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All the world’s a stage: U.S., Scotland forge fringe partnership

Transatlantic collaboration opens new horizons for Northwestern theater students

Two images show young women standing by water
‘Atlantic: A Scottish Story’ and ‘Atlantic: America & The Great War’ by the American Music Theater Project at Northwestern and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will be presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Aug. 3 to 27.

EVANSTON - Two new musical theater productions that explore home and heritage, identity and adventure will premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, the result of a new collaboration between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University.

The thematically linked shows, “Atlantic: A Scottish Story” and “Atlantic: America & The Great War,” will be staged from Aug. 3 to 27 in the Rainy Hall at Edinburgh’s Assembly Hall. The shows will be presented in repertory by students from the Royal Conservatoire and Northwestern University with live music performed by members of the acting ensemble and musicians from the Royal Conservatoire.

The Royal Conservatoire and Northwestern partnership launched in the fall of 2016. After collaborating for several months by phone, the writers, director and creative team were able to work face to face and get to know each other during workshops hosted in Glasgow, Chicago and a writers’ retreat in New York. Northwestern project participants flew to Glasgow in July to begin rehearsals, which will continue until the Aug. 3 opening, and will return home after the festival closes Aug. 27. 

"This partnership reflects the school’s determination to engage and enrich its global community and its ongoing efforts to internationalize its faculty and curriculum,” said School of Communication Dean Barbara O’Keefe. “We place a premium on cultural literacy and global networks. Expanding the impact of our program in music theater while learning from our partners at the Royal Conservatoire is an exciting – and especially impressive -- realization of our goals."

The productions are written and scored by alumni from each institution and will feature musical scores grounded in traditional Scottish and American folk music.

“Making art with international collaborators exposes you to perspectives that can’t help but influence the work in a really important way. In the same way traveling broadens your horizons, working overseas broadens your artistic horizons and opens you up to other creative processes,” said playwright and Northwestern alumnus Ryan Bernsten.

The two teams of writers were keen to find a story with universal themes, according to Northwestern alumna Desiree Staples. During months of international phone calls, they discussed their respective heritages and their relationships to where they come from. 

“We found that in Scotland, one’s family and background can be traced back for generations and generations, while in America many of our grandparents were immigrants to the States, and thus our families are much less known and traceable,” Staples said. “This brought up the question ‘Is it a curse to stay or a curse to go?’ Crossing the Atlantic, that incredible natural barrier or unprecedented thoroughfare of travel, depending on how one looks at it, became the point of departure for our shows.”

Part one of the collaboration, “Atlantic: A Scottish Story,” is written by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland alumni Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie of the music theater partnership Noisemaker and directed by Scott Gilmour.

Set in the early 1800s on a Scottish island, a young couple stands at the shore and longs to discover what’s beyond. When the boy leaves for a new life in America, the girl must find a way to live. “A Scottish Story” looks at the ties we have to home and how difficult it can be to escape them.

“If you have no need to discover where you’re from, because you’re already there, can you be content not knowing what the rest of the world has to offer? These questions of isolation and identity were fundamental in discovering the world of ‘Atlantic’ for us,” said Claire McKenzie.

Part two, “America & The Great War” explores the timely uncertainty of what it means to be American. It was written by Northwestern alumni Christopher Anselmo, Ryan Bernsten and Desiree Staples and directed by David H. Bell, the Donald G. Robertson Director in Music Theatre and AMTP artistic director at Northwestern.

On the eve of World War I, two African-American sisters uncover their complicated European ancestry. When one disappears while tracing their lineage overseas, the other must leave home for the first time to find her.

The AMTP writing teamwanted to capture the aspirations of not just their show’s main characters but of the nation as a whole. 

“‘America & The Great War’ is set exactly 100 years ago, during the tumultuous, political, social and global events of 1917. As a playwright, a historical setting presented a challenge upon first impression – but ultimately it was surprising how cyclical history can be,” said Ryan Bernsten. “I hope audiences will consider how far we’ve come, but also how many complicated issues are still eerily familiar a century later.” 

Information and ticket details for “Atlantic” are available on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s dedicated Fringe website

About the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is ranked third in the world for performing arts education and is ranked No. 1 in Scotland for graduate employability, endorsing its status as a national and international center of excellence for the performing arts.

In 2017, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is celebrating its 170th birthday. It has built on its roots as a national academy of music to become one of Europe’s most multidisciplinary performing arts higher education centers, offering specialized teaching across music, drama, dance, production and film. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is encouraging transdisciplinary learning throughout its innovative curriculum.

About the American Music Theatre Project

The American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University brings together the nation’s leading artists in music theatre to nourish and invigorate American music theater by developing and producing new musicals; increasing opportunities for education and training with Northwestern’s theater, music theatre and dance programs; and creating new connections between professional and academic communities.

The American Music Theatre Project is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theatre, dance and visual arts.

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