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Dreams Take the Stage: Freed-Hardeman Students Experience the Magic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Henderson, TN - Sep 15, 2023

Twenty-one students, alumni, teachers and friends of Freed-Hardeman University returned from Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a world-renowned theatre festival in Scotland, with a healthier dose of self confidence, stronger problem solving skills and adaptability.

What began as a professional dream for FHU Theatre Director Cliff Thompson evolved into a collaboration with fellow artist and storyteller Brandyn Graves, FHU assistant professor of design and technology, in the form of an original play entitled “The Feed.” First performed by FHU students in 2021, the play went through several adaptations as it evolved over the next two years in preparation for their final destination. 

Lucas Johnson, a senior double majoring in theatre performance and theatre production, said that he was “ecstatic” to be chosen for the crew of “The Feed” and get the opportunity to participate in such a respected festival. Johnson was confident that “the exposure to several different kinds of theatre productions would be a really good learning experience, as I could meet fellow performers doing what they loved and practice what I want to make my career.”

Following countless hours of planning, rehearsals and fundraising, the group traveled to Scotland from August 1-13, 2023, to make their mark on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. For senior theatre and public relations major Ashlyn Chandler, a performer in the show who was traveling out of the country for the first time, it was an eye-opening experience. “I had heard big things [about the festival], but I didn’t really know what to expect. There were people everywhere, from different countries, all speaking different languages. It was a really cool experience,” Chandler said. 

With lodgings on a local university campus, students were within walking distance of the sights and sounds of beautiful historic Edinburgh. Their time was split between preparing for their own show and attending the shows of others. Performing in a new space came with its own set of practical challenges, such as projector issues, construction noises and very limited time to adjust. In order to become accustomed to an unfamiliar lightboard, Johnson even had to practice on a mock version that he, Graves and Thompson fashioned out of cardboard and popsicle sticks!

“To say I was nervous is an understatement,” Johnson said, “but I was bolstered by the support of my Stage Manager (Colette Heenan), the directors and the rest of the crew.” In the end, these challenges simply became lessons in adaptability for performers who take pride in their talents of improvisation.

Their unique problem solving skills were also utilized as they attempted to recruit audiences for their four performances. Students walked the streets handing out postcards, singing to passers-by, making announcements and doing whatever they could to gain the attention of the crowd. For Chandler, their efforts were well worth it. “Our opening night audience gave us a great response, and that was one of the highlights of the trip. They made us excited to keep going,” Chandler said.

During the group’s free time, they were also able to enjoy plenty of other Scottish activities, such as touring Edinburgh Castle, witnessing the world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, hiking Arthur’s Seat and visiting the nearby cities of St. Andrews and Falkland. They were even able to connect with some fellow Christians from the congregation of East Kilbride, just south of Glasgow, by having a work day at their church building followed by a devotional and game night with local members. This day ended up being a favorite experience for the group as they were able to form friendships with local Scottish families.

As the curtain finally came down on their time in Scotland, Freed-Hardeman thespians began to process what this entire experience has meant to each of them. Thompson and Graves state that they saw their cast and crew “grow exponentially as a team as they were forced to overcome unexpected speed bumps and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.”

Along with her fellow performers, Chandler believes that this experience taught her “communication skills, perseverance, organization, and, most importantly, about the collaborative nature of theatre.”

Finally, most students said that they came away with a healthy dose of self-confidence. “The biggest lesson I will take away from this experience is to trust in myself,” Johnson said. “Life throws you a lot of curveballs, but you'll never really start living until you swing at some of them.”

The entire project was such a success that Thompson plans to continue taking students to Edinburgh Festival Fringe every three years, and he is already thinking ahead to 2026. Since no other Christian universities currently participate in the festival, he is excited that FHU can offer this unique opportunity to its theatre students. If any friends of the theatre would like to get involved, donate or simply hear more about this opportunity, they may contact Thompson at

The mission of Freed-Hardeman University is to help students develop their God-given talents for His glory by empowering them with an education that integrates Christian faith, scholarship and service. With locations in Henderson and Memphis, FHU offers associate, bachelor's, master's, specialist and doctoral degrees.