Festival will take SRU theatre students to the ‘Fringe’

SRU students in a production of "Dark North"

SRU theatre majors, pictured during a dress rehearsal of "Dark North," will take the production to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe during August.

July 11, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Every year, thousands of performers take to hundreds of stages throughout Scotland's capital city as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Touted as the largest arts festival in the world, the three-week event features something for everyone with theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children's shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.

When the curtain goes up on this year's event, which will run Aug. 2-29, 17 Slippery Rock University students will be center stage to present a pair of horror plays - "Dark North" and "Hungry Jane" - that were penned by David Skeele, professor of theatre.

This year marks the sixth time in the past 10 years that SRU has participated at the festival. Participating students will return to SRU July 18 to begin nightly rehearsals with Skeele directing. Deb Cohen, professor of modern languages and cultures, will serve as lighting director. Students will perform two preview shows Aug. 5-6, with six regular performances slated for Aug. 8-13.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe logo

"I decided to participate because an opportunity like this comes around once in a lifetime," said Casey Squires, a theatre and interdisciplinary programs major from West Mifflin, who is in charge of publicity for the trip. "It's a chance to impact the lives of people from all around the world who want to see us. It's completely surreal."

The festival dates back to 1947, when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform at the then newly formed Edinburgh International Festival, an initiative created to celebrate and enrich European cultural life in the wake of the Second World War. Not being part of the official program, the actors staged their shows on the "fringe" of the festival. Year after year, more and more performers followed the example and in 1958 the Festival Fringe Society was created in response to the success of the growing trend. In 2015 there were 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues, making it the largest ever arts festival in the world.

"The festival is world-renowned with a variety of shows to look forward to," Squires said. "It's an honor and privilege just to be part of the incredible lineup, not to mention being able to share our love of art with people all over Europe and the world."

Lawrence Karl, a theatre and dance major from Pittsburgh, will play the role of "Daniel" in "Dark North."

"When auditions were first announced, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this show," he said. "Not only would I have the opportunity to go to Scotland to perform in the largest international theatre festival, but I would again have the opportunity to be a part of a cast that has grown into a family.

"I want to explore new places, try new things, meet new people and have the time of my life. I plan to grow as an actor and as a person."

Kaitlin Cliber, a theatre major from Plum, who plays "Genevieve" in "Dark North," will be making her first trip abroad.

"I have never been out of the country before so this is really cool for me," she said. "Every kind of theater you can imagine will be there from comedies to tragedies. As the part of one of only two horror-themed shows in the festival, it's an honor to take part."

Cliber said she hopes to see as many other performances as possible, make professional connections and see the Scottish countryside including "Arthur's Seat," a mountain peak named after the legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD.

Skeele said many of the actors have appeared in previous productions of both plays, but expects the actors to reinterpret the characters for an international audience.

"One of the very cool things about acting is when you take time off from a role and come back to it, new things are going happen," he said. "You have a new revelation about the character by letting he or she sit for a while."

Skeele said the trip to Scotland has provided an "ah-ha" moment for many students.

"People who have done this trip, they start to think about their lives as 'before Scotland' and 'after Scotland,'" he said. "It gives our students the opportunity to see all of this theatre from all over the world and meet other young people who are doing the same thing. They come back with a glow and a new passion."

"Dark North" is a 55-minute, eerie adventure tied to the exploits of Daniel Dark North, a television psychic who has made a career out of communing with the dead. One day, in a Connecticut estate, North discovers that the dead are gone and ought to stay that way.

"Hungry Jane" is a one-act, psycho-torture tale that focuses on a woman who enlists the help of her ghost-hunting former lover to help end her problems when the ghost of a young girl bothers her. It is only then that Jane discovers her problems are just beginning.

"The plays deal with the darkest corners of the human mind and heart," said Skeele. "The material requires actors and directors who are daring and committed and absolutely unflinching in their willingness to look into those corners."

Skeele, who joined SRU in 1993 and teaches playwriting, acting and theatre history, has written more than 10 plays and directed more than 35 including, "Deep Church Hollow," "The Barwell Prophecy" and "Electra: An American Gothic."

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 | gordon.ovenshine@sru.edu