Atascadero teens set stage for dramatic trip to Scotland

Next summer, a group of local students will step onto the international stage.

In August, about 30 Atascadero High School students will present a play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, considered the largest arts festival on the planet. 

“It’s going to be an amazing trip,” Atascadero High drama teacher Catherine Kingsbury said.

But, she cautioned, “It’s not a vacation. We’re working. We’re going over there to put on a show.”

Atascadero High’s trip is being facilitated by the American High School Theatre Festival program, which recently recognized Kingsbury as one of the top 30 high school drama directors in the United States and Canada. 

After being nominated by local PCPA Theaterfest casting director Erik Stein, Kingsbury underwent a lengthy application process to demonstrate what sets Atascadero High’s drama program apart from the rest, submitting everything from letters of recommendation to newspaper articles. 

As a result, Atascadero High will be the only non-arts high school to participate in the 2014 Edinburgh festival, Kingsbury said. 

“This is an opportunity that will help our students and program to continue to grow its talents,” Atascadero High Principal E.J. Rossi said in a news release. Rossi praised Kingsbury as “an amazing teacher” who endeavors to help students “succeed in both their current role as well as in the next level in their education or career.”

The trip, which is not covered by school funds, will cost $250,000.

Kingsbury, who has more than 30 years of experience teaching in San Jose and the North County, has directed Atascadero High’s theater program for seven years. She also oversees the drama program at Atascadero Fine Arts Academy.

Next August, Kingsbury, her assistant director, Lauren Joseph, and 10 adult chaperones will accompany about 20 cast members and 10 crew members to the United Kingdom. (Because of a busy schedule, choreographer Suzy Miller will not join them on the two-week trip.)

Kingsbury’s students will spend a few days in London, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and attending a West End show, before heading north to Edinburgh.  There, they’ll present four performances of the musical “Footloose” at the 353-seat Church Hill Theatre.

Kingsbury said she chose “Footloose,” which is based on the 1984 movie of the same name, because it takes places in a small, rural American town much like Atascadero.

“It was a good representative of our community,” said the teacher, who also appreciated the musical’s fun ’80s soundtrack, splashy dance numbers and “great storyline about tolerance and listening to other generations.”

Most importantly, “Footloose” has a minimum of complicated costumes and set pieces.

“I basically had to think, ‘What show can I take that would be easy to (fit) in a suitcase?’ ” explained Kingsbury, who spent a week in Scotland in August to prepare for the trip. 

During their stay in Edinburgh, Kingsbury said, the students will also have time to visit museums, castles and other cultural sites. 

“A lot of the kids in the cast have never traveled outside of California. A lot of them have not been on a plane before,” she said. “It’s going to be a real education for them in that way.”

Although they don’t depart for nine months, Kingsbury and her cast and crew members are already gearing up for the trip. They started vocal and dance rehearsals for “Footloose” at the beginning of September.

“We wanted to give everybody as long as possible to fundraise,” Kingsbury said, noting that students must coordinate their preparations with two other theater productions, “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Young Frankenstein.”