Theatre on the Fringe
Camille Cettina '01
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival draws thousands of alternative theatre groups to the Scottish capitol every year for a month-long celebration of the arts. From the more than 500 eligible productions, less than 20 are honored annually with the prestigious Fringe First award.
Under the direction of Camille Cettina ‘01, a group of young women from the Mulberry School—an arts-based high school of predominantly Bengali girls from London’s poorest borough—took home top honors this August. Working with iconic British playwright Fin Kennedy, the girls stunned audiences with The Unraveling, an original play about a dying mother who asks her daughters to weave her a story out of cloth.
Cettina, who studied theatre during her time at Pomona, joined the Mulberry theatre program three years ago as an artist-in-residence. Here’s what Camille had to say about mixing arts and education at the Mulberry School, and the girls’ remarkable showing in Edinburgh.
What is the Mulberry School?
Mulberry is a public school, and it’s in the lowest income borough in the UK. But it’s also an arts specialist school…like a magnet school, but they don’t recruit just arts kids. We have a lot of artists-in-residence—we have a playwright, a filmmaker, a radio person—and they just have a real legacy for using artists-in-residence in an interesting way.
Part of our mission at the Mulberry Theatre Company is doing professional-level work with students through workshops, through special productions and using theatre to support the curriculum. We do a lot of collaboration with other departments and areas to use arts to promote confidence, creativity, leadership and learning.
How has arts education benefited the students at Mulberry School?
It’s really amazing. There’s one student who spent a lot of time sitting outside of the head’s office in trouble. Her teachers would never expect her to get involved in something like this. She’s been dedicated, showing up, going to rehearsal, and gained this incredible confidence. I think it’s confidence not just about performing, but it’s confidence that she takes into other classes. She may not be an actor in the future, but she’s gained so many skills and so much confidence through working on this project. These students aren’t necessarily going to become theatre artists, but the impact that that work has had on their lives is something that they won’t forget.
Schools get so bogged down and art is often the first thing that gets cut, yet you can map the impact that art has on these children. These are the kinds of opportunities that really change lives.
How did the idea for the play come about?
Our process is unconventional in that we work with a playwright-in-residence, Fin Kennedy, who works with the girls in January to develop ideas. Part of our mission is to ask them what they want to say and see what we can say to the world that they don’t hear from this particular community. These are predominantly Bengali women…a voice that is really underrepresented. This year, these girls really didn’t want to do a play about being Bengali women in east London; they wanted it to just be about life and stories and not just about their culture, which was great.
What was the experience at the Edinburgh Festival like for you and your students?
The most amazing moment for me in Edinburgh was when we won the Fringe First, which is an award given by The Scotsman [newspaper] just for plays that premiere at the Fringe. They’re these girls who are high schoolers from the lowest-income borough in London who have treated this show as their voice, and they’re getting this award that’s given to professionals from around the world. They earned it, and that was really amazing.
People were just really impressed and really moved. Something that’s really interesting about working with students as opposed to professionals is that there’s this real honesty and raw energy in the students’ performances. There’s something about the students being there. They’re on stage and they’re just putting their hearts out there. And I think that’s what people really respond to. Not only is it a well-crafted play, but there’s this incredible truth and honesty in their performances, and you can’t help but respond to that as an audience member.
How did you experience at Pomona impact the work that you’ve been doing at The Mulberry School and other theatre companies?
Working with [Professor of Theatre Tom Leabhart] and other teachers just hugely influenced the direction that I took as an artist. It’s not just about being a theatre artist; it’s being a theatre artist in the world around you. And I think that did shape me for the work that I’m doing now as a professional actor/director and also working in education. One of the things that I bring as an artist-in-residence is that when I work with students, I don’t expect less of them because they are teenagers. I think that’s true of the work at Pomona. That respect I received as a student, that’s something that I really take into the work that I’m doing.