This year, for the first time, pupils from Highgate and London Academy of Excellence, Tottenham (LAET) joined forces to produce three plays for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, under the theatre company name of ‘Raiser Theatre’, including two pupil-penned works. In this blog, we hear from playwrights Kayden (Heart of the Mind) and Benedict (A Useful Tragedy) as they reflect on their experience.
Our journey to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe began nearly two years ago, when we took part in the National Theatre New Views competition: a year-long playwriting programme for students to write their own original 30-minute plays. Through weekly sessions at school, we developed our scripts, receiving feedback from professional playwrights, eventually submitting a final draft to share with other participants in Spring 2022 – I think that’s the first time we met.
The weekly script workshops covered a range of topics to help us develop the scripts. For example, they gave us a different prompt each time, such as listening to music and writing based on what the music makes us think about. There were also sessions on free writing and editing. The music prompt was an important influence in Kayden’s play, which has a lot of music in it.
Both our plays were commended, and Kayden’s was shortlisted, receiving a rehearsed reading at the National Theatre. Seeing it worked on and performed by professionals was such a great experience. That’s when conversations started about bringing our plays to Edinburgh, it was so exciting.
We were both in Y13 last year, so our A Levels took priority, but as soon as exams were done, we returned to the scripts. The editing process was quite a struggle – getting it down to 25minutes – we had to do huge cuts and big edits. Mr Schatzberger (Actor/Director in Residence) was a great help, we would go back and forth between edits and rehearsals to see how they acted out, rather than just looking at it on paper: you get a better sense of the flow when you see it performed. Redrafting was such a great experience. As the trip approached, we crammed in more rehearsals, which was sometimes tricky around term ending and summer holidays. The cast were so professional though, they had all their lines learned.
We all travelled to Edinburgh on the train and headed to our shared house, which was amazing. Our final technical rehearsal took place the next day, which turned out to be our unofficial opening night for our family, friends and teachers who had travelled up to support us. It was the first time that we’d performed in front of an audience, so it was a useful process. It was quite daunting, but it also helped us get into the flow of things and ready for the rest of the week.
Some performances (5 altogether) were better than others. We performed on a traverse stage, with the audience sat on either side. Sometimes the crowds were livelier and laughing, and other times they were quieter and more invested. There was one day when we did some flyering outside the venue to attract punters. We were singing to them and trying to find creative ways to hand out leaflets. It was fun and attracted our biggest audience attendance, so it felt like it worked!
We were thrilled to receive an enthusiastic review in The Scotsman, which said: “Exploring the limits of truth and love, this double bill from Raiser Theatre is full of young talent. Although different in content and style, the two shows written by two young writers are highly entertaining and thought-provoking pieces.”
The atmosphere at the Festival was amazing, there was so much going on. We performed at the Space on the Mile, and you couldn’t walk down the road without being given leaflets or coming across street performers, or people blowing fire. It was such a unique experience.
We tried to see as much theatre as we could. One show that really stood out was called Nova, a one-woman show, talking about being Nigerian and British and her struggles growing up in the UK. A lot of what she was talking about resonated.
It was great to be in the house altogether. Most days we would come back for dinner together, so to have that time to just speak about our days, how things went and what else we’d been to see, worked well. We built some good friendships in the group with people who we’d love to see and work with again in the future.
One of the best moments of the week was when Philip received his GCSE results halfway through the trip. We were in the house together and whenever he opened a result, you could just hear a roar of applause and cheering from everyone at Highgate and LAET, it was so funny.
Both of us are heading to university this year (Kayden to study Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and Benedict to study English and Drama at the University of Manchester). We are infinitely grateful to the wonderful staff members who supported us in this journey and made Fringe the incredible experience it was. We’ll cherish this event as the conclusive celebration to our school lives and all of the drama, writing and dance that defined it!