From Southampton to the Edinburgh Fringe: Ben McQuigg, Musical Director of Gone Rogue Productions

Aerospace Engineering Student, Arts Ambassador and Musical Director Ben McQuigg reflects on how their Edinburgh Fringe show The Trail to Oregon! came to fruition. 

Every year Theatre Group, Showstoppers and Comedy Society form a touring production company called Gone Rogue Productions that take a show up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. Established in 1947, 2018 marks its 71st year. It is an open access festival, meaning there is no selection committee, anyone may participate and present a show. This year each group is taking up a show and I am delighted and excited to be the Musical Director for The Trail to Oregon! a comedy musical packed full of improvisation and audience suggestions, which shape the show every time we perform it. 

This series of blogs is going to be split up into a couple of sections, in this first one I will be going through the whole beginnings of the idea as well as some other exciting things.

The cast of Showstoppers performing Fame

It all started back in December 2017, it was the Sunday afternoon before show week for this years Fresher’s show Fame and one of my friends and producer for the show, Phoebe, came up to me and asked if I’d watched The Trail to Oregon! yet. She had told me about it a week or so ago and as a form of procrastination I happily told her I had managed to watch it. She then proceeds to ask me if I think it would be a good show to take up to the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer of 2018. As someone who has always wanted to go up to the festival I couldn’t really see myself taking a show up for my first experience of the Fringe – but I’m really bad at saying no, so I just agreed.

There and then we messaged the author of the musical Jeff Blim on Twitter and about 2 hours later, Phoebe comes running in from the other room screaming that she’d already gotten a reply with a quote for the show! A couple of hours ago I had a completely free Summer, but now it turned out I had an Edinburgh Fringe show to plan for.

The next step was to pitch the shows to the student societies involved. We got a producer, Gaby, on board and with Phoebe as the director we pitched the show. After many hours of waiting we heard back that we had got it – we were taking our very own show up to the Fringe! Just as thrillingly, the specific show we had chosen had not been performed in Europe before, so we were presenting the European Premiere of The Trail to Oregon!.

The main problem we have as students wanting to go up to the Fringe is simple. Money. Edinburgh is an expensive city at the best of times so accommodation prices can be high, but it is also extremely far away meaning that transport costs can become an issue too. As well as all of this, we had to think about venue hire, buying the rights for the show, as well as costumes and props. The early stages can be extremely stressful as we try and work out how to not lose money on our show. After quite a lot of negotiating we managed to secure ourselves a venue from 13th to 25th August in the Perth Theatre @ theSPACE on the North Bridge at 10:10pm. This may seem late, but the Fringe never sleeps and due to the nature of the show we liked the idea of a late night slot.







Rewinding back to before we pitched the show I saw a tweet from The Other Palace, and off-west end theatre in the heart of Victoria, London. They were looking for potential Fringe shows to host previews in their studio space, I spoke to Phoebe and we decided the worst they could say was no, so an email was sent off. About 3 weeks later I got an email back from them, offering us a show! I couldn’t quite believe it as it had always been my dream to perform in a London theatre and now one was offering us our own show slot.

The cast and production team of The Trail to Oregon!

Within days we booked for the 28th July and then just had to wait for tickets to go on sale at the end of May. Within two weeks one of my cast, James, notified me that on the website we had sold out, I immediately thought this was a mistake but then almost instantly I got an email from the theatre. They congratulated us for selling out and then offered us another show on the 29th July. All we wanted from this second show was a lively audience and enough of them so we could break even, but then at the end of our rehearsal process just before our final dress run we found out we had sold out our second show a whole week before we are to perform our first show in London. We couldn’t quite believe it.

With the cast assembled, next time we will take a look back on the three week intensive rehearsal process to get the show ready for London and for Edinburgh and tell you all about how the London and Edinburgh shows went! 

Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton.

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