Mr. Mahelona returns from Scotland

It has been a couple of weeks since I returned from Edinburgh, Scotland to participate in the “Familiarization Tour” for the American High School Theater Festival.  The “FAM Tour” is a great opportunity for potential participants to experience the festival and see the performance venues and activities that the students will participate in as part of AHSTF.

AHSTF is an independent theater festival embedded in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the worldʻs largest international arts festival.  AHSTF selects high schools from the U.S. and Canada to participate in the Fringe.  They provide housing, educational activities, meals, and performance venues and technical support for participating high schools, and also provide consulting and assistance with fundraising and logistics.

I arrived a day late for the tour because my flight from Hilo to LA was cancelled, so the entire group was already out touring.  I left my bags in the dorm and ventured into Edinburgh on my own.

Edinburgh is a lovely city not much bigger than Hilo proper, but centuries older.  No big skyscrapers to block the skyline that looks out onto the North Sea, much like Hilo looks out onto the Pacific.  Lots of beautiful stone churches, old halls, cobbled streets in the old part of town where most of the festival is held.

There are a LOT of performance venues!  I saw signs advertising “Venue #433”!  The streets are filled with families and visitors from all over the world.  I heard many different languages spoken, but the tone was always shock and amazement at what was going on around us:  performers and performances everywhere.  People juggling balls, pins, flaming torches; a choir in beautiful African costume singing a cappella, street magicians, performance artists posing as statues, a woman dressed as Marie Antoinette with a portable guillotine that she used to “behead” willing volunteers.  After the hooded head rolled, audiences cheered when the volunteer emerged from the guillotine unharmed.

I spoke with many people who were handing out flyers to promote their shows.  One guy wrote a musical with his girlfriend – a one-woman show about depression.  I was intrigued and paid my 5 pounds for a ticket.  The performance was stunning and deeply moving, a harrowingly accurate portrait of someone struggling with emotions out of control, but ultimately hopeful.  The lone, brave woman engaged all of us in the audience.  We felt everything she was feeling.  We rooted for her and wanted her to be happy.  Glitter and confetti flew everywhere.  We sang along with her and cheered her on her courageous journey.

Over the course of four days, I watched American high schools, a high school from England, a college a cappella choir, a puppet show version of Beowulf, some great improvised comedy, an improvised musical, and many wonderful performances in venues of every size.

The overall vibe of the festival is family-friendly and wildly creative in the best possible sense.  Everyone is there to share and give, and the feeling is infectious.

Good food!  Scots know how to eat, obviously.  Lots of food options, and not any more expensive than Hilo.  Many food courts and food “festivals” to choose from as well as local restaurants offering a variety of international cuisine.

The weather is unpredictable as far as temperature goes.  Highs in the 70s, lows in the 40s. Fortunately I am one-fourth Scottish, so part of me doesnʻt mind the cold.  The Hawaiian side had some issues, though.

Got to meet the other teachers who will be coming next year, many of whom are coming for the second or third time.  When the issue of fundraising came up, they all had one message:  if you focus on the students, and believe that this is the best thing for them, a life-changing experience that will better them as students and human beings, then the money will come.  I believe!