Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday Feature: Joan McBride on What Everyone Should Know About Edinburgh Fringe

What everyone should know about Edinburgh Festival 
...using my own tours and preps as lessons.
by Joan McBride

Inspiration for making a career in acting came when Joan McBride saw a touring production of The Sound of Music at the old Her Majesty’s Theatre in Montreal. She was 12. Educated at Mount Allison University and McGill, she married, had two children and in the mid ’70’s found herself living across the street from a CEGEP that had a DEC in Professional Theatre where she enrolled and successfully completed her training three years later. Since then Ms McBride has been a Montreal-based actor, director and acting teacher in the Professional Theatre program of John Abbott College for near 30 years. She has staged successful productions including The Owl and The Pussycat, The Gin Game (directed by Montreal’s Elsa Bolam) and Anglo! –a musical cartoon based on the hit book An Anglo Guide to Survival in Quebec, which she conceived and directed. This wildly successful production ran in Montreal for 2 ½ years and played to an accumulated audience of about 35,000. Her film career began in the 80’s and she played opposite Mare Winningham in God Bless this Child, as well as as Tommy’s teacher in Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveler and the nurse in love with the robot in PIN. Since then she counts among her film performances roles with Benjamin Bratt in Abandon and Natasha McElhone in feardotcom. Ms McBride was also cast in two award winning Canadian films: Cherry Fruitbread (Laura Turek) winner of the People’s Choice award at the Montreal Film Festival 2001 and End of the Line (Maurice Deveraux) winner of several international awards. Ms McBride has three grown children and two grandchildren with a third scheduled to arrive this September.

As a veteran of both the Montreal Fringe experience and The Edinburgh Fringe I can say that one Fringe Experience is much like another. Some great advice for your day-to-day survival and making your production a success is already offered in Tonya-Jone Miller’s excellent article at Charpo-Canada.

The ICTF/Edinburgh  Festival Fringe

My personal Edinburgh Festival Fringe experience is somewhat different from most artists who travel to there because of a unique opportunity that was presented to me in 2010 by an organization in the US called ICTF (the International Collegiate Theatre Festival).  Because it is such a unique and worthwhile experience I would like to share some of that journey with you. There may be other theatre instructors out there who would like to know what we at John Abbott College  know about the ICTF and how they can help provide an exceptional opportunity for your students - especially those who have just graduated or are about to graduate. 

Don't start any vast projects with half-vast ideas - someone once advised.

One day in the middle of March 2010, the possibility of a Vast Project was presented to me via a voice mail message in my office at the Theatre Department of John Abbott College in Ste.Anne de Bellevue, Quebec.

ICTF /WorldStrides were expanding their successful AHSTF (American High School Theatre Festival) projects to include colleges and universities that offered training programs for theatre. The main thrust of the project was to bring one of our department’s productions to the pre-eminent performing arts festival in the world: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe! I was at the time a core acting instructor and my class was about to graduate (Spring 2010) after three years of intensive training. I proposed the idea of participating in The ICTF/ Edinburgh FRINGE 2011 as a kind of first year alumni reunion-performing Edward Bond’s Tin Can People, our 2nd year studio project. The response was a unanimous “YES!!! “  I then spoke to the chair of our department, Chris Brown and we submitted a proposal to ICTF which was accepted. Now this vast project had the beginnings of a vast idea and our project, which came to be known as JAC’N’Burgh2011, was formally launched. 

The Next Step

ICTF then invited me, as the Director of the project to attend a Familiarization Tour at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for 5 days in August 2010. ICTF paid for the Tour and I paid for my air fare. By the end of this tour I was convinced by the expertise, support and infrastructure that would be provided by ICTF. I was also impressed by the opportunity to meet and befriend like-minded theatre instructors from across the US (I was the only Canadian participant). The magic that happens at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (I saw some of the most memorable and “transporting” theatre performances ever) and the magic of the welcoming and historic city of Edinburgh itself had me convinced that this vast project was a must for our students (even though ICTF provided an option to opt out of the project when I returned-no strings attached). 

In the end 8 Colleges and Universities committed for the ICTF /Edinburgh Fringe in 2011.

A Game Plan: What did we do?

JAC’N’Burgh 2011 was a journey that took about 18 months to realize- from conception in April 2010 to our closing ceremonies in Edinburgh in August 2011. So how did we get there? I personally assumed two roles: producer and director of our production of Tin Can People by Edward Bond.  I served as a liaison between the ICTF director and our JAC’N’Burgh 2011 production: delegating responsibilities, building the collaborative team that would make it all happen  and providing oversight regarding administrative details , budgets, publicity, fundraising etc.  This collaborative effort proved to be a wonderful community building experience within the department as well as within the college and local West Island community. Three of my colleagues in particular immediately stepped forward as Technical Director and Lighting designer, Peter Vatsis ; Webmaster /jack of many trades including our soundscape design, Michael Drolet; graphic artist, Maggi Macaluay. The unequivocal support from our Chair, Chris Brown and the College’s Academic Dean, Erich Schmedt were an invaluable contribution to the ultimate success of the project. The College provided exceptional funding as well so that the cost of the production (royalties, set, costumes, props, print materials etc.) was covered and the fees paid by the participants were minimized.

In September, 2010 auditions and interviews were conducted. The opportunity to participate was made available to all second and third year students (actors, designers and techs) as well as the 2010 grad. classes. The play was cast and design and technical assignments were allocated.

Once a month meetings/rehearsals in September, October, November and January, February and March were conducted outside of class schedules on a Sunday afternoon. This allowed us to work on important administrative tasks related to our ICTF collaboration, address pre-production tasks, explore the script, develop and enact Fundraising and Publicity strategies.  A lot happened in between these meetings/rehearsals as well; so our project grew as the days, weeks and months began to fly by. 

After classes ended in May we then rehearsed our production and presented it to the public in June in the Casgrain studio theatre. The studio was set up in such a way that it replicated the SpacesUK venue 45 in Edinburgh that we would have for our performances over there. This was crucial because we are provided with only a two hour tech in that space before our opening performance and run. There would be no time to lose as we unpacked our gear and began to set up for our production so many miles away from home. ICTF provided us with on the ground assistance from a tech company called LIVE Arts. Based in the US, they have tech support in Edinburgh from January until we close in August. This link was extremely helpful to us both in terms of their guidance and the expertise that they could offer. 

Our show was very well received here in Montreal which made us feel ready to go!  It was time for a much needed summer break, however. At the end of July we reconvened for a brush up rehearsal and then we packed our bags.

And away we went!

The tour in Edinburgh was exceptionally successful in every way. ICTF for their part had taken care of booking our lodgings and breakfast at Pollock Halls residences (Edinburgh University), as well as our performance space and served as valuable liaisons with the SpaceUK venue producers and the Fringe Administration; in addition they aranged for sightseeing tours of Edinburgh and then into the country to Stirling Castle and the Trossachs for a day and much, much more. Safety was a to priority which we all respected and so were all able to enthusiastically embrace all that the Fringe and the city had to offer in the 12 days we were there. And to top it all off our show was well received to critical acclaim.

It was during this time that I recognized the incredible transformative effect our students and grads were experiencing. Their enthusiasm and energy was unbounded and their confidence and belief in themselves and in their passion was affirmed immeasurably. They were networking and building new relationships - new friends and colleagues - from around the world. This professional growth was so special to witness - as was the as the impact of traveling to such an amazing and historic city as Edinburgh, Scotland. And, they weren’t the only ones “feeling it”: my colleague, Peter Vatsis, described it all as “theatre heaven”. Yep!

When my husband, Charles, brought me to the airport in August 2011, he asked if I’d ever do it again. My response was swift and sure: “Never!!! Too much work!!” When he then joined me in Scotland after the tour he noticed that I was talking about “the next time” His jaw dropped. Why?  I tried to explain. It’s a little like having your first baby. So much pain – NEVER will I do that to myself again! and then… you see how beautiful this wonderful bit of life is and the next thing you know you would LOVE to have another.  Besides, this was  the first time JAC Theatre Department had done this. If we didn’t do it again, then it probably won’t happen in the future and this experience was much too valuable to risk losing in that way. 

Remember: no half-vast ideas.

Fast Forward to Edinburgh Festival Fringe and JAC'N'Burgh 2013

Fall September 2011, after we got  home, we follows a similar pattern. I reported to Chair Chris Brown and then he and our teem leads met with the Academic Dean. We were given the go-ahead to do it all over again in 2013. We chose to perform Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. Then followed the auditions and design-tech interviews, our monthly meetings and on to the next step as we progressed through the Fall and Winter. 

It is significant to note that in December of 2011, I retired from teaching at John Abbott; but I agreed to stay on as a volunteer coordinator and director of the JAC’N’Burgh2013 project . This brought its own new challenges but the additional time available to me was very helpful. Also a new, younger faculty member was hired to replace my teaching load, Tracy Leigh Campbell and both Tracy Leigh and another faculty member, Andy Cuk, have expressed keen interest in leading the JAC’N’Burgh 2015 project! Hopefully this experience can be offered to  our current and future students on a biennial basis thus providing a crucial, enabling link between the intensity and security of the teaching and learning environment and the challenges of engaging in and finding employment in the professional world of the performing arts. 

Our Tour August 2 – 13, 2013

Once again ICTF has provided us with very helpful assistance and information regarding safety, travel and our fabulous venue at the Space Surgeon’s Hall newly renovated Grand Theatre on Nicholson Street just a short distance from The Royal Mile. Prime location! Our itinerary is jam packed and we look forward to participating in ALL the city has to offer. Fringe shows, of course but also …the tattoo is SPECTACULAR as are the historic aspects of the city and yes! The castle is there- right smack dab in the middle of the city! So much to do, so little time.

Vast project? Yes! But, no half-vast ideas 

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Our JAC’N’Burgher 2013 participants are experiencing the crucial next step from their training to their professional careers with an opportunity that will give them the confidence and, in many ways, the means to follow their hearts and live their dreams.  

Would I recommend the ICTF/Edinburgh Festival Fringe experience YES!

For more information College and University Theatre Faculty you can contact: 
Morgan Smith
Program Director
International Collegiate Theatre Festival
218 West Water Street, Suite 400
Charlottesville, VA 22902
toll-free: 877.857.8840

Will I do it again?  Nope!

On a personal note I have discovered that after 35 years of teaching theatre with an acting career always on the back burner , it’s time for me to follow my heart and my dream of becoming an actor “when I grow up”.  I guess the infectious power and encouragement of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe experience has rubbed off on me, too.

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