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UPIKE theatre performs in world’s largest arts festival

September 12, 2017 12:00 AM
Pikeville, Ky.
In the two years since the University of Pikeville introduced a theatre minor on campus, students have worked with professionals from the arts industry and received standing ovations in front of sold out audiences. But Kim Willard wanted her students to experience more.

“I was looking for a way to take students out of Pikeville and experience theatre in a bigger way,” said Willard, assistant professor of theatre. “After some research on international arts festivals, I thought ‘well, why not?’ It’s difficult to explain how travel can change you. Seeing what different places look like, feel like, experiencing a new culture and its food and meeting people from all around the world … that’s what I wanted to show them. Travel changes students.”

When Willard learned her idea of staging the program’s first out-of-town performance was going to happen she knew where she wanted to take her students: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, the world’s largest arts festival. The annual festival is a celebration of the best performances and entertainment from every continent.

Months of planning and preparations were needed and a play had to be written for the students to perform. Willard had collaborated with Michael Ross Albert, a Toronto-based playwright, on other projects and appreciated his work.

“There is no one I trusted more to write something for my kids,” said Willard. “We talked about what would be an ideal piece … simple, clean and including four characters.”

"The Farmers Lit the Fields on Fire" tells the story of a young bride who returns to her family’s rural estate for a weekend-long wedding celebration. But when bitter divisions between the bride and her estranged sister threaten to expose dangerous secrets, she learns that sometimes building a new life means setting the past on fire.

The student cast includes Sarah Hackworth, from Printer; Bethany Jervis, from Williamsburg; Dylan Martin, from Atlanta, Ga.; and Matt Conn, from Allen. The student technical crew includes Mackenzie Fraley, from Inez; Audrey Caudill, from Bevinsville; Andrew Letscher, from Canfield, Ohio; and Alex Hoffman, from Newark, Ohio. All of the students minor in theatre at UPIKE. Willard, Albert and Shannon Kirkpatrick-Daniels, technician at Jenny Wiley Theatre who served as stage manager, joined the students on the trip.

Theatre students were involved in the creative process from day one. Beginning in January, Albert worked with students via email conducting interviews so he could include their personalities and experiences in the character development process. Later, the students would video chat with the author for readings.

“When we first read the script we could tell whose character was whose since Michael had incorporated our background information into the characters,” said Conn.

Behind-the-scenes work took place throughout the spring semester and students enrolled in a summer course structured in rehearsal format.

“Rehearsal was minute-to-minute as aspects of the show changed quickly. Quick changes, tech, and loading and setting up had to be practiced since the festival scheduled only 15 minutes between shows,” said Willard. “I ran the class like a professional rehearsal.”

In the weeks prior to returning to campus for the fall semester they made their final preparations before traveling more than 13 hours to Edinburgh where UPIKE theatre would perform six shows during their 10-day trip.

More than 50,000 performances of 3,000 shows were held on hundreds of stages throughout the capital city. From big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to build their careers, the festival accommodates everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, puppets, spoken word, exhibitions and events.

Surrounded by tens of thousands of performers, the UPIKE theatre students had to make their show stand out.

“We spent a lot of time on the streets handing out flyers,” said Hackworth. “It was hard but it was really fun. Just by trying to recruit audience members for our show we were able to interact with people from around the world.”

Then the opening night came. The cast, dressed in their stage costumes, and the crew, with equipment and props in tow, anxiously walked the two blocks from the hostel they were staying to the venue. The festival’s tight schedule caused the students to feel as if they walked straight across town and onto the stage.

“I was really nervous. The tension amps up the feeling backstage,” said Fraley. “Here we were, from a small-town college, taking the stage in Edinburgh, Scotland. I will always cherish that intensity.”

Performing in the international festival left a significant and lasting impact on all the students and their theatre professor.

“The experience made me realize how small we are and how big we can represent ourselves,” said Martin. “It made me become a better person and actor and helped me find my craft.”

The international performance was a collaboration between UPIKE theatre and Jenny Wiley Theatre and was sponsored in part by UPIKE Experiential Learning.

“I came to UPIKE as a biology major and took an Appreciation of Theatre class as an elective and it changed my life,” said Hackworth. “Now, this has given me more confidence and has opened so many doors.”

UPIKE theatre will stage “The Farmers Lit the Fields on Fire” on campus on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m., in Chrisman Auditorium, Armington Learning Center. Tickets are $3 with UPIKE I.D. and $5 for the public. For more information, contact Willard at (606) 218-5000 or

Pictured, from left, UPIKE theatre students Sarah Hackworth, Dylan Martin and Bethany Jervis, perform “The Farmers Lit the Fields on Fire” in the world’s largest arts festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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