We're going to the Fringe

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
Taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe requires planning, commitment and finances but it is exciting, reports Anne Cowan

The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd; bright lights, talent and energy engulf the hall. It's a heady mix for the teenagers of North Berwick High putting on The Homeless Gnome.

Transfer the production to the Edinburgh Fringe and the excitement is racked up a notch. One day the performers are school pupils, the next they are part of one of the biggest arts festivals in Europe. This is for real but it is fun as well as hard work.

The Homeless Gnome is a new musical for children aged six upwards. Most of the cast of 16 is from S4, S5 and S6. For now, whoever arrives on stage first rehearses first.

It is Maggie Holme as the eponymous gnome, with a plaintive song. Next, in Elvis mode, James Ross launches into "Big Bug Boogie" as Ray, the Frog.

Behind him the dancers go through their jazz ballet routine. Marmalade miaows melodiously. Finally comes the opening scene, the fair, with the entire company.

"Right, stop. We'll have that song again, from the top," cries out Julia Donoghue, the producer and director. She is cello instructor in East Lothian primary and secondary schools and founded the North Berwick Youth Music Theatre 10 years ago.

"It's a huge undertaking going to the Fringe," she says. "In 1998 we did Godspell in St John's Church.

"So that this year's show qualifies as a world premiere, we have only performed it twice. It's not yet published and we have an agreement with the writers that we can take the show to the Fringe without paying royalties. Normally performing rights fees are expensive.

"Doing Grease in school last year, we had to pay pound;90 per performance or 15 per cent of the takings, whichever was greater."

The Homeless Gnome is a collaboration across 400 miles. The composer, James Gilliland Simpson, who is also a pianist and teacher of singing at Glasgow's Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, lives in Gifford, East Lothian, while the lyricist, Robin Fritz, lives in Essex. Mr Gilliland Simpson and Ms Donoghue met last autumn with a view to putting on a Fringe premi re. Members of the North Berwick High theatre company were consulted and the decision to go for it was made.

To take a school show to the Fringe involves a lot of careful planning, plus hours of commitment from the pupils and support from parents and the school. Last September Ms Donoghue registered an interest in being in the 2004 programme and paid pound;12 to ensure that she was sent information.

She then received the publications How to Do A Show and How to Sell a Show, as well as Spaces, which tells about the venues.

"The venue is crucial," says Ms Donoghue. "I looked at lots of them for number of seats, stage size and proximity to Waverley Station. The 16.17 train from North Berwick is the first one we can get after school.

"I've never taken pupils out of class for the Youth Music Theatre. It's an after school activity."

Eventually Augustine's, on George IV Bridge, was chosen, not least because of the route to it from the railway station. The cast will have to pass Royal Mile pavement cafes, the Fringe office, Parliament Square, colourful street theatre and festive crowds.

"It's all part of the Fringe experience," says Ms Donoghue.

Registration was just the beginning of the show expenses. The production is costing pound;1,421: to hire Augustine's for a six-day run of the one-hour performance costs pound;1,070; insurance costs pound;120; the fee to be listed in the official programme is pound;231.48. Stage management, costumes, scenery, props, lighting, sound and publicity are all being done by some pupil, teacher or friend of the Youth Music Theatre. The choreography is by school dux Sheila Grant, who plans to study for a degree at Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts in Sidcup, Kent.

The Homeless Gnome is a children's show with something for the whole family. All concerned are hoping that it will have a happy ending.

The Homeless Gnome, North Berwick Youth Music Theatre, Augustine's, August 24-29, 5.45pmwww.edfringe.com

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