An act to remember: The Oil Sands City delivers North American talent to Scotland

By Paula Ogonoski - Friday, May 25 2012

If ‘all the world’s a stage,’ ten local drama students have officially become the players. The award-winning Westwood Public High School drama program will be representing North America overseas on the international stage at Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August as part of the American High School Theatre Festival (AHSTF). Braden Price, a Grade 12 drama student, and a veteran of the Westwood stage, explains that excitement within the group is palpable and nerves are making their cameo appearance.

“This is the largest fringe festival in the world and the birthplace of fringe,” Braden says. “Westwood has done exceptionally well at drama festivals in the past, but now, to be taking it to an international level is daunting.

“We are showing what Westwood and Fort McMurray are made of – that drive of excellence is a constant feeling. While our goal at the festival is to put on our shows, make some friends and break even in ticket sales, we also hope to show the world what we’ve got, and what we’ve got is chutzpah!”

While taking part in competition, that spunk will come in handy for a group used to fighting misconceptions about their hometown. The arts-focused students are determined to show the world that there’s more to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray than industry. The Westwood Improvisation Team will be using a suitcase theatre approach when they hit the Churchill stage.

Everything they take for their stay and performances literally has to fit in a suitcase, including costumes, lighting/sound effects and creative set pieces, such as hanging vines.

Their experience will take a page out of the history books, as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was created in 1947, when eight theatre groups performed uninvited at the newly formed Edinburgh International Festival: It was in a suitcase and in the wake of the Second World War that fringe was born.

The high school was originally nominated to attend the festival in 2010 when the drama program walked away from the Alberta Provincial Drama Festival with six out of 10 awards for their one-act, student-directed production ‘The Insanity of Mary Girard’. After an intense application process, which included Westwood Theatre’s history, the school was chosen out of 2,000 applicants from across North America.

Once the selection was made, teacher and director Terri Mort went to work selecting the most appropriate choice for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and decided on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book for its universal appeal. Mort, who is no stranger to the Keyano Theatre stage, says Westwood never takes a paint-by-numbers approach to their productions, which have included Chicago, Horton Hears a Who and, most recently, Fiddler on the Roof.

“In our Jungle Book we’ll be using stylized costumes,” says Mort. “It’ll be an amalgamation of Kiplingesque-Edwardian with a colonial feel,” she continues. “Kipling spent many childhood and adult years in various parts of India and we want to reflect that experience. Our actors will be dressed slightly Edwardian with animal-face makeup.

“The interpretation and the script are very different from Walt Disney’s version, although kids can clearly recognize the characters and their roles in the story. 
“It’s a piece of children’s theatre that is whimsical while it teaches kids about the order and laws of the jungle and their ecosystems.” While the students will be busy performing and selling tickets for their shows, they will also be taking an intermission to do some sight-seeing.

The Westwood team will be landing in London during the start of the Summer Olympics and take a half day tour of the city. They will then head to Birmingham to attend Shakespearian workshops with professional performers and, once in Edinburgh, they will tour the city and attend other fringe shows.

“Our goal is to experience as much great fringe theatre as possible, learn from taking a show on the road overseas, benefit from seeing how other top schools across North America put on a show, and hopefully, create life-changing moments and memories for Westwood students,” says Mort.

While the cost of travel for the cast of 10 students and four chaperones is immense, and they continue to fundraise, Mort says the community has rallied behind the team. She is hopeful the generosity continues and McMurrayites support the group by seeing The Jungle Book at Westwood on June 1 and 2 at its premier performances, or at interPLAY this summer.

For more information about sponsorship opportunities and Fort McMurray Public School programs, visit www.fmpsd.ab.ca, or follow the Westwood Improvisation Team on Facebook and Twitter.

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