- February 16, 2017
Three weeks from now, 16 Dr. Phillips High students will be on a plane to Scotland — with multicolored puppets and theater props in tow.
They’ve been rehearsing five days a week, every week, since school let out. They’ve put down their payments. And soon they’ll be performing the edited version of “Avenue Q” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe — the largest arts festival in the world.
It’s the school’s fifth time since 1995 attending the festival, which in 2017 spanned 25 days and featured 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows in 300 venues.
The school’s theater director, Jason Whitehead, is an alumnus of the program himself. He attended the festival as a student in 2001.
“Once we were presented with the opportunity to go to Scotland, I had a short list of shows I thought would appeal to an international audience but also were easy to travel,” Whitehead said. “Since we had a smaller group this time, I was thinking, ‘What’s going to sell?’ I was looking at small-cast musicals that could be trimmed and still made sense, and Avenue Q popped into my mind.”
“Avenue Q” is a musical that tells the story of a recent college graduate named Princeton who moves into an apartment in New York on Avenue Q. According to Music Theater International, “he soon discovers that, although the residents seem nice, it's clear that this is not your ordinary neighborhood.”
The coming-of-age story addresses topics such as anxiety, love and issues people run into as they approach adulthood.
The musical has been called raunchy, but MTI has created a school-appropriate version for high schools to perform. The company works with the writers to approve cutting or modifying certain parts.
“It’s still pretty much a PG-13 show; they cut out a few four-letter words and sexual undertones,” Whitehead said. “I still had to advertise like, ‘Don't be confused by the puppets, it’s not a children’s show and does contain language and mature themes.’”
The students will put on a 90-minute version of the show, which they will perform twice at the school before they leave for Scotland. They also will perform it four times in Scotland and twice more within the first two weeks of the new school year.
Whitehead applied on the program’s behalf in February 2017 to attend with the American High School Theatre Festival. Eligible programs must be nominated by a theater professional or college professor. The application, he said, includes a program and curriculum review, merits of the program, notable alumni, philosophy on teaching styles, pictures, video clips and letters of support from the community.
“I found out in April or May of 2017 that we’d be going the summer of 2018, because it’s a yearlong fundraising process,” he said. “It’s a lot of planning, and I was able to announce it to the students at the end of the 2016-17 school year.”
Students will leave July 28 and return Aug. 10, two days before school begins. They’ll land first in London, where they’ll see a show at Shakespeare’s Globe, tour the Royal Shakespeare Company and do some more sightseeing. In Edinburgh, they’ll attend and perform at the festival, see castles and attend an improvisational workshop.
“I know they're excited, but I don't think they truly understand what a fun, cold, tiring, busy experience Scotland is going to be,” Whitehead said. “I think of how many memories and how much fun I had on that trip, and I’m excited for them to experience it (and to see) what’s in store.”