Academies students, faculty take local-penned play to international festival in Scotland

A group of Culver Academies students and faculty will spend 10 days in Edinburgh, Scotland this month as part of a prestigious invitation from the American High School Theatre Festival to The Fringe, the world’s largest performing arts festival.
According to Culver’s theatre director, Richard Coven, Culver will be one of just 15 high schools representing North America (including two Canadian and one Mexican school) at the festival, which will host some 2,500 different shows over three weeks in August. The trip will be Culver’s second invitation to the event, the first being in 2005.
“You’re nominated by two directors within the state,” explains Coven, “and someone at the national level of the International Thespian Society. Then we go through an application process...that is reviewed by 11 college professors from various theatre departments around the country. So the schools chosen represent what the Thespian Society feels are the best programs in North America.”
Culver’s performance will be an original musical comedy, “Travelers,” whose book and lyrics are actually by Coven himself, with music by fellow Culver faculty member David Weirich.
“Traveler,” says Coven, is the name of the time machine figuring prominently in the play, which was the school’s student production last winter. That production, he says, was put together specifically with the knowledge the school would be headed to The Fringe.
“The Fringe is looking for new things, quirky things -- they like shows that are sort of outside the box fun. It’s a very large, international audience of over one million people a year, crowd into a city of 100,000.”
Eight student actors, a student pianist, stage manager, and four student technicians will join director Coven and his wife, technical director Marsha Coven, who represent the six total adults making the trek across the pond. They’ll spend two days in London, where they’ll take in a show at the West End, tour the old Globe theatre of Shakespeare fame, and ride a private, chartered train with all the other participating schools from London to Edinburgh, where they’ll perform the show four times over ten days.
The festival, Coven emphasizes, is not a competition at that point, but “a sharing of our art with other schools and other performers, and this international audience. It’s a much more open and friendly atmosphere than the usual theater competition situation. Everybody’s sort of looking out for each other rather than competing.”
The students, he adds, “become real ambassadors of Culver while there. They will perform a couple times on the streets -- they call it ‘busking’ -- where they will hand out pamphlets trying to get people to the show.”
Performers run the gamut from high school and college productions to professional pieces, “and everybody’s production is treated the same.”
Preparing for the trip presented a challenge, Coven says, since Culver’s boarding school structure means most of its student body isn’t present in the summer, when many of the adults involved are also busy working in summer theater for Culver’s summer schools and camps. Student actors had to be brought back “the same day summer school ended to brush up.”
Taking the production overseas meant being “very clever with the sets” as well. Those were designed knowing The Fringe was on the docket and they’d have to be flown over and thus easily compacted for travel. Since each actor plays four different characters, there were numerous costumes to bring along as well.
A blog documenting the group’s journey will be available through the Culver Academies website at www.culver.org.
The Covens, who are in their 15th year heading up Culver’s theatre program, note theatre is an extracurricular for Culver students through the regular school year (“It’s their sport,” says Richard Coven), though acting classes are offered as part of the course curriculum there.
The school produces three plays per year during the winter school and one during summer school.
This year’s fall play, he says, will be “An Evening of One Acts” by legendary playwright Thornton Wilder, whose nephew will be in Culver to help introduce the last weekend’s production.