Jack Hrkach

Professor Emeritus, Theatre Arts

Title

Edinburgh Festival Report
August 2009
Jack Hrkach

Hello! Welcome to Jack’s annual report on the visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year, the tenth anniversary tour, the second largest group of students in those ten years accompanied me to Edinburgh.

Friday 21 August: Bill Sheasgreen, the excellent director of the Ithaca College London Center (ICLC), and I met most of the students at Heathrow Airport this morning. Three of the students had already arrived in London. The flight was just about on time, and we arrived in London via bus at about 8:30 am. Only one glitch marred this first part of the trip. One of the students was detained at the airport by immigrations officials. Bill waited for him, and the fine new office manager of ICLC, Sarah Davies, made a reassuring phone call to the airport. The student arrived in plenty of time before our scheduled departure, only slightly shaken by the experience. As it was our tenth anniversary tour, Bill, Sarah and the bright and efficient new office assistant BFA design theatre alum Claire Mokrauer-Madden had got a cake for us, and we had a small ceremony where I blew out the candles. We saved the cake for a snack on the train, and every student partook! Claire and Bill had also prepared a special edition of ICLC’s clever newsletter, MacSkint! This included lots of info as well as two quizzes which earned two of the students a fiver each. Bill and I then led the students to the Gloucester Rd tube station and from there to King’s Cross Station. After several of them took Harry Potter photos at platform 9 ½, we caught a 1 pm train for Edinburgh. We arrived on time at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station and after a ten-minute walk that started in a downpour and ended in sunshine (the students got their first taste of unpredictable Edinburgh weather immediately on arrival this year!) I deposited the students at the hostel. Most of them were completely exhausted, but most of them took walks, got dinner, checked out the local pubs, before bed.

Saturday 22 August: I awoke on a beautiful morning and was delighted to see it, as it meant a good morning for our annual open-top bus tour. I met the students, all of whom were down from their rooms right on time, as they ate a very substantial continental breakfast, and we arrived at the meeting point for the tour bus in time to catch the first one out (9:20 am). This tour helps the students get an idea of the city, and gives them some thoughts as to what places to explore later in the weekend. The route the bust took was a bit different, as Princes Street, the major thoroughfare that separates the new town from the old was closed, but the tour guide, a grizzled old Scot in a kilt, was probably the best one we’ve had in ten years of touring, and the students got a good start to the day. I then led them to the main ticket venue and shop of the Festival Fringe, and off they went in groups of three and four to begin seeing shows, as I went to secure tickets for the play we would all see together the next night. After securing the tickets I myself went to a play that featured a 2008 BA Drama alum, Amanda Mahr (finishing up her master’s degree at U. Edinburgh), and treated her to a late lunch just after that. I bumped into several groups throughout the day, and all of them seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly.

Sunday 23 August: This morning was not nearly as nice as the previous! In fact a steady light rain was falling when I met the students at the hostel. We had pretty fair warning that this kind of weather would occur on Sunday, so I had told the students to do as much outdoor activity as they could on Saturday, and see shows and museums on Sunday. Several of them, and I along with them, started the day at Our Dynamic Earth, and excellent time travel from big bang to today. This had little to do with theatre, but it featured a highly presentation. Another museum stop that day was the National Gallery of Art. One BA Drama major is also an Art History minor, and it was her first visit to an art museum, a great introduction to the larger museums she will visit in London this semester. Some students went to the Museum of Childhood, and many visited the excellent Museum of Scotland. And of course all of them saw more plays at the Festival Fringe. I saw Christina Pickard, another alum who was doing a play at the Fringe, and though I was unable to see the show, she and I caught up with each other at dinner. That evening all of us saw a really fine production at the Edinburgh International Festival (the main festival out of which the Fringe was formed). Located in the beautiful Royal Lyceum Theatre, this play, The Last Witch, was commissioned by the festival, as one of its themes was the remarkable number of innovations and brilliant ideas the Scots had in the 18th century. Well-known Scottish writer Rona Munro penned the piece, based on the true story of the last witch to be burned at the stake in Scotland. The students LOVED it, as did the two alums. I have to buy tickets very early for shows at the festival, and at the time the number was 24 total coming to Edinburgh, so I was able to give two worthy alums a treat as well.

 
Monday 24 August: This, our last full day at the festival, was thankfully a day much like Saturday, cool, but beautiful. Normally we tour the famed Edinburgh Castle on Sunday, but much of that tour is outdoors, so this year I crossed my fingers and moved the date to Monday. It paid off, as it was a perfect day for the castle, and for the stunning views to be seen from its battlements. Just after breakfast I took the students to the castle and left them on their own to wander around, take the free guided tours, see the fabled Stone of Scone and the colours of Scotland, etc. Then after the castle I led most of the students to the bottom of a volcanic mini-mountain called Arthur’s Seat, which looks over Edinburgh. The students intrepidly climbed up, and I wisely went to a ballet! Some of them spent over 2 hours at the summit, and had a lovely time. That evening in small groups they dashed around to other Fringe Fest shows, on a day that stayed lovely throughout.

Tuesday 25 August: This was, as usual, our day to head back to London. We took a later train than usual (11 am rather than 8 am), which may be a bit problematic, as several students began to be nervous about using part of the day to begin the search for flats in London. Still, it was a great trip back, and in spite of a malfunction of one student’s “oyster’ card to get on the tube, all the group except for the student and me got back to the London Center about 4:30 pm. We two stragglers arrived about 15 minutes later.
To sum up, compared to last year’s trip, in which just about everything that could have gone wrong did, this year’s tour was nearly completely free of glitches! I was extremely happy with the group, who were always right on time for events and didn’t need to be prodded, and I think I’d rate it as one of the finest trips we have taken. We moved the trip forward in time (for a number of very good reasons), so I had to race back to Ithaca, and spent the first few days of the semester rather jet-lagged, but I think we can count the trip a great success!

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I have heard from several students since the trip, as every year I ask them to assess their experience at the Festival. All of them loved the experience, the only drawback being for some of them completely unusual in my ten years experience. This group wanted less free time and more group activity. I’ll note it for next year, but it is an anomaly, as most students in the past simply couldn’t wait to charge around the city in small groups and on their own.

The following are a few excerpted student comments:

“I wanted to thank you again for the wonderful trip! I had a great time and would recommend it to anyone. My favorite part was definitely just seeing the sights, the castle and Arthur's seat and such. I loved learning about the history and everything!” Emily Viterise (BA Drama)

“The Edinburgh trip was a wonderful experience not only for theatre people but for anyone else because it was eye-opening to different kinds of theatre but also different cultures. Breakfast was perfect!” Beth Pietrangelo (BA Drama)
“My favorite parts of the Edinburgh trip were the more tourist-y sight-seeing parts. The Fringe was so overwhelming that it was difficult to pick a show. However, our group activity of climbing Arthur's Seat and seeing the view was fantastic. And my group took a walk up Calton Hill (I think it was called) and climbed the Scott Memorial. Honestly, a lot of the free activities were the most fun. The other best part, though, was seeing "The Last Witch." I was especially glad that this year, we saw a Scottish piece. It really added to the experience of being in Edinburgh--as well as being a really compelling piece of theatre.

The worst part of the trip was honestly the stress of not yet having a flat or a job set up back in London. I know a lot of people felt that hanging over our heads--but I also know there isn't really a way to fix it… Tell the sophomores I said come to Edinburgh next year. And tell the new freshmen that I say hello. Enjoy the BA meeting!” Nia Sciarretta (BA Drama)

“My favorite parts about the trip to Edinburgh were the Open bus tour, The Last Witch, Edinburgh Castle and the climb to Arthur's Seat. I loved learning about the history of where we were so I would recommend more group trips like that. Maybe one to a near by church? But being able to explore the city on our own with free range of where to go and what to see at the festival was a great experience.” Mark Forte (Theatre Arts Management)

"Going to Edinburgh was an experience I will never forget, and wouldn't trade for all the world. I saw some terrific shows-some of the best in my life-as well as some, erm, interesting ones that are pretty memorable themselves. I really loved the trip and am so happy that I was able to go!! We only wish you could also be our tour guide here!" Tamar Mackay

"My favorite parts would have to be climbing Arthur's Seat (being that close to the sky makes you feel like a gladiator), seeing theatre from different countries and cultures, especially Cardenio (my canon is complete at last!) and The Last Witch (I don't have to tell you how brilliant that was), and, as corny as it sounds, getting to enjoy a new place with good friends, both old and new. It was also a good transition from summer in the states to being in Europe- I felt more prepared to take on London after navigating Edinburgh." Jenna Grossman (BA Drama)