As the world’s largest performing arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (or simply, “Fringe”) embraces what organizers call “an explosion of creative energy from around the globe.” Artists and performers both well-known and unknown converge on Scotland’s capital city for three weeks every August to present shows encompassing a variety of genres at venues ranging from concert halls to “bars, parks, buses, and shipping containers.”
“The arts festival is absolutely massive,” Playbill reported in February of this year. “In 2022, more than 3,300 different shows for 63 countries sold over 2.2 million tickets to 50,000 performances. Those numbers make it one of the most popular ticketed events in the world….”
Theatre major Alaya Lewis ’25 and Fae Timm ’25, who is double majoring in theatre and creative writing, are furthering efforts to, as Timm puts it, “bring Hollins to Fringe.” This summer, the juniors embarked on a research project entitled “Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Exploring New Writing and Spoken Word Productions” that seeks to answer the question of what makes a successful Fringe show for universities and individual artists alike.
Mentored by Assistant Professor of Theatre and Theatre Department Chair Wendy-Marie Martin, Lewis says the project “continues a legacy” that began when Chloe Riederich ‘23 and Lillian Savage ’23 visited Fringe last year. “Chloe was researching sustainable shows and Lillian was exploring accessibility within different spaces,” Lewis explains. “That was how our department got introduced to Fringe, and Wendy-Marie asked if we wanted to carry on the torch in terms of pursuing research opportunities within the festival. There’s so much to Fringe and there are so many facets you can explore.”
As a poet and leader of the slam poetry club at Hollins, Timm was eager to compile data on spoken word productions at Fringe. “We started by specifically looking at what kinds of shows other universities are staging at Fringe to help in planning what Hollins could bring there,” they say.
Lewis, who is interested in playwriting and developmental projects, gravitated toward studying new work featured at the festival. “We want to figure out how Hollins Theatre can format a show that is successful at the Fringe, something that will also help us to learn what to do if we plan on becoming independent theatre artists. Wendy-Marie stressed that we should be looking at things to help us grow in that capacity in addition to collecting data that benefits the theatre department.”
Hollins got to do a Fringe “test drive” this summer with the staging of two senior thesis works: Riederich’s one-act play, Bumble’s Big Adventures, and Towering Issues by Clare Stephenson ’23, which Fringe promoted as “a reconstructed fairy tale.” Timm traveled to Edinburgh for part of the festival and performed in both shows. They also got a first-hand look at “how different ideas are brought to Fringe and seeing the creative freedom and variety of shows that become incredibly popular there.”
Lewis adds, “Our end goal is really just, ‘How do we put on a good show?’ I don’t think there’s any one specific way to do that, one formula to get it on its feet, but hopefully the data we collect from both being at Fringe and researching what works and what doesn’t will help the theatre department as well as ourselves.”
During their research this summer, Lewis says they were astonished to discover that a very small percentage of the productions staged at Fringe consists of new work. “That means there is an untapped market there,” Lewis says, “and we have the chance as a university to initiate developmental works at Fringe.”
In late July, Lewis and Timm were among nearly 200 undergraduates from across the country who were invited to deliver poster presentations at the 12th annual Summer Research Conference at Virginia Tech.
“We felt a little out of our element there,” Timm admits. “Most of the research on display was very scientific in nature, so we stood out as one of the only arts-based research projects. But we actually got some wonderful feedback. People we talked to were really interested in learning about Fringe and how much work it takes.”
“There’s this misconception out there that those of us in the theatre, and in the arts in general, aren’t capable of doing intensive research,” Lewis notes. “So, people are pleasantly surprised when they see a lot of our research is based on data, statistics, and mathematical equations. We definitely put in the hours.”
For Timm, the research project has been life changing. “When you get to the festival and there’s this insane number of shows and you see the vast number of things people are able to think of and produce, it’s inspiring. For me, this experience encouraged a love for Fringe.”
They agree with Lewis, who says, “This was the first chance I personally got to see what it would be like to do theatre from the self-producing side. To finally have the logistics laid out in front of me and see the data that we’ve been able to collect, it opened my eyes to the field I’m entering and what it takes to make art on a wide scale.”
“The theatre department plans to continue offering student summer research opportunities to help expand student and public awareness around undergraduate theatre research,” Martin says.
Lewis and Timm are in the midst of a very busy fall semester. Both are performing in Hollins Theatre’s production of Goodnight Moon: The Magical Musical, based on the classic children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown, Hollins class of 1932. Lewis is also a member of the cast of Nick Payne’s Constellations, “a spellbinding, romantic journey” directed by Elizabeth McDonald ’24 as their senior thesis production. Timm is directing Victor Oler ‘24’s senior thesis, which doesn’t as of yet have a title, but Timm describes it as “a space pirate, found family, queer play.”
Both are active members of the Hollins Student Theatre Association, and this year one of their goals is “making theatre that’s more accessible to students,” says Lewis. “Not everyone can commit to a full-time show, so we want to open up smaller, student-led opportunities.” At the same time, Timm is also dedicated, they say, “to creating more space for solo performances of poetry.”
Lewis is part of a committee helping to plan a Black Arts Festival to take place around Juneteenth of next year, and both Lewis and Timm are in talks to attend the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC). “There are a lot of summer internship opportunities at SETC, so we’re going to see where that takes us,” Lewis says.
Lewis and Timm are also hopeful that Fringe is part of their summer plans next year. For Timm, “It depends on a lot of things, but I would love to return to Fringe next summer,” while Lewis says, “I am going to Fringe. We are talking about taking another show there next year, and we’re discussing now how I’ll be involved in that process.”
Photo: Alaya Lewis ’25 (left) and Fae Timm ’25.