Written by Caroline Sandrew, Upper School Arts Director
For the past three weeks, students and teachers of The Mount Vernon School’s award-winning Theatre Department, The MV Allstars, have been preparing for the opportunity of a lifetime! On Saturday, July 30th, sixteen students, actors, technicians, and their trio of directors will travel to London, then to Scotland for the world’s largest theatre festival, The Edinburgh Fringe, which has invited them to perform “A Hipsummer Night’s Dream” as part of the American High School Theatre Festival.
The invitation came due to their innovative production of The Tempest in 2021. In the heat of the pandemic, Clark Taylor, Upper School Theatre Director, produced a fully masked, outdoor performance outside the cafe on the Upper Campus. Not just any masks- masks created in the style of Commedia Dell’arte covering students’ entire faces, allowing actors to focus on the importance of physicality in storytelling. Students pre-recorded their vocal performances with the assistance of Vann Thornton, Upper School Music Director in Mount Vernon’s state-of-the-art recording studio. The outdoor amphitheater space of the new Upper School building offered a natural setting that was enhanced with additional lighting, sound, and set. As the audience watched socially distanced on the facing grassy hill, the theater created a magical outdoor experience. When the fantastic masks actors wore were removed during bows to reveal their M19 masks worn beneath, tears were brought to the onlookers’ eyes.
This successful persistence of artistic creation in spite of any obstacle was noted by Edinburgh Fringe, which live-streamed the performance in Scotland in 2020. While the continuing pandemic did not allow in-person attendance at the festival the past year, the long-awaited in-person experience became a reality this August.
For this year’s festival, students are taking an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” “A Hipsummer Night’s Dream,” first written, composed, and produced by Clark Taylor in 2017, sets the entire play to the music of nearly every genre, demanding non-stop energy and inviting engagement for a broader audience. This has required a heightened level of dedication from staff and students to utilize the final weeks of summer to prepare a full-length performance in a way it can be packed and rebuilt on the international stage. Parent volunteers are lending a hand to the creative team, including Jonathan and Allison Chaffin, who designed the flats which break down to fit in suitcases, and Kristi Petty for maintenance and construction of the vivid costumes. Spencer Stephens, Middle School Theatre Director, works his production prowess into the show as Technical/Production Manager, enhancing and expediting the show to go on an international stage tour.
Nearly the entire play’s script is set to music choreographed by Amanda Lower, Lower School Performing Arts Instructor. Her expertise ranges from Latin ballroom to the Hustle to a comedic interpretation of ballet and beyond. Between herself and the imaginative and engaging direction of Clark Taylor, students’ grasp of characters and movement are evident and remarkable. See for yourself as they host a preview performance at The Mount Vernon School Upper Campus Gym on Friday, July 29th at 4:00 pm. We’ll be cheering for them from this side of the pond as they perform on August 5, 6, 9, and 10.