Bedlam Theatre, University of Edinburgh
In the fall of 2007, I spent a semester at the University of Edinburgh taking classes in artificial intelligence and robotics. While there, I was drawn to the Edinburgh University Theatre Company. Composed entirely of students, the EUTC operates out of Bedlam Theatre: a 90-seat black box theatre inside a converted Gothic church on the former site of a mental asylum. Bedlam is both the company's year-round home and a famous Edinburgh Fringe venue.
Since high school I had had a passion for theatre, and I had acting, stage management and construction credits on a plethora of amateur productions. I had yet to direct a show of my own, so I pitched the idea of adapting one of my favourite science fiction novels: Star Diaries by brilliant Polish author Stanisław Lem.
There were several hurdles. The book is composed of about twenty short journeys, each involving the protagonist Ijon Tichy in an absurd yet thought-provoking parody of a common science fiction trope. Furthermore, I only had access to the text in Bulgarian, and the book had never been adapted for the stage. I had to translate the sections of the book I wanted to use, adapt them into a stage play, and obtain permission to perform them.
The copyright on the Bulgarian translation had reverted to the author. Since Mr. Lem had passed away the previous year, I contacted his estate and was able to obtain permission for a non-commercial performance from his secretary.
I selected three journeys: a time-loop in which multiple copies of Ijon Tichy vie for control of his ship, his role as representative of Earth in its first introduction to the Interplanetary Council, and a journey to a planet where teleportation and perfect bodily replication has been mastered. Each of these required complicated staging and props beyond the 60£ budget a first-year show was allocated.
Fortunately, thanks to a dedicated team and a phenomenal cast, the show came together. Presented as the third and last show of the night, it began at 10:30 pm, but the audience's reaction at the end was extremely positive. The show worked extremely well as a late-night sci-fi parody, and watching it realized is still one of my most cherished memories.
My time with Bedlam Theatre was instructive in another way. It was the first student theatre I'd worked at that had no "grown-up" oversight. The building was maintained entirely by students, which meant incredible freedom of experimentation with the space, but also a true sense of ownership.
Students felt free to propose radical stunts like hanging dragon wings on the face of the building, or painting the entire interior white for a show, but were also responsible enough to only approve projects with value. Furthermore, members of the company descended on the building every Sunday for a weekly cleaning and maintenance session that no one complained about. While we were there, the theatre was ours, and I watched my peers grow and demonstrate responsibility for the space and the institution. This experience has stuck with me and has been an integral part of my teaching philosophy.