Edinburgh Festival Fringe influences local theater

Charlottesville’s Performers Exchange Project will present 21 performances of The Convolution of Pip and Twig at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Fundraising performances take place locally on July 21 and 22 at PVCC’s Maxwell Theater. Photo: Will May Charlottesville’s Performers Exchange Project will present 21 performances of The Convolution of Pip and Twig at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Fundraising performances take place locally on July 21 and 22 at PVCC’s Maxwell Theater. Photo: Will May

Every August, tens of thousands performers from all over the world flock to Edinburgh, Scotland, and transform the 102-square-mile medieval city into the world’s largest stage: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Just about every space imaginable becomes a venue for more than 3,000 unique shows, says Charlottesville actor, director and producer Ray Nedzel, who has been to Edinburgh Fringe eight times. Scottish teens might perform Macbeth under a bridge while Russian puppeteers are in a church auxiliary room and an Argentinian troupe dances under a tent in the park. Nedzel recalls a show staged in a woman’s bathroom, and another performed for an audience of four in the back of a van driving around the city.

Nedzel says it’s “the Holy Land of performance art.”

This summer, like many Charlottesville performance artists before them, Kara McLane Burke and Siân Richards, along with a small crew, will pack their bags full of costumes, set pieces and tech equipment and make the pilgrimage to Edinburgh.

From August 5-29 at the 64-seat SpaceTriplex, they will stage 21 performances of The Convolution of Pip and Twig, an original play that Burke and Richards created as members of the Charlottesville-based Performers Exchange Project and premiered locally in December 2014.

Intrigued by twins, vaudeville, boats, travel and mythology, and motivated by a desire to create something together, Burke and Richards began the play not with a script or a narrative, but physically, with choreography, expression and vocalization.

They brought in fellow PEP member Martha Mendenhall to help shape these themes into a narrative, and commissioned text from a fourth PEP member, Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell. They commissioned set pieces from Zap McConnell and music from Jim Waive, decided on costumes and even got the same shoulder-length haircut with bangs.

What emerged was a two-part play about adult identical twins Pip (Burke) and Twig (Richards) who do everything together. They wake up in their shared apartment, eat breakfast and go about their—very rehearsed—tandem routine, completely aware of the audience in front of them. When Twig decides she’s had enough of the twin act, she escapes out the window to discover the world beyond. Not willing to give up on the life she’s orchestrated for herself and her twin, Pip tags along on Twig’s odyssey.

By play’s end, Twig finds her voice and Pip understands that their lives are forever changed. Ultimately, Burke says, this is a play about “how we can find our own voice within.”

And for Burke and Richards, Edinburgh Fringe gives them the chance to discover more about their own voices as theatrical artists.

“We feel a little bit like fish out of water,” Mendenhall says. “But you go to Edinburgh and there are so many European companies that work from a physical collective creative perspective, so we’ll get the chance to be in conversation with people that work the way we do.”

Former Live Arts executive director and Pip and Twig co-producer Matt Joslyn (who has produced more than 200 shows at Edinburgh Fringe) says the show is a “sophisticated devised work,” and encouraged Burke and Richards to take it to Edinburgh partly because “physical theater and clown —especially that which transcends language barriers—does very well there.”

With the help of Fringe crew members Mendenhall, McConnell, Waive and Opal Lechmanski, the duo spent the past year preparing Pip and Twig for Edinburgh. They rehearsed and revised the play, sharpened their acting chops and attended last year’s festival to take photos and scope out the vibe. They’re also planning a pre-Fringe run of Pip and Twig at PVCC. (Tickets are available at Mudhouse locations.)

While in Edinburgh, Burke and Richards will rove around in character, perhaps busking with Waive or swallowing swords with Lechmanski, to drum up audiences, Richards says.

Nedzel says the quality of Charlottesville theater is better because of the many artists—like Burke and Richards—who have traveled to the festival over the years. They’re bound to return to Charlottesville carrying the gift that Fringe offers. And, Nedzel says, that’s “the confidence that good art here is good art everywhere.”

–Erin O’Hare

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