Northwest NEWS

August 30, 1999

Front Page

'Oklahoma!' troupe returns from Scotland

performing cast
Oklahoma! cast members performed on Fringe Sunday outside of Holyrood Palace. Left to right: Nate Eddings, Melanie Velo-Simpson, Mick Lauer, Emilie Leis, Beth White, and Willie LeVasseur. The cast and crew of Woodinville High School's production of Oklahoma!
Photos by Mary Karr.

Editor's Note: Sixty students from Woodinville High School left Aug. 10 and returned Aug. 23 from their trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, where they performed Oklahoma! at the prestigious Fringe Festival. The following includes excerpts from a diary kept during the trip by Mary Karr, one of 16 chaperons.

   Aug. 10: "The day" has finally arrived. Director Hjalmer Anderson and his wife, Liz, and a couple of the parents brought a rental van to the airport containing our sets in 46 boxes at noon. They needed to be there early so they could check in the boxes as our luggage.

   The airline tickets and boarding passes were given to everyone as they arrived. Once we were all there, we moved to our gate. We had about three hours left to wait. The kids and chaperons passed the time playing chess, cards, and just plain old talking.

   The plane ride to London was smooth, but long. It was a little more than nine hours before we touched down in Heathrow Airport in England.

   The luggage became a problem at that point. Hjalmer had told them about the amount we were bringing. Yet AHSTF (American High School Theatre Festival) had miscalculated and had to order another truck to handle it. This ended up cutting down the time we had for touring London after we left the airport.

   Many of the students didn't seem to mind as they could not keep their eyes open and fell asleep on the busses. Snoring was a sound that emanated from many areas of both busses.

   We finally arrived at Bankside, where we were to spend our first two nights in Europe. The check-in went smoothly and then everyone ate dinner and went to bed.

   Aug. 11: After breakfast, many in our group went to the Tower of London. What a large place! We saw the crown jewels, which glittered in their cases. Then the students went on a tour of the newly-remodeled Globe Theatre. It is a replica of the one in which Shakespeare performed. Some of the students took part in an acting class there that included a few unsuspecting chaperons, as well as techs.

   Later, we broke into 17 groups and toured London for the next six hours. Some of the places we saw were: the British Museum, 221-B Baker Street (fictional home of Sherlock Holmes), Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum, Harrod's (where we had tea), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, Hyde Park, Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and much more. That night, we all met, with sore feet, at the Palace Theatre for a production of Les Miserables. What a day, and everyone again was very tired.

   Aug. 12: The day started for us at 5 a.m. We had to be awake and downstairs with our luggage so that it could be loaded on trucks to be taken by land to Pollock Halls in Edinburgh. The girls loaded their luggage on one truck and the boys on another, as they would be in separate dorms.

   Most of us did not have breakfast, as the food at Bankside was not palatable. Instead, we waited for the box lunches that were to be provided on the train. The train trip from London to Edinburgh was about four and a half hours. This train was hired by AHSTF to transport all the high school groups to Edinburgh together.

   Once the train was on its way, the kids started to mingle. Friendships were starting to be made; singing was heard from many cars throughout the trip, and laughter permeated the entire train.

   When we reached Scotland, the countryside changed. It was full of rolling hills and beautiful buildings. Many sheep were grazing, and pockets of dark green trees popped up here and there. Properties were bordered, not by fences as they are in America, but by rows of bushes, trees, and sometimes stones. Farmland was everywhere and made the land look like a patchwork quilt. We could see the Firth of Forth in the distance. Everyone was hushed, and all eyes were looking at the marvelous scenery passing before our eyes.

   Upon our arrival at Edinburgh, we were greeted by a bagpiper. What a lovely sound! We were loaded onto a bus and were off on the next tour. Many of us were still trying to catch up on our sleep, and did so until we arrived at Holyrood Palace. But even the sleepiest got off the bus and stood in awe at the foot of this castle.

   The age of the castle, the stone work, the thought of who had walked these paths, and the decisions made here were awe-inspiring. Cameras were quickly raised and flashes began to flood the area. By now, we were all awake.

   We checked into Pollock Halls at 6 p.m. and then ate dinner. The food was a huge improvement over what we had been served in London, and everyone ate well that night.

   At 8 p.m., we were invited to a Ceilidh at the South Hall. This is a Scottish gathering featuring dance and stories. Two bagpipers were there, as well as some Scottish dancers, to introduce the 18 American schools to some of the culture to which we were about to be exposed.

   Many of us were still extremely tired and left early to go to bed. Those that remained watched and listened to the music, but the fun really started when they tried to teach us their dances. Then we got on the dance floor to try them out. Laughter rang loud.

   The last story of the evening revealed the history of the kilt. There was a demonstration on the wearing of the kilt, and it was explained that it was also used as a blanket on the heath or on the battlefields.

   Aug. 13: The next day was our two-hour rehearsal at Church Hill Theatre, where we were to perform. We assembled the flats and the wagons. Once that was done, the students ran through a practice set-up to see how the sets would fit on the stage.

   Unfortunately, we discovered we would probably not be able to use the backdrop the kids had lovingly painted and brought with us. This broke the hearts of many, and Hjalmer just didn't know what to do. He thought we would have to go without it, as there was no time to make big changes.

   Before we left for Church Hill, we went to see the Lothian Youth Arts and Musicals Company of Edinburgh's production of Oklahoma! that was to end on the night before our performance was to open at the same venue. How would the Scottish interpret the play? That was the big question.

   We arrived for their show, and somehow they found out we were there and became nervous. But they did a good job. The most obvious difference was their backdrop. Instead of a scene of Oklahoma and the waving wheat, theirs pictured rolling hills, patches of green trees, and a Gothic church spire in the distance--a Scottish scene.

   The way their play was performed was a perfect example of the differences in cultures and the way each culture is perceived by another. We were invited to come backstage to meet the 100-member cast of this production. Hjalmer then invited them to come to our show the next night at 10:15 p.m. This was an awesome experience for two countries to perform the same show and learn so much about each other--Washington and Scotland truly met in Oklahoma!

   All the way back to Pollock Halls the busses were buzzing with the talk of the differences of the plays and how many of the jokes were not recognized by the Scots in the performance. Then the good news started to spread through one of the busses. Hjalmer was indeed working on a plan to use the backdrop. He wanted it as much as the kids. But how could they get it to work?

   Aug. 14: By midmorning, the day of our performance, we were told that Hjalmer had worked out something with the other Oklahoma! director that enabled us to use our backdrop. Some of the technical people went over to the theatre and worked it out. This made the upcoming more performance more exciting.

   Now our time came. How would our house (attendance) be--small or full? Would they love us or hate us? Would the show run smoothly or would everything fall apart? Would everyone remember their lines? Will the set changes go smoothly? Will the backdrop really work?

   Then we heard the news. The other cast was here for our production. They sent a card backstage thanking us for supporting them in their production. They also wished us success for our show. This was our chance to to show them what Oklahoma in America was really like. These Scottish kids had never seen America, and they were in for a treat that night.

   As the play progressed, the laughter continued to appear in the right places. The other cast seemed to have favorite characters in our play. They clapped along with the music and they sang along with some of the songs. All in all, they seemed to enjoy it immensely. The more they enjoyed it, the more they fed the energy level of our kids. What a wonderful way to join two cultures in a common thread.

   During the next couple of days, we had our moments trying to figure out what to see, when to see it, and what chaperon was going to be with what group. But as time went on, we got more comfortable in being able to make these arrangements.

   We were also required by AHSTF to have half our group at a time see one of the other high school's shows. We were there in a strange land, and this was a way to support one another.

   Those groups not seeing shows went sightseeing and shopping on the Royal Mile. The Royal mile is the road that runs between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. It is, as the name implies, one mile long.

   Many different groups toured Edinburgh Castle at different times. They also saw shows in other venues other than AHSTF. Some plays they raved about, and others, we were told, were horrible. There were many different levels of excellence, and these kids were determined to see as many shows as they could while they were there.

   Off-times were spent on the grassy knoll between the two dorms. Students from all the schools met, talked, danced, sang, and had great fun. Others gathered and hiked up Arthur's seat and Lion's Head. This was the mountain that was directly behind us and between us and Holyrood Palace. Half the dorms looked out onto this majestic mountain while the other half was in the direction of Edinburgh Castle. Each night at the Tattoo they shot off fireworks that were able to be seen from these rooms.

   Aug. 18: We all took a tour together on the busses to Stirling Castle. Up to now, we had wonderful weather in the upper 60s. Today was a big exception. It rained at Stirling Castle, but we still toured it.

   Many of us walked along the wall and looked out into the countryside that the Highlanders must have also looked out at. We could see the monument on the hilltop that was erected in William Wallace's honor. Despite the rain, we could see many miles away.

   Then it was down to the big kitchen, where they had manequins displaying the everyday life in the kitchens. There was even a scene with a cook holding a side of beef over his shoulder, a dog jumping on it to get a bite, and another cook trying, with his hands full, to get the dog away. It looked so real.

   On to the town of Callander. We stopped there to eat on our own and shop. Then off again in the busses. Next stop was at a field of heather. Here, we were all instructed to remove our shoes and go lope through the heather. Once we had done that, we were told to plouter through the burn.

   The guide said this with a smile and waited for us to look confused. And confused we were until she told us what to do: Take off our shoes and run through the heather that is in a wet boggy area that feels spongy, then wade through the little stream that runs through this field of heather.

   Hjalmer took his shoes with him, having been here the year before. We didn't understand why until we returned to the bus. It seems that it is a silly custom of the busses to have the bus driver tie all the shoes together and lay them out in a row while everyone is plautering. It took us 10 minutes to get all the shoes untied, but we all had a good laugh.

   Aug. 19: For our 8:15 p.m. show, we heard that the directors for the schools chosen for the next year's Fringe we going to be there. It made everyone excited and our kids wanted to show them what they could do. The energy in the audience again fueled the actors on stage. The performance came alive and the house was again full of laughter, foot tapping, clapping, and applause.

   After the show, a reporter asked if he could get some photos of the cast and talk with the director. He said he had previously reviewed the other Oklahoma! production. The kids got excited and as they finished their jobs backstage, they ran to the front of the theatre on the steps and started posing.

   Then they heard that a woman had come to the theatre that night with her mom. The mother had hoped to hear her favorite song, "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." But that number had been cut from the show, due to our time limitations. The kids didn't want to disappoint this woman, so they broke into song. The woman was amazed that they would do this for her, and totally enjoyed it.

   The audience that hadn't left yet stayed around for the extra show they were being treated to outside. The reporter took photo after photo of the kids singing. Finally, all the kids were out front and they hadn't stopped at that one song. They had sung a number of songs from the show until finally the busses said they had to go. Everyone had been so wired that no one thought to ask what paper the reporter was from. But that didn't matter, as everyone had fun that night.

   Aug. 20: The next night was our turn for the Military Tattoo. There are temporary stadium seats set up outside of Edinburgh Castle. Once it begins, the bagpipers start playing, dramatic lights are shown on the castle, and out through the front door of the castle come the pipers.

   At the beginning, the announcer talks a little about what we will be seeing. Then he announces special groups that are there. There were a couple of schools there that night, but for sure when Woodinville High School from Woodinville, Washington, was announced, we were the loudest.

   After the announcements, they told us that this performance this night was the 50th anniversary night of the Tattoo, and that the BBC was filming the entire show. And film they did--they had a couple of boom cams and steady cams. Microphones had been placed around the perimeter of the area. Maybe they will make a special tape available that we could get in the future as a way to remember what we were all a part of.

   Aug. 22: More plays are seen and more shopping is done. Early that morning, we were told that we needed to have everything packed, and a listing of goods purchased there for customs. All this needed to be done by 5 a.m. the next morning in order to get all the baggage loaded onto the truck and two busses. Groans rose from every part of the room at this announcement. Then the realization struck when everyone started to wonder if all the presents would fit in their luggage for the trip home.

   On this day, too, was the awards ceremony that AHSTF does every year. They recognize the directors who have brought their plays and ask one of them to share a little of their experiences as well as asking one of the students to share theirs. Then one at a time, the directors are called up front to receive the recognition certificates for the students, a plaque for the director, as well as a leather briefcase that had been embroidered as a remembrance.

   As each director walked to the front, their kids rose and clapped, hooted, and cheered. We were the largest group there this year, so you can imagine what happened when Hjalmer Anderson rose to get his things--chaos! The look on his face was sheer enjoyment--a smile from ear to ear, and pride--so much pride.

   Aug. 23: The last day came, and we traveled by plane from Edinburgh, an hour late due to luggage loading difficulties, to Heathrow, then from Heathrow to home, also an hour late leaving but only a half hour late in arriving. Then, on through the baggage claim area and to customs. Many of us had damaged baggage and had to wait behind to file a complaint.

   Before anyone left, goodbyes were said. We all knew that this was the end of a wonderful lifetime experience and also the beginning of college for many. Goodbyes and good lucks were heard from all around our group. Then everyone was on their way, all thinking about what they had just experienced in these last two weeks that over a year's planning had enabled us to experience.

   Thank you, everyone, for helping us get there. We couldn't have done it without you!