Over the summer, some Yale drama enthusiasts are content to lead children’s theater, drama camps, and other relatively low-key programs. After all, aren’t summers supposed to be for relaxation? On the other end of the spectrum, one group of Yale drama students traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland to hone their craft. Ticket sales for Edinburgh Fringe topped one million, making it the largest arts festival in the world.
Although the group is not affiliated with Yale, many of its members hail from its halls. Leading the group is director and co-producer, Gordon Carver DRA ’06. Under his charge were nine actors (three girls and six boys), a producer, and a stage manager. Carver, who is an Englishman, and his American business partner, Judy Hansen, dubbed their group The Spankin’ Yanks, referencing their playful British-American rivalry.
Carver acknowledged the members’ eclectic backgrounds. “The group was selected by hook and by crook, really,” Carver said. “Some were from Yale, and two other actors came because they were friends with some of the Yale students. We had one actor from NYU and one from Ithaca [University].”
Not only did Yale’s group get to participate in the festival, several members even managed to distinguish themselves from other festival participants and garner coveted awards. Rolin Jones ’04’s play “The Jammer,” directed by Carver, received the prestigious Fringe First Award. The Fringe First Award, which is awarded annually at the festival to outstanding and innovative productions, was bestowed upon only 19 of the 700 entrants this year.
“Each week during the three weeks of the festival, Fringe judges select five or six plays out of the pool that they believe should be recognized,” Carver said. Carver’s group received the nod in the final week.
Carver said at first he was not sure “The Jammer” was the right play to submit to the festival. Because the cast required was so large, and participating students would have to pay for their own travel accommodations, Carver was worried about the practicality of performing. But in the end, he was drawn to the play’s panache and admired that the play possessed “the right kind of novelty and originality.”
Indeed, practical concerns were an important theme for Carver and his crew throughout the duration of the festival preparations.
“I looked around for a producer and found one, but she dropped out mid-way,” Carver said. “And we were desperately trying to raise money, as new companies always are. I basically funded it myself, which was a huge financial loss.”
And the hardship didn’t stop once the production got underway. Aside from the producer, several actors dropped out along the way. But the group was finalized by the end of June and rehearsed throughout July. The group staged two benefit performances in August which were “very hectic, to say the least.”
But despite the tribulations, the festival had plenty of treats in store for the enthusiastic group and their seasoned leader.
“We never had an empty house, which was nice,” Carver said. “The benefit of being there for a month was the good theater, from places like Eastern Europe and South Africa. It was an extraordinary array.”
Carver was so pleased with the group’s experience that he is already making plans to return next year.
“The company — my pet project — was received so well. I’m considering taking another Yale script there next year. I hope it’s a forum with which we can continue to perform. I just need to find the good scripts.”