Student theater collaboration rates five stars from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

By Gabrielle Dorland Taylor '84

What began at Bucknell in summer 2010 as an intensive, three-week training session in creative technique culminated this summer in a well received performance of "The American Family" at the Edinburgh Fringe — the world’s largest arts festival, featuring more than 34,000 performances of theater, comedy, dance and music.

Fifteen students, their professors, families and colleagues journeyed to Scotland for two weeks of rehearsing and performing their original production, which they had developed and refined over the past year with students from Western Washington University.

The adventure began last summer when Tectonic Theater, a New York company known for unique and highly acclaimed shows like "The Laramie Project," was invited to Bucknell to perform a workshop for theater students from Bucknell and Western Washington University. Tectonic Theater’s distinctive technique unites actors, writers and choreographers to collaborate in creating the evolving theatrical production.

Glow Baby During the last year, the students scripted their play using social media tools to overcome the 3,000-mile distance under the direction of Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Anjalee Deshpande Hutchinson at Bucknell and Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Rich Brown at Western Washington.

Director Andy Paris, a founding member, led the 22 student-writer-actors as they conceived "The American Family." The themes they developed were drawn from their own personal and diverse experiences, from ordinary events like family vacations to more serious and complex topics and relationships. He reunited with them this year at the Fringe to direct their final production. They completed the final version of the script when the company reunited in Edinburgh in the three days before their first performance.

Fringe critics declared the final product “a funny, feisty, often moving collage” and bestowed it with five stars, a rare accomplishment, especially for a company new to the Fringe.

“The Edinburgh Fringe was a life-changing experience,” says Christina Cody ’12. “I have never been in a place where that much theater was happening at once. It was an explosion.” The cast received an unexpected visit from Harvey “Marc” Powers ’74, who happened to be attending the Fringe. Cody says his appearance in the audience “was like a celebrity had come.” He visited and shared stories about his father, Harvey M. Powers, a professor of theatre at Bucknell for many years.

For Deshpande Hutchinson, it was her first opportunity to perform with her students as colleagues. “It was very exciting and engaging working with them as professionals, collaborating with these students and alumni as creative artists beyond the academic environment,” she says.

Those who missed the performance in Edinburgh will have another chance to learn what "The American Family" is all about. Diego Chiri ’12 traveled with the company and filmed many hours of the trip to Edinburgh. His documentary "The Making of 'The American Family'" captures the experience of the theater on film. Chiri hopes to show the film at the end of this semester. A collaboration on many levels, among students, professors, performers and directors from the East and West Coasts, "The American Family" transformed family life into theater.

Gabrielle Dorland Taylor ’84 is a class reporter and writer who recently relocated to Lewisburg, Pa. As a student at Cambridge University, she directed a production at the Festival Fringe in 1986.

Photograph by Mark Hutchinson