Twenty-four Santa Fe High School students will be traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland next summer to perform after being chosen from schools around the country and in Canada.---
The kids will perform at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which is the world's oldest art and theatre festival (Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead premiered there in the 1960s). This will be SFHS's second performance at the Fringe—it went in 2005—but its first under director Reed Meschefske, who started there last year.
Unbeknownst to Meschefske and the rest of the company, theatre-pro scouts attended last fall's production of Lanford Wilson's Hot l Baltimore (as in Hotel Baltimore, but with the "e" on its neon sign burned out) at SFHS. The play centers around a group of desperate characters who spend their last few hours in the run-down hotel before it is demolished.
SFHS was nominated to perform at the Fringe based on that production, but so were 2,500 other schools. SFHS has the distinction of being one of 56 chosen after an extensive application process.
Meschefske attended part of this year's Fringe to get a sense for how it will be next year and says he saw about 30 performances in four days.
"If you’ve got a stage or a corner or a church—every bar that has a back room turns into a theatrical performance venue, whether it’s for straight plays or one person shows or stand-up comedy or whatever," Meschefske says.
Meschefske is now trying to pick the best play for SFHS to perform at the festival, which isn't easy, as it has to include over 20 characters and be relatively simple to stage.
"When I know [the play] I'll be the happiest guy in Santa Fe,"
"When I know [the play] I'll be the happiest guy in Santa Fe,"Meschefske says.
Meschefske is originally from Wisconsin but came to Santa Fe last year from Fairfax County, Virginia. He has noticed that compared with the Virginia kids, Santa Fe kids thrive under a more energizing teaching approach and like getting right into the acting, rather than listening to a lecture. SFHS kids have also impressed Meschefske with their commitment to theatre.
"The amazing thing about the students here is the dedication," Meschefske says. "We do nine to 11 shows per year—once we get going we're turning over every three to three and a half weeks. That has to do with the dedication and commitment to the arts that these students have, which is different from anywhere else."
One ofMeschefske's favorite things about his job is working with at-risk kids, who can get a big academic and social boost from participating in an extracurricular activity they're passionate about, he says.
"Those are my favorite students to work with—the ones that can go either way," Meschefske says. "Straight-A students are awesome, but they're easy. They're going to get straight A's and they're going to be involved no matter what. Frankly, my bad high school experiences can go toe to toe with anyone else's. One of the reasons I love doing this is not just for the theatre, but trying to make one of those students' high school experience better...whether it's sports or band or theatre or debate, if it keeps you coming to school and keeps you interested, that's important."
Fortunately, SFHS theatre productions make enough money to cover everything but Meschefske's salary, so the department doesn't have to depend too much on district funding.
SFHS' first production of the year is Silvia, which starts at 7:33 pm Oct. 20, Oct. 21 and 22. Other than attending the shows, the public can also support the students by helping out with fundraising initiatives coming up to cover the $6,000 per kid needed for the Edinburgh trip. Contact Meschefske at email@example.com if you want to help.
"We're as eclectic and as goofy of a crew as you'll ever see," Meschefske says. "I think it's absolutely essential and really great that the school provides these outlets for students."