itâ€™s been a very busy four days in Edinburgh, and the LA crew is about halfway through our stay. During that time, weâ€™ve worked on rehearsing our piece and tried to take advantage of the opportunity to see many shows offered here at the festival. The company also traveled out into the country, exploring Stirling Castle and a large forest region known as the Trossachs.
After one long day of touring, we returned just in time to see an anti-gravity performer, and also watched the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo. For those unfamiliar with the tattoo, itâ€™s a large three hour performance held in a stadium just in front of Edinburgh castle. The performance includes not only military musicians and dancers from Scotland and the U.K, but also from different countries around the world! Add in some cool visual effects and fireworks, and you have an exciting evening!
Today, after viewing a musical about AIDS by students from the American Heritage High School in Florida, we took the stage for our first performance at the Fringe to a nearly full house.
Everything went very well, the dancers all did an amazing job, and they’re excited to begin their next performance.
â€œIt affords our best performing arts students exposure to the work of both international artists and other American high school programs that have achieved a certain level of excellence,â€ said Mr. Feigenbaum when asked about the importance of our being here in Scotland. â€œIt also allows us to show our modern dance theatre work to an international audience.â€
Our journey is coming to its end, and all of us from LA are beginning to reflect on the experience we have had here in Edinburgh before we board a plane bound for Boston tomorrow.
The past few days have been filled with performance after performanceâ€”several of them ours, but many performed by Fringe performers and high schoolers. We’ve seen everything ranging from comedy, to dance, to theater, and physical theater.
â€œOur LA students not only performed brilliantly, with a kind of energy and focus and physical and emotional commitment that you don’t see in many high school performances, but they also demonstrated a true curiosity for seeing other people’s work,â€ Sugerman said. â€œOur students were encouraged to and given a significant amount of freedom to investigate what other performances were going on at the Fringe.
â€œThey took full advantage and moved deftly throughout the city of Edinburgh to seek out work that was interesting to them, whether it was theatre, dance, comedy, or music.
â€œA number of our students saw well over thirty performances in the ten days at the festival! It was incredible to watch the pace at which they voraciously took it all in,â€ he said.
On Friday, August 9, Head of School Dan Scheibe and his wife Annie Montesano came to see our morning performance. That night we had dinner with them â€“ as well as with some of our parents who came out to see usâ€”talked about our trip and spoke with everyone about all the cool things we’ve seen and done since we arrived in Europe.
â€œWhat I and many others witnessed in movement and expression at the Fringe was a beautiful, vibrant, physical exercise in humanity,â€ said Mr. Scheibe when asked about his experience in Scotland. â€œThrough sweat and grace, great imagination, and superb adult leadership, these were not just LA dancers, but LA students in the finest sense of the phrase.â€
Though weâ€™ve been busy, we’ve continued to make friends with students all around the world, as well as with fellow Fringe performers, and we’ve supported them by seeing their shows just as they supported us by coming to our performances.
Obviously, we’re a little sad to leave, mostly because there are so many shows we didn’t get a chance to see, because the festival runs through the month of August. At the same time, however, we’re very grateful for this experience that we were given and thankful for the support of our parents, our directors, and the LA community!