DORSET -- Picture a high-tech sculpture of eight human figures, programmed to perform multiple functions, movements and dialogues. Add a probably eccentric financier who commissioned this work of art eager to recoup his investment as he teeters on bankruptcy.
Then imagine the humanesque doll-like figures coming to life as they assert their independence, trying to take control away from their desperate owner.
It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, and it's also the gist of a play a group of actors from Long Trail School will present at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a massive celebration of the arts that will take place in the Scottish capital city for three weeks in August.
The event will include a wide ranging series of dramatic and performing arts productions presented by theatrical groups and organizations from around the world. Long Trail's group will be one of 40 taking part in the festival from the U.S. -- and the only high school represented. The others are college-level or professional groups, said Tracey Wesley, the director of "Property Rites," the play that the Long Trail School Actors Anonymous group will present.
The 40 schools and organizations going over from the U.S. are the survivors of a group of approximately 1,500 initially nominated by a college professor or theatre professional. But it won't be the first time Long Trail School will have sent a group of actors there.
"They see plays from around the world, and it completely changes their lives," she said. "Their acting skills go upwards."
"Property Rites" was written by Alan Haehnel, an English teacher at a high school in New Hampshire. He is a friend of Wesley's who has written several other plays and she had directed an earlier production of "Property Rites" at Long Trail about 10 years ago, she said.
In essence, "Property Rites" is about what it means to be alive, she said.
"The dolls come to life in the end, and they fight to live," she said. "A bankrupt man is trying to sell them and get money. If he can collect insurance, he'll be all right. It's a whole interesting argument about what it means to be human."
Rebecca van Burken, a junior at Long Trail who portrays one of the doll-like figures that is part of the "unit," said the play is written with a strong feminist slant as well.
"It's a group of female dolls being sold by a man; it's based on the idea of slavery, for sure," she said.
One of the most challenging parts of the acting was to stay still and look automated, she said. Moving eyes to follow conversations, or normal arm movements, weren't consistent with their characters.
Her character's job is to keep silent and to be defiant. In the end, she breaks free, coming to terms with the fact she's alive and able to chart an independent course, van Burken said.
Along with performing the play, which survived several rounds of adjudication to qualify for a spot at the Fringe Festival, she found meeting other actors from other parts of the U.S. and other nations to be the most exciting part of the venture.
The group will head to London first, staying for three days and taking part in workshops at the fabled Globe Theatre as well as getting in some sightseeing, she said. Then they will travel by train to Edinburgh, with the rest of the American contingent, where they will be staying for 10 days, giving four performances and taking in many others. All the while, they will interact with and meet with other actors.
A total of 12 students will be taking part in the venture.
"I'm incredibly excited, and our entire cast is over the moon," van Burken said.