Broadway World called “The Penguin Tango” “… sweet, charming, winsome and utterly enjoyable.” Backstage Magazine called it “a parachute ride into an anthropomorphic amusement park.”
Audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival will get to find out for themselves when ’Berg Theatre Director Stephen Svoboda’s original play gets its international premiere next week in Scotland.
A cast and crew of 25 students, accompanied by five faculty members, and about a dozen family and friends, will depart on Saturday for the Fringe to prepare for and perform the play on a world stage.
With its 50,000-plus performances of more than 1,000 shows, the three-week festival is the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet. It’s that diversity in performing arts that has Stephen excited for what his students are about to experience.
“The festival really represents every different kind of performing art you can think of,” Stephen said. “For me, what’s really exciting is for our students to have this opportunity to see what international theatre is all about and to be part of the international theatre world.”
According to its website, the Fringe is described as an explosion of creative energy from around the world. It includes big names in entertainment to unknown artists performing in theatre, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.
“It will be so good for the students to hopefully see themselves in this kaleidoscope of what the arts can be,” Stephen said.
One of the students, head costume designer Kyrsten Lilly, is excited to experience that kaleidoscope. "We are about to have so many different forms of art right at our fingertips," she said. "I'm most excited to see the different interpretations of theatre and art from around the world, and to share thoughts and ideas with everyone."
“The Penguin Tango” is a side-splitting, screwball comedy, inspired by actual events at the Bremerhaven (Germany), Brooklyn and Central Park zoos. A community of penguins is hilariously turned upside down by sex, stereotypes and soggy sardines.
Sophomore Gavin Buurma, who plays Silo, said the trip is something he never imagined and he can't wait for the opportunity. "Being a business administration and musical theatre double major, I did not think that going abroad would be an option for me. But here I am, going to Europe for the second time this summer, after traveling with the Concert Choir in May," he said. "I am super excited to not only get to perform, but also watch a ton of other plays and musicals that are also being debuted at the festival. ... I can't wait to see what other opportunities such as this come my way in the next three years!"
After arriving in Edinburgh, the Heidelberg contingent will spend Sunday working out the tech for “The Penguin Tango,” and then, it’ll open on Monday, August 5, and run daily through Saturday, August 10. The cast is in final rehearsals this week, and the crew will have to be on top of their game come opening day; they’ll have just 15 minutes to install the set and then 15 minutes to tear it down after each performance.
The cast is comprised of David Cotter, Elias Rousculp, Austin Buckhalter, Gavin Buurma, Sam Stohlman, Paige Hood, Shane Souders, Madison Swyers, Gavin Hubbard, ‘Berg alumnus Rob Stohlman, Hannah Schoen and Lo Erin Jackson.
In his director’s notes about the play, Stephen wrote, “We live in a world where we look for the differences instead of the common threads between us. Maybe, if we could just see each other as the penguins do, as just penguins, we might be able to make the world a better place.”
Stephan also noted that the content is family-friendly. It is a serious play presented in an unserious way, akin to a Pixar film on stage.
“The Penguin Tango” is Stephen’s second work to be staged internationally. In 2008, his play, “Odysseus, DOA,” had its world premiere in Athens, Greece.
After debuting the play during the spring semester on campus to highly positive reviews, the cast and crew are offering a free performance of “The Penguin Tango” this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Gundlach Theatre.