University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) students and one faculty member experienced the trip of a lifetime when they performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland in August.
The festival, founded in 1948, is the largest celebration of arts and culture on the planet and takes place in the Royal Mile, a mile-long cobblestone road between the castle of Edinburgh and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Steven Williams, the faculty member who accompanied students on the trip, is the head of design and production for the UNO theatre department. Williams visited Scotland last year with colleague Scott Glasser to attend the International Collegiate Theatre Festival and scout the country for a possible future trip.
“When we first stepped on the Royal Mile last year we saw students from all over the globe, and I thought to myself, ‘this is something our students have got to be a part of,’” Williams said. “I knew from the very first hour we landed that this was something that would be of great benefit to our students.”
When Williams returned, he approached graduate student Jeremy Stoll and asked if he would be interested in directing a piece for the UNO theatre. Stoll agreed, and auditions began in August.
Stoll is deeply involved in devised theatre, which he learned about through his studies with Frantic Assembly in London. Devised theatre is a play that is created out of source material, such as personal stories, instead of a script and uses physical movement as its main narrative medium.
Once the cast was chosen, members sat down and discussed what they wanted to talk about and what story they wanted to tell. Together, they came up with “Little Wars.” The production explores the nature of human conflict through ritual. Different definitions of conflict are brought forth such as squabbles in the schoolyard, actual bloodshed racism and the fear of nuclear war.
“The UNO students and I did a tremendous amount of learning, experimenting, risking and failing together,” Stoll said. “I’m deeply indebted to the cast of “Little Wars” for embarking on this experiment with me, and for sharing and trusting so much. This was not an easy process to be involved in, and I think the shared sacrifice has paid off for all of us in having a story that is both intensely personal and widely relatable to the audience.”
The cast began rehearsing in October five days a week, focusing on cardio and rock climbing to help build up their physiques, ensuring they could complete all the lifts in the show. All the while, Williams was raising funds for the trip he and the students would be taking to Scotland at the end of summer.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe had 500,000 spectators, 10,000 performers and 3,000 shows during its 24-day run. The “Little Wars” cast and crew attended the festival for 14 days and performed four times.
“The thought of performing in front of so many people was terrifying, but actually doing it was a blast,” sophomore Abby Cameron said. “I loved getting to interact with our audience and talk about our craft. We were making an impact on people from across the world.”
Students were required to keep a daily journal, see 10 plays and, after the trip, write a paper describing the different cultures they were introduced to and what they learned that they planned to bring back to the UNO theatre department. Each performance of “Little Wars” was improved by the hundreds of shows the UNO performers were able to see.
“This hourlong performance comes from our students’ hearts, and it’s about how we are connected as human beings,” Williams said. “War is not waged between country and country. Its waged between two people, and its waged from the head and not the heart. So, what they are trying to do is humanize the conflict. I’m so proud of this group of students – they’ve done an amazing job.”