Nevada isn’t really just a lawless place overrun by gambling and prostitutes. And prepare to get slapped if you pronounce it “Ne-vaw-duh.” Silver State lore still precedes reality, though, and it’s the myths—from seedy infamy to bunk pronunciations—that Sage Ridge drama teacher Cameron Crain and his students hope to deflate. They’re doing so internationally, no less, at next summer’s Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Billed as the largest arts festival in the world, the Fringe is massively popular, with thousands of performers making the annual trek. Crain’s group will travel and perform there thanks to the American High School Theatre Festival, which chooses just a sliver of its many applicants each year.
A high-energy, politely handsome sort, Crain is also co-founder and president of the Nevada Shakespeare Company. Creating a historical comedy with his students has been “artistically … just as challenging and just as rewarding as anything I’ve done with Nevada Shakes,” he says.
Dubbed Battle Born?— and yes, that question mark is intentional—the play’s genesis is as much a lesson in fundraising and PR as it is in writing, acting and design. The 16 young actors must work to cover production and travel costs, for starters, and they’ll need a hefty $100,000 to pull it off. Once in Edinburgh, they’ll don attention-getting costumes, like that of an Area 51 alien or a showgirl, to snare an audience well before the show begins.
Such gear must be portable, obviously. “And it can’t be too crazed, because everything’s got to go over in suitcases,” says parent Robin Monteith, who’s working with another drama mama, Teri Newman, to get the production off the ground. “I have visions of me stashing an alien head in an overhead compartment.”
Extraterrestrials are one thing, but undisputed truths do hold court with myths and rumors in the working script, with plenty of local trivia to go around. A time machine helps, naturally.
You’ve heard of Icky the prehistoric creature, right? He’ll probably rear his head. Prostitution and gambling can’t be ignored, and the mob is a likely topic, too, as is the Rat Pack’s time in Vegas and Mark Twain’s years in Nevada territory. Other Battle Born? trivia veers toward the political, including the fact that the state constitution—all 16,543 words of it—came to President Lincoln by telegram.
Oliver Page, a senior, is the show’s host and resident musician. The teen has a sort of aw-shucks bearing at first, but is a talented and comfortable pianist who’s apt to pick catchy, thumping melodies out of the air, making them up as he goes along. He’s now working on a variation of the Ghostbusters theme for the play, which opens with a scene from an obscure, myth-debunking TV show (not to be confused with MythBusters, as the kids are learning about copyright law, too).
“I’ve been trying to make all the [script’s] syllables fit in, so it’s not too cheesy,” says Page. “It’s just the right level of cheese.” He’ll work in some big-band stuff later, and Crain is also tasking him with a ragtime number and the Bonanza theme.
Fundraising is well under way for the play, which will hit Sage Ridge’s stage in May, and likely make an appearance at Artown before crossing the pond in August. A handout will guide international viewers through any murky cultural references or inside jokes.
Meanwhile, the cast has clout with Crain, who banters with them often and quickly works their suggestions into the ongoing script.
“I’m treating them like professionals,” he says. “I’m expecting them to come up—counting on them to come up—and they’re responding.”