Arts & Leisure

Thespians get cue from Scotland’s Fringe Festival

Otter Valley’s Walking Stick Theatre performed its original production of “Inevitable” at the 2016 New England Drama Festival, winning their class. The group made its first trip to the Fringe Festival in 2015.

Otter Valley Union High School’s Walking Stick Theatre group is planning to make a return appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, they have plenty of time for fundraising. OV Theater director Jeff Hull said the group would pursue plans to attend the 2021 Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, next August. Walking Stick Theatre was first invited in 2015 and is keen to return. Since then, the group has performed at the New England Drama Festival four times, winning their class in 2016 with their original production of “Inevitable.”
Hull said there are roughly 40 students interested in attending the Fringe, so fundraising is paramount. The cost for the 14-day trip, including airfare, room and board, is about $6,500 per person. “It’s an excellent deal to travel to Europe,” Hull said. “We spend two days in London and 10 days in Scotland. It’s the biggest theater festival of the year.”
With the help of proactive and organized parents, the students have started a bottle drive to kick off fundraising. For the month of August, supporters can drop off cans and bottles for deposit at Union Street Grocery in Brandon. “Tell them it’s for Scotland and they will save the receipts,” said parent and organizer Laurie Bertrand. On Aug. 15, the group will also make the rounds to each town served by OV to pick up cans and bottles. To arrange for a pickup, patrons can call Bertrand at 989-2365 or parent Darlene Kelly at 398-7026.
Hull said the group had a whole year to raise money before their first trip to the Fringe, and are glad to have the time yet again. “We were just about to start the fundraising in March and then all hell broke loose,” he said, referring to when the pandemic began nationwide. “We haven’t done much since. Hopefully, we’ll get to go. If not, then we’ll go the following year.”
Asked what was involved in applying to the festival, Hull said he had to outline the group’s philosophy, the education and classes offered at OV, and the awards the Walking Stick has received. Hull said his students have done some performing since the pandemic hit. This spring they performed a series of monologues online. They also have a YouTube channel, Otter Valley Union High School Theatre, and have presented a few short films and a virtual showcase of performances in the past two months.
The annual OV musical presented each November has been pushed to May 2021, and Hull is hoping it can be performed before a live audience. However, should the pandemic persist, the drama teacher is prepared to either film the musical and screen it for audiences that way, or live stream the performance.
Hull also said he is thinks the musical will be an original piece this year, with help from OV Middle School music teacher Kenny Cifone, who writes his own music. “I want to write some original songs and do our own musical,” he said. “It’ll be exciting.”
Other fundraising ideas included a dinner theater, which is currently not possible with social distancing restrictions, car washes and other town events. They also hope to hold a 50/50 raffle at the drive-in theater being erected at Estabrook Field in Brandon.
Students are currently selling flower bulbs as a fundraiser as well. Hull’s wife, Stephanie, works in fabric and has been making Walking Stick Theatre face masks that will be sold for $12-$15 apiece to also raise money for the trip.
Hull said the parents of his students this year are very helpful and motivated, and he’s hoping fundraising will go well. In the end, he said the Fringe represents an opportunity for students to literally expand their worlds, and the parents see that.
“I have a great group of parents this year,” he said. “They saw the kids who went (to Fringe) the last time and the experience they had and how the trip changed their perspective on theater and the world, and they want their kids to have that experience, too.”
To make a donation to the Walking Stick Theatre group, mail to OVUUHS Theatre Dept., 2997 Franklin St., Brandon, VT 05733.

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