Rockford University costume fashion show
    Rockford University performing arts students show off some of the costumes that will be part of a costume fashion show on April 28, 2024, to raise money for students to perform in the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in August 2024. From left are: Aubry Musfelt, Piper Burney, Adara Barrera, Keira Alejandro and Lindsay Johnson, who are all planning to travel to Scotland. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
    By Kevin Haas
    Rock River Current
    Get our mobile app

    ROCKFORD — Rockford University students will head to Scotland’s capital city this summer to showcase their theatrical talent as part of the world’s largest arts festival.

    It will be the first time since 2016 that students from the university’s Performing Arts Department participate in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a 25-day celebration that fills the Edinburgh city streets and more than 300 venues for thousands of performances each August.

    More arts: 83rd Young Artist Show: Youth Division opens this weekend at Rockford University

    While the festival is open to thousands of performers, only a handful of universities are invited each year, according to Deborah Mogford, a professor in the university’s Performing Arts Department. The university was first invited in 2016, and was invited back numerous times. The goal was for students to return in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic put that to a halt.

    Now supporters are fundraising to help students participate.

    Rockford University senior Piper Burney, who wants to perform professionally after graduating, said the festival is a chance to not only get on the world stage, but to participate in workshops, see other performances and meet and learn from others involved in theater.

    “You get to meet people from all over the world, and everyone is there for the same reason: the love of arts,” Burney said. “For someone who is about to go out into this world and try to do it professionally, I think it’s great to make connections and will be a great experience.”

    Students will perform the musical “The Theory of Relativity” by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill. There are 15 performing arts students expected to travel to Scotland.

    “It’s super important to see the way theater is approached throughout the world,” said Adara Barrera, a Rockford University sophomore and Jefferson High School graduate who came Rockford from Mexico. “There’s a lot of different techniques and aspects that we can get to see when we go to Scotland.”

    The festival was established in 1947 and has grown into one of the largest ticketed events in the world. Last year, more than 2.4 million tickets were sold, according to the festival. In 2019, there were roughly 59,600 performances, 3,841 different shows in 322 venues.

    It blends theater, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, spoke word, music and other arts.

    “I’m really excited to do a musical on the other side of the world,” said Aubry Musfelt, an acting and director major who will perform the song “The End of the Line” as Jenny in “The Theory of Relativity.”

    Costumes and costs

    Keira Alejandro, a junior at Rockford University, shows off a dress from “Phantom of the Opera” on Thursday, March 14, 2024, at the Maddox Theatre at Rockford University. The dress will be part of a costume fashion show on April 28 to raise money for Alejandro and others to perform in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

    It costs about $5,000 per student to make the trip to Scotland, and the nonprofit group Friends of the Performing Arts is working to help students cover those costs.

    Gary Anderson, a member of the group, said that when Rockford University students perform in Scotland they’re not just representing the school, they’re representing the city of Rockford as well.

    “Every year the students have just blown me away with what they do,” Anderson said. “We have an awful lot of talent here that comes through the doors every year, and we need to be exposing that more to our community and having our community appreciate it more.”

    More Rockford University: Patricia Lynott named Rockford University’s 19th president after serving in interim role

    The Friends group will host a costume fashion show on April 28 celebrating more than four decades of award-winning design by Jeff Hendry, a former professor at Rockford University.

    Students showed off a few of the costumes last week when they were interviewed for this story.

    “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that hopefully we can make more than once-in-a-lifetime through events just like this,” said Andrew Ashley, a senior musical theater major. “This event is the first in a long series of events that we could have to really support this department and the things that they can do to build the futures for these students.”

    Ashley isn’t part of the group headed to Scotland, but he will be playing a fast-changing role in the fashion show. He’ll be going through six costumes from the musical comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”

    “This type of event and attention can help with outreach and get the community excited about Rockford University and about theater,” Ashley said. “I think this university and this department in specific needs every hand it can get to really spread the word about everything that’s happening, especially when it’s such a profound experience that they’re going to be having at the Fringe Festival in Scotland.”

    Piper Burney shows off a dress from “Meet Me in St. Louis” on Thursday, March 14, 2024, at Maddox Theatre at Rockford University. The dress will be part of a costume fashion show on April 28 to raise money for Burney and other students to perform in Edinburgh, Scotland in August 2024. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

    The Friends of the Performing Arts is a nonprofit that works to increase support for Rockford University’s performing arts programs.

    “This is more than just a Performing Arts Department, it is an extension of what this university represents,” said Bill Scarpaci, who co-leads the group with Bob Kantner. “When I think about businesses recruiting educated personnel to come to Rockford, I see Rockford University as a recruiting tool. I see these businesses telling these prospective employees if you come here, you’re going to encounter an interesting cultural phenomenon in Rockford University. It will satisfy your cultural needs.”

    For some students the trip to Edinburgh will be their first time overseas.

    “I’m very excited to see a different aspect of life and different theater around the world,” said Keira Alejandro, a junior who hopes to perform professionally post-graduation. “American theater is so different from what they offer everywhere else, so I’m really excited to explore the culture of Edinburgh.”

    Lindsay Johnson, a sophomore and former Scottish Highland dancer, is looking forward to seeing the home country of the dance she has performed. The theater arts major is also looking forward to representing Rockford abroad.

    “This will be a huge opportunity to hone the acting abilities I’ve learned so far,” Johnson said. “Representing my home town feels special to me because I’m proud to say I am from Rockford.”

    Lindsay Johnson shows off a Victorian dress on Thursday, March 14, 2024, at Maddox Theatre at Rockford University. The dress will be part of a costume fashion show on April 28 to raise money for Johnson and other students to perform at the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August 2024. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

    How to help | Fashion show fundraiser

    About: It costs about $5,000 per student to attend the International Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August. The Friends of Performing Arts is hosting an event this spring to help raise money to cover the students’ costs.

    A costume style fashion show will highlight the designs of Jeff Hendry, an award winning costume designer and former professor of Rockford University. Students will model the costumes along with special guests Mayor Tom McNamara, state Sen. Steve Stadelman, state Rep. Dave Vella, Mary McNamara Bernsten, executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council. There are musical performances from Groove Hotel Trio.

    When: 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28

    Where: Maddox Theatre on Rockford University campus, 5050 E. State St., Rockford

    Tickets: $30; Get tickets HERE

    Donate: Go HERE to provide a donation toward the trip

    This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

    missing or outdated ad config for local savings

    missing or outdated ad config
    missing or outdated ad config for local stories

    Tags: , , ,