LAWRENCE, Mass. – Students in the theater department at Lawrence High believe they have a message that resonates from inner city Lawrence to Edinburgh about stereotypes.
They are finding out for sure, as 13 students from the Performing and Fine Arts High School at Lawrence High perform “Circle Game” at the Fringe Festival, in Edinburgh, Scotland, from Saturday through Wednesday. Students and three chaperons will return to Boston on Friday.
“Performing on an international stage with thousands of other groups is going to be tremendously exciting,” said Matt Evangelista, the theater teacher at Lawrence High.
The show uses several black boxes covered with graffiti as the set. During the 40-minute production actors, all donning hooded sweaters, sit and talk about living in the inner city, attending an urban school and experiencing domestic violence.
The Lawrence troupe was scheduled to perform at Church Hill Theater which was originally built as a church in 1892. It was bought by the Fringe Festival in 1960 and has been used as a theater since 1965.
“I’m very excited to go,” Evangelista said. “This is the largest festival in the world and we wanted to bring a show we wrote to a wider audience.”
Evangelista and his wife, Jennifer Dargie-Evangelista, came up with the script three years ago after recalling stories they heard from previous students. They’d talk about living in Lawrence and being judged because of the color of their skin or for wearing baggie jeans and hoodies.
The show ends with one of the actors asking the audience, “Next time you read a newspaper, watch the news, or drive through the city, think to yourself … are your judgments keeping us in our circle?”
Several of the cast members want to go into acting and participating in the Fringe Festival is the best way to learn how a traveling show works.
“This is a life lesson that they cannot get in the classroom,” Evangelista said.
Students who were scheduled to go to Scotland were: Sofia Cardenas, Yesenia Vasquez, Carmen Darrach, Fernando Rodriguez, Jesse Fermin, Genesis Duran, Jahnilsa Cartagena, Paola Anziani, Shaena Sandoval, Stephania Cueva, Chantalle Caminero and Audrey Fernandez.
Cardenas and Fermin were excited to go because they both want to become actors.
“I thought this day would never come. I didn’t think it was going to happen (because of the lack of money), but it’s a dream come true,” Fermin said.
Cardenas wanted to go so bad, she worked three days a week at Cafe Azteca to raise money in addition to donations from family members and friends.
“We didn’t have the money or the support, but we had the drive and desire which is why we’re days away from leaving. Going to the Fringe will bring me great success in the future,” Cardenas said.
Lawrence High School had to be nominated in order to participate in the Fringe Festival, Evangelista said. They applied and were chosen. One problem they faced was raising the money needed for the trip.
Evangelista said they did everything from having a collection can in the school’s main office, redeeming soda bottles, hosting two silent raffles, a winter ball dance, spaghetti dinners and performing three shows. They also received donations from local residents and foundations.
The total cost for the Scotland trip is $100,000 which also includes money to ship sets. Each student paid $3,000 thanks to scholarships received.
“We never planned on canceling the trip,” Evangelista said. “If we had thought like that, we’ve have never gotten this far.”
In between performances, they will tour London’s landmarks and watch a theater show. They will take a train ride to Edinburgh to visit the Scottish Highlands and watch an array of shows being featured at the Fringe Festival from opera, dance, comedy and circus productions.
Superintendent/receiver Jeff Riley is happy for the students.
“When you consider everything that went into this — creating and performing an award-winning show, earning the invitation to Scotland, raising the money to actually get there — you realize Matt and his students have accomplished something special,” Riley said.