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Chris Rosenblum | Adventure awaits State High Thespians on trip to Scotland

Sadie Spivey and Justin Shondeck pause for a photo during the Prince and Princess Ball fundraiser for the State High Thespians’ summer trip to Scotland.
Sadie Spivey and Justin Shondeck pause for a photo during the Prince and Princess Ball fundraiser for the State High Thespians’ summer trip to Scotland. Photos provided

Any teenager eager to scrub bathrooms and vacuum for money must be highly motivated.

That describes Clara Hanahan.

Every other week for months, she has been giving her house a thorough cleaning for a worthy cause — to pay for a summer trip to Scotland and a chance to perform in an internationally famous theater festival.

Clara, 15, and other State College Area High School students in the State High Thespians troupe will travel in August to Edinburgh for the acclaimed Edinburgh Festival Fringe, billed as the world’s largest arts festival.

Started in 1947, the sprawling festival runs for three weeks. Last year, it drew an estimated 24,000 performers from 41 countries. All told, they put on 2,871 shows, with about 2 million tickets sold.

Clara and the other 11 troupe members will perform “Alice in Concert,” a musical version of “Alice in Wonderland,” in the American High School Theatre Festival. Part of the Fringe Festival for 20 years, the smaller festival invited just a dozen high schools for this summer’s shows.

Because the show expenses and Aug. 9-22 trip costs will run to $6,000 per person, the students have been working since last fall to raise the necessary funds. Some worked jobs, but Kris Hanahan came up with an alternative for her daughter. Instead of her cleaning service, she employed her daughter.

That’s how Clara came to dust, mop and otherwise toil for her art. She’s already a veteran actor, having appeared in several community theater and school plays.

But she doesn’t have to feign excitement about the prospect of her first foreign trip, in the company of her best friends, everybody sharing the adventure.

“It’s going to just be such an amazing experience with all these people I love so much,” she said. “To be in a show with them, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

One memorable performance recently helped fill their coffers.

At Mount Nittany Middle School, troupe members staged the Prince and Princess Ball, dressing as classic Disney characters to the delight of about 75 small children and their parents. Clara twirled around as Snow White, her costume sewn together by her older sister.

It was the last of a long string of fundraisers. Among other efforts, families have sold concessions at Penn State hockey games and wrestling matches, painted faces at last year’s People’s Choice Festival and held a local Edgar Allen Poe dinner.

Coming up are a Coach bag bingo event on May 17 and a June 14 yard sale.

All of it will enable State High Thespians to return to the Fringe Festival after a long hiatus, and take the stage at Edinburgh’s historic Church Hill Theatre for four shows.

Nominated initially by Dan Carter, the director of the Penn State School of Theatre, the troupe first went in 2005, earning smash reviews and having a ball.

“It was probably the best, most educational theater experience I’ve ever taken students on,” said Jill Campbell, a State High faculty member and the troupe’s director.

Afterward, the troupe consistently received invitations, but until last year, Campbell couldn’t round up enough commitment to accept.

Now, they’re Scotland-bound.

As before, they’ll be put to the test — starting with cramming in rehearsals once school ends, including a sort of dress rehearsal at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in July.

Then, in addition to a personal suitcase, each will lug a second bag full of costumes, props and everything else needed for their show through an airport for a flight to London.

After a spot of sightseeing and a West End show, they’ll join other students from as far away as Alaska on a Harry Potter-esque train to Edinburgh — where the real work starts.

They get one 2-hour tech rehearsal, but after that, they have just two hours to set up, perform and break down each show before the next performance begins.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Campbell said, adding that the troupe also will visit the local castle and see other festival shows.

Actually, it sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime.

As they say in show biz, kids, break a leg.

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