Courtney Joseph ’21 and the Janus Players are feeling a mix of nerves and excitement.
The Hun School theatre group departs July 27th for two weeks in which it will perform four shows of “Match Girl” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.
"It’s the biggest theatre festival in the world,” said Courtney. “People from high school to professionals go there to perform. It’s a huge honor that we were invited to perform there.”
It’s the first time in the sixty-year history of Hun’s long-respected theatre program that it has been invited to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Festival featured 55,000 performances of 3,548 different shows in 2018. This year’s festival runs August 2-26th. Hun will perform as part one of approximately forty schools selected from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for the American High School Theatre Festival.
“It’s pretty huge,” said Hun School theatre director Bill Esher. “This is like if a high school marching band is invited to march in the Rose Bowl parade.”
Hun’s Drama Club began in 1958. It spawned into the modern day Janus Players, whose productions have become a fulcrum to the arts program at Hun. Next year, the auditorium, stage, and scene shop will be renovated to showcase further the Hun arts program. The Janus Players will perform “Match Girl” during the school year, but are looking forward to unveiling it first at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
“I’m most excited about the fact that we’re going to a different country,” said Maya Connell ’21. “I’ve never been outside the U.S. aside from Canada. This will be my first time outside the country.”
Mr. Esher took his previous school to the festival, and when he came to Hun two years ago, was told by festival organizers that they already had their eye on the well reputed Janus Players. Hun was one of several hundred schools asked to apply last year. They submitted background information, videos and photos in October, and were accepted to the festival just before the winter academic break.
“I didn’t think I’d have this type of opportunity,” said Nina Kapstein '20. “I joined when I came to Hun in 10th grade. I was looking to make some friends and do theatre. I didn’t know how involved I’d become. It’s a really amazing opportunity that none of us expected.”
"Match Girl” is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl.” The Janus Players will perform it four times at The Space at Surgeons Hall, a retooled lecture hall on the University of Edinburgh campus.
“We’re just blocks off the royal mile, and that’s the epicenter of the festival,” said Mr. Esher. “I was floored that we’re that close to the center of everything.”
About "Match Girl"
The lead character in “Match Girl,” Elin, is led on a magical journey towards a reunion with her grandmother by the Shadows that her lit matches form. It combines music and theatre in an original performance.
“It really embraces the time period in which ‘The Little Match Girl’ was written,” said Mr. Esher. “In Denmark at the time it was not a real prosperous time. The wealthy were wealthy and the poor were poor. This little girl is selling matches as did many young girls just to make some money to help bring food home to her family.
“You’re trying to take something that in some way has a little bit of edge to it, maybe a little more theatricality. And this certainly does.”
There are fourteen members of the Janus Players who will be accompanied by Mr. Esher and technical director Josh Robinson: Koray Bektas '20, Daniel Brugger '22, Gabriella Cattani '21, Maya Connell '21, Olivia D'Aulerio '22, Renna Goldsmith '20, Courtney Joseph '21, Jacob Kanouff '21, Nina Kapstein '20, Lucy Law '20, Rosemary Martinez '21, Madeline Perry '21, Lexi Thomas '22 and Mei von Kaenel '21. The Janus Players have been preparing with four- and five-hour practices twice per week since May.
“I feel that rehearsals have been going really, really well,” said Mei von Kaenel ’21. “Even though it’s during summer and everyone has their own vacation plans and plans with family, people are coming in as much as they can. We’ve had a lot of practices. I’m looking forward to performing because I feel like we’re really prepared.”
After two days in London where they will catch a show in the West End, they will ride to Edinburgh and begin final preparations for their performances. They have to be able to set up, perform, and take down the show all within a two-hour window. They will use projectors and screens to expedite set-up and take-down.
“It is an ensemble,” said Mr. Esher. “People are playing various roles. It’s not like someone has a role and that’s all they do. When you’re building a show like this, you’re also building an ensemble or team. There’s all the research that students have done so they understand the time period and they’re also responsible for researching the costumes of the time.
“The students are very invested in every aspect of the show,” he added. “When we get to Edinburgh, they are part of the marketing of the show where they have to go out and busk on the streets with leaflets and pamphlets that they have to hand to people walking up and down the streets of Edinburgh just like every other artists from every other country in the world does.”
More about the Festival
Acts include musicals, theatre, comedy, circus, opera, spoken word, and exhibitions. Participants in the American High School Theatre Festival, now in its 25th year participating in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, are assigned to attend a few of the other high school group’s performances to guarantee an audience at each. The Janus Players hope that their show’s broad appeal with music and theater will draw well.
“Anyone from around the world could be coming to this event,” said Gabriella Cattani ’21. “We’ll be able to show our work to hundreds of people.”
In addition to taking in performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Janus Players will be treated to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Edinburgh Castle.
“It’s an unbelievable show,” said Mr. Esher. “It’s very theatrical. It’s very moving. They will introduce every school that’s a part of the American High School Theater Festival as their guests. They’ll say ‘The Hun School of Princeton’ and they cheer like you’re a rock star. That’s something I think will catch the kids off guard a little.”
The trip promises to be an unforgettable opportunity highlighted by debuting their performance to an international audience. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been a launching point. “Six the Musical” that is coming to New York City premiered at the 2017 festival. “Hamilton” star Lin-Manuel Miranda and his Freestyle Love Supreme hip-hop improv group toured the 2005 festival as they were beginning to take off. Being a part of the foremost arts festival in the world will be a revelation for the Janus Players.
“On the first level is the exposure to performance outside of the traditional performance opportunity,” said Mr. Esher. “Beyond that, it’s the humanity of all these people being together sharing and experiencing a common experience. They’re from all over the world.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go myself. It’s jaw-dropping to be with all of these people from all these different countries and sharing common experiences in an incredible and wonderful way. It’s not only that you go and sit in the space and watch something, there are also all of these spaces set up throughout the city where you can sit and have coffee and something to eat and sit with people who just saw what you saw or haven’t seen what you saw and you can share that with them. That residual experience that these kids will have is invaluable. It’s that experiential learning that is so important nowadays for students to have.”