Sister Cities Association of Sarasota

Citizen Diplomats—Carving a Path toward Peace since 1963

SCSA Young Playwrights’ Report

Cities Referenced in This Article: 

St Columba’s High School

Mr J Mooney, Head Teacher
Woodmill Road, Dunfermline, Fife KY11 4UN Tel: (01383) 602405
e-mail address:

28 May 2012

Mr Ben Conway,
Dunfermline Sister Cities Association,
10 Transy Grove,
Fife KY12 7QP

Dear Mr Conway,

On behalf of St Columba’s High School, I would like to thank you for your generosity in meeting the travel and accommodation costs for the winners of the Florida Studio Theatre creative writing competition this year. This enabled the two young winners, Kelly Fairbairn and Matthew Walton, to travel to Sarasota ITom 10th to 15th May to see their play performed by professional actors on stage in Sarasota; an experience they will both treasure for the rest of their lives.

Kelly and Matthew also attended the awards ceremony on 12th May in Holley Hall, Sarasota, where they were presented with their medals by the former US Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky.

This has been a wonderful boost for their confidence and has fired their sense of global citizenship.

We enclose a report of our trip to Sarasota, to enable you to see the diverse experiences we encountered, and educational links across the wider school curriculum we have fostered.

On Monday 25th June we will be hosting a perfonnance ofthe winning play “The Haggis Hunt” at 7pm in the school hall. We would like to invite both you and Gerry McMullan to attend this performance and meet the two playwrights and their families. I would welcome the opportunity to thank you in person for your generous support.

Yours truly,
Elspeth McDonald Teacher of English

St Columba’s Prize-winners’ Visit to Florida Studio Theatre 10th to 15th May 2012

St Columba’s Delegation:

  • Teacher, Miss Elspeth McDonald
  • S2 pupil, Kelly Fairbairn
  • S1 pupil, Matthew Walton Winning Play: “The Haggis Hunt”

Thursday 10th May

Our flight left Edinburgh at 9.30 am, and after changing at Gatwick, we arrived at Tampa at 16.40 ( 21.40 GMT).

We were met at the airport by Pauline and John Mitchell. Pauline is the Dunfermline City Director of the Sister Cities Association of Sarasota, and her role was to organise the schedule of events we would attend during our stay in Sarasota. This was superbly executed and we were made to feel extremely welcome by all the people we encountered, as shall be seen from this report.

After dinner at Applebee’s, we were then taken to our hotel, the Marriott Springhill Suites in Sarasota.

Friday 11th May

After a pre-breakfast swim in the hotel pool, we were welcomed by Tom Halbert, the president ofthe Sister Cities Association of Sarasota. He explained the reasoning behind President Eisenhower’s introduction oftwinning towns after World War Two, in the hope that forging links between different nations would lead to fewer wars.

We then visited the Florida Studio Theatre, where we were met by Adam Ratner, the Young Playwrights Festival Coordinator. We were given an extensive tour of the theatre, visiting rehearsal rooms, the costume department, the main theatre, and the Goldstein Caberet Theatre. We also met the actors who would be performing the prizewinning plays the following day.

Our hosts for the day were Eileen and Doug Shuler, who took us to the beach on Lido Key, where we cooled our heels in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

After lunch in the Old Salty Dog restaurant—where Matthew took some wonderful photographs of pelicans sitting on a post a few yards from our table—we visited MOTE Marine Research Laboratory. Here we were privileged to visit their seahorse breeding programme, designed to protect seahorse numbers. We also visited the turtle hospital, seeing turtles with varying injuries (mainly from boat strikes) who were being looked after until they were sufficiently recuperated and could be returned to the sea. The highlight of the visit was when Matthew and Kelly were allowed to feed and stroke the two resident manatees. They eat a daily diet of 72 heads of lettuce, divided into different meals throughout the day. This was lunchtime, and the pupils fed them 24 heads of lettuce. We also met Moonshine, the resident dolphin, who was playing in his pond with two of the interns, observed sharks in their viewing tank, and stroked stingrays in the touch pool. They had had their stings removed and felt velvety to the touch. We were impressed with the passion and dedication displayed by the MOTE team towards their valuable research work, especially as many of these people are unsalaried volunteers. I am presently in discussion with their education officer to set up a distance learning online link with St Columba’s High School, which will be ofgreat benefit to pupils in our school.

From MOTE, we visited the Asolo Theatre. This was of particular interest to us, as it had formerly been Dunfermline Opera House, standing on what is now Carnegie Drive in Dunfermline. After years ofdisuse, it was shipped out to Sarasota in the I980s. It was wonderful to see the theatre restored as the beautiful building it had once been, and to witness it thriving as a vibrant cultural centre. Students from the University of Southern Florida learn their acting trade upon its boards, and graduates from the Asolo are held in high esteem. The pupils were thrilled to be asked to act the first scene of “The Haggis Hunt” on the Asolo stage. We were treated to an extensive backstage tour, viewing the elaborate drainage system on the set for Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels” to allow the impression ofrain falling outside the windows, and we were also startled to learn that the wigmaker threads every single hair of every single wig by hand -a very dedicated lady! Matthew and Kelly were very interested to hear that playwrights are given a prominent role in the production oftheir plays, making decisions over casting and sitting in on rehearsals.

We returned to hotel to rest, before being taken by the Shulers to dinner at the ChaCha-Coconut in St Armands, followed by ice cream at the renowned Kilwin’s and shopping in the many beautiful gift sbops, before returning to the hotel.

Saturday 12th May

We had an early start today, as the Young Playwrights’ Festival began at 9.30 am. Matthew dressed in the kilt and Kelly in a kilted skirt and matching sash for the occasion. We were the only international winners present, as the Israeli and Russian winners had been unable to obtain visas, but Kelly and Matthew sat in the theatre with prize-winners from all over the United States of America. It was a thrilling experience to watch ‘The Haggis Hunt” being perfonned by a company of professional actors, especially as Kelly and Matthew were able to meet and talk with them afterwards, discussing the logistics of staging their play. After a picnic lunch in the theatre grounds we returned to the auditorium to watch the plays written by primary school pupils. It was inspiring to view such a variety of plays.

The awards ceremony took place in Holley Hall in Sarasota. The young playwrights were addressed by the former US Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, before being called up onto the stage to receive their awards. Pupils who had received Honourable Mentions were asked to stand when their names were called, and the acting company then went around the auditorium presenting them with their medals. As an educator, I found it thrilling to be in the midst of so many talented young writers. Two ofour St Columba’s pupils, Millie Jobson and Rachel Miller, had also received Honourable Mentions, as had Lois Pickering from Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline; our town was well represented in this international competition.

That evening we visited Island Park, Sarasota, with our hosts, Muriel and Doug Maxwell and Dr Jane Rose, to view the “Embracing Our Differences” outdoor Art exhibition which celebrates cultural diversity. Artists from all over the world enter this annual competition. After dinner at O’Leary’s down by the waterside, we returned to the hotel.

Sunday 13th May

We visited the Jungle Gardens on Sunday morning with our host Ellie Stoll. This began as a botanical garden, but has gradually had local Floridian wildlife introduced over recent years. The main attractions for us were feeding the flamingos by hand and holding a baby alligator -fortunately, there was a restraining band around its jaw. We also saw many different varieties ofturtle and watched the very talented parrots performing in their show. Lunch at the Jungle Cafe gave Kelly and Matthew the opportunity to try Chocolate Dipped Cheesecake and the local delicacy, Key Lime Pie.

After a rest and a refreshing swim at the hotel, we were collected by our hosts Shona and Bob Burtner, and taken to Siesta Key beach. Pupils from the local high school joined us there, so that Kelly and Matthew were able to meet people of their own age. The children all got along very well together, and have exchanged emails and facebook details. After a beach barbecue dinner, we took part in the famous drumming circle at the beach as the sun goes down, a popular Sunday evening event which is open to all who wish to participate.

Monday 14th May

This morning we visited the Ringling Circus museum and the Tibbie Learning Centre with our host Ellie Stoll. After lunch at the Banyan Cafe, we returned to the hotel to freshen up for our visit to City Hall to meet the Mayor, Suzanne Atwell. She welcomed us as warmly as everyone else had during our visit, and presented Kelly and Matthew with certificates of Honourable Citizenship. Pauline Mitchell showed us the Sister Cities office at City Hall, and from the display cabinet outside, we could clearly see how important their sister cities are to the people of Sarasota.

We then drove to the Sailor Circus, an after-school circus school for schoolchildren.

Kelly and Matthew were introduced to a group of children there, and then learned a few circus tricks: trapeze skills on a practice hoop; walking on a low wire, a few inches off the ground; how to climb a rope quickly; how to climb parachute silks; and some juggling skills. They had great fun taking part in all of this. We were then given a backstage tour of the newly-expanding circus (it has recently amalgamated with Circus

Sarasota), along with our hosts for the afternoon, Phyllis and Allan McIlraith. Once again we learned that most of the supporters of the Sailor Circus work as unpaid volunteers, yet their enthusiasm and that of their pupils, is boundless.

The evening was spent at our Farewell Party in the Caberet Theatre at FST. We met there with all of our new friends from the Studio Theatre and our wonderful hosts who had entertained us so well throughout our stay. Kelly and Matthew sat at a table with their new friends from the barbecue and from the Sailor Circus, before taking part in a Question and Answer session on stage with Adam Ratner, the festival co-ordinator, and Beth Duda, the director of education. We then presented all of our hosts and the acting company with gifts, before heading back to the hotel.

Tuesday 15th May

We checked out of our hotel at lOam and were driven down to Venice, Florida by Pauline Mitchell, so that we could experience a less built-up area. Pauline and her husband John live in Venice, in one of the many historic houses the island is renowned for. The beautiful architecture was not the only thing to strike us there: as we walked along towards the end of Venice pier, a fisherman told us that there was a manatee in the water. We were very excited to see a manatee in the wild and Kelly managed to take some good photographs of it. We could also see how slowly it moved, helping us to understand just why so many of them are unfortunately hit by boats.

We visited Pauline and John’s house, and their beautiful garden, full of tropical plants which survive on very little water. After lunch on the beach at Sharky’s, we had a final swim in the Gulf of Mexico, before heading back up to Tampa for our flight home at 18:40pm.

All three of us thoroughly enjoyed the many and varied experiences we were treated to on this trip. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to all of those whose generosity enabled us to travel to such a wonderful place and meet so many new friends.

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