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Ram Thespians Fly to the Fringe

Robinson students head to Scotland for drama festival.

At Robinson Secondary School, late on Monday, July 30, the parking lot lies nearly deserted and classrooms sit empty, while in the drama department, the Black Box theatre bustles with excitement.

"I'm über excited," said actor Nazanin Haririnia. "Über."

The cast and crew of "The Nina Variations" were preparing to depart for London the following day, after which they will go to Edinburgh, Scotland. There, they will participate in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and just two nights ago they performed in New York City in a festival entitled East to Edinburgh.

"While we were getting ready for the trip [to New York] and on our way up there, it just seemed like we were going to somehow be back at Robinson," said actor Sarah Russell. "Then, when we actually started unpacking the bus and moving into the theater, it hit me. I realized that I was making my off-Broadway debut."

The cast performed at 59E59 Theaters on Friday, July 27 and Saturday, July 28. "I couldn't believe it actually happened," said actor Ella Robertson.

The experience equally affected director Chip Rome. "It was thrilling to all to see the huge marquee and posters in the window of the theater, and there was our show, too," he said.

THE TRIP IS not an official Fairfax County Public Schools trip and has instead been organized by Rams2Scotland, a parent-formed organization under which the group is traveling and performing. At a "roadshow" put on by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe office, Burnard spoke with 59E59 Theaters, who invited the group to perform in the Theater's fourth annual preview for the festival. "The focus of the 59E59 Theaters is to support up-and-coming actors, new companies and new work. They were incredibly supportive, start to finish," said Burnard.

A non-profit organization, Rams2Scotland also raised money for the trip, raising approximately half of the total cost of $77,000. "We wanted to make sure that every student that wanted to go on this trip would have an opportunity to do so and not be limited because they did not have the funds," said Stacy Russell, fund-raising chair. Rams2Scotland organized "A Night at The Theater," in which cast and crew conducted workshops for elementary school children. The organization also conducted a Silpada jewelry sale, sold concessions and participated in Macy's Shop For A Cause day. The Capital Steps performance at Robinson raised the most money and benefited the community as well, as did "A Night at The Theater."

As Rams2Scotland has worked to plan, arrange and fund the trip, the cast and crew have worked on the play for over eight months. "It's been so long. The eight months feels like a year and a half," said actor Hannah Blechman.

"We've got 15 actors and three 'techies' who have been working since December to create their very best work, and, wow, have they grown in the process," said Rome.

The cast has continued to connect not only with the play, but each other. "You can see the change in them as actors and as people," said Jane Blechman.

This connection clearly influences the play’s chemistry and extends to techies as well. "If one person isn't here the entire play is different," said actor Mimi Lynch.

"It's just been a huge bonding experience. There's no bad tension in the group," said techie Brittenae Craig.

THEIR LIVES have become immersed in the play, as techie Rory Molleda said: "Our play has 42 scenes in it. I went to a restaurant yesterday and my order was number 42."

"I was like 'Oh my God,'" said Molleda to Haririnia and when Molleda said, "I had a dream," the group echoed his statement in an array of voices. Lynch explained that "I had a dream" is a line from the play.

The play itself, "The Nina Variations" by Steven Dietz, consists of 42 acts, each a variation on the final scene between Treplev and Nina in Anton Chekhov's play "The Seagull." "[The show has] almost zero stage directions," said Haririnia.

"We really liked the challenge it offered, to bring our own interpretation to fairly difficult material," said Rome.

The group agrees that they have risen to the challenge. "I feel like we've really made it our own," said Summerlin.

In Edinburgh, the group will be performing Monday, Aug. 6 to Saturday, Aug. 11 at the Demarco Roxy Art House as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The festival known as the Fringe began in 1947 as an effort to re-unite Europe through culture following World War II. In 2006, the Fringe sold over 1 million tickets to over 28,000 performances. "[Performing at the Fringe] is not an opportunity most people get," said Summerlin.

While abroad, the group will be doing a workshop at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, taking an underground ghost tour of Edinburgh, and participating in the French Cavalcade. The Cavalcade consists of about 150,000 observers and 3,000 performers parading and trying to sell their show to observers along the route, said Rome.

Although Seph Normandy said, "just being able to say that we're internationally acclaimed [is exciting]," the group would also like to perform in London.

"There has been some conversation about going to Hyde Park and just performing our show there," said Rome.

After eight months of work, performances, planning, and fund raising, the group feels prepared for this final step of the journey. "It's just been a culminating process," said actor Liz Venz. "Being in New York seemed to be a big reward for all the work that we've done and Edinburgh seems to top that even."