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Sheffield performers take on Edinburgh Fringe

Young trainee performers from Ecclesfield School will be showcasing the play ‘Exit Stage Left’ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. 

From left to Right: Ben Smithard, EmilyMae Hoyland,Elliott Buck,Autumn Wade,Paul O'Farrell,Rachel Jacobs

Having gained prolific experience directing annual school plays, Ben Smithard and Paul O’Farrell decided to write Exit Stage Left two years ago.

Ben and Paul teach students professional theatre at a specialist school for visual performing arts. They are constantly surprised by the students’ excellent performance and the thought that the talented students deserve more than a school stage has intrigued them for years. Ben said;

“We were there beside the stage and we started to think maybe we can do our own play. Once that thought planted a seed in our head, we started to grow the whole project.”

Exit Stage Left was inspired by the students and most of the main characters were based on the students. Ben said;

“We looked at the kids we had, knowing our kids, knowing what their strengths were and we wrote each part for them.”

Ben Smithard and Paul O'Farrell

Despite the ‘massive job’, Ben and Paul planned the project right through from script writing to fundraising. Parents of the students and the community have supported this ambitious project. Even the Sheffield United football club allowed them to sell tickets at the last game of the season.

Moreover, the students and teachers at Ecclesfield School are keen to fulfill their dream. They went out with pride and asked benevolent people for support. Give them one match and then they will ignite the stage.

Despite being far away from the familiar audiences at Sheffield, they are confident that they can sell tickets for Edinburgh as well. The young, passionate performers said they would overcome the anxiety and think of fun ideas to attract audiences in Edinburgh. “Maybe I will play a dead on the floor,” one of the cast, Emily Mae Hoyland joked.

A lot of passion

Director Ben Smithard’s biggest ambition in Edinburgh is to make the audiences there  see the students’ ‘level of passion’.

Jacob Wigley

Jacob Wigley, the oldest performer in the play, who moved on from school and didn’t go to college, worked full-time for a printing service. He hadn’t had anything to do with drama before the play and didn’t have the confidence to get involved initially.

In order to participate in the play, Jacob had to fight with financial difficulties. He changed his full-time job to a part-time one and committed to the play. With his love for drama and persistence for acting, he won a ticket to  dreamland.

Rachel Jacobs, a 13-year-old girl, who is the youngest performer in the play, has been excited about the upcoming Edinburgh trip. She said she didn’t believe it, the first time she heard  the play was going to go to Edinburgh fringe.

“My first thought was that was a lie. I didn’t believe it because they always said that we would go but we didn’t, so we didn’t expect it would really happen.”

Ben explained the students’ enthusiasm;

“This is a once of a life time chance, the experience these kids will have will stay with them for the rest of their lives. So they are all motivated to do well and be better. The personality of the kids is the advantage we will have when we are there.”

They are new to the professional theatre world, but that is why they are fearless, that is why they are bold to fight in the professional stage and face the cruel criticism from the real world. “We’ve got nothing to lose!” said Ben.

They are ready to light a Sheffield flame in Scotland.

Talented and passionate students

Ambitious and hard-working

David Dunn, from the Sheffield Star, said;

“Exit stage left is ambitious work, not least being that potential bear-trap of a play within a play. Well conceived cut-backs are often key and head of drama/writer Ben Smithard pulls that off. It is built on a dark confessional theme and sturdy issues, including aspiring fame over duty.”

Watching kids playing adults is intriguing, on the other hand, it’s not easy to guarantee satisfaction from audiences based on a show played by 13 to 17 year old teenagers, it’s a challenge for both teachers and students. Ben said;

“The cast are strong, they are growing up to perform, and they have gained experience by performing in the school.”

He added;

“As a teacher, you need to keep looking at the positive and keep pushing and pushing to make sure they develop their full potential.”

They never surrender to the difficulties standing in their path to being brilliant. Paul O’Farrell, co-writer of the play, said;

“We set a high standard for the play and how we wrote it, we haven’t settled and we keep looking for the potential.”

From Left to Right: Ben Smithard, Emily Mae Hoyland, Elliott Buck, Autumn Wade, Paul O'Farrell and Rachel Jacobs

Exit Stage Left is an original piece of theatre based on the idea of a theatre group rehearsing a play under the guidance of a once famous director who is making his comeback in the public spotlight. The director’s play is about a famous couple involved in a fatal drunk driving accident on their way home from an awards ceremony. The play cuts between the theatre group struggling to capture what the director wants in his play and the events of what happened in the accident and the following weeks.

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