'High School Musical' brought to life 'For The Kids'

University Park, Pa. -- Keeping in line with the student-run nature of Dance Marathon, students from Penn State's School of Theatre THON Organization have undertaken their biggest student-run THON fundraiser yet: three productions of "Disney's High School Musical On Stage."

Over the last four weeks, 30 students in the school's THON organization have worked together to produce a trio of benefit performances "For The Kids" (FTK). Their goal: to raise money for Penn State's Dance Marathon 2010, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, which benefits pediatric cancer research.

Co-producers Laura Matey and Erik Larson, both juniors, came up with the idea. They wanted to pull out the stops and make this year's THON benefit show more prominent than those from years past.

"Laura and I had been brainstorming the idea of a full musical since the spring semester," said Larson, the organization’s performance chair, "but we only realized the potential for 'High School Musical' in July."

The fact that the production is not only "High School Musical," but rather "High School Musical" for THON, has increased the public's interest, according to director Alison Morooney, who went on to describe the impact of the high-profile title on the student body at Penn State.

"This is FTK," said Morooney, a sophomore, referring to the mantra "For The Kids" spoken by THON participants and supporters. "The School of Theatre has done something like this every year for a while, but this is by far its biggest production for THON yet. It's so popular with so many people, and we're excited to do it live, and for this cause."

To boost the cast’s awareness of the impact of the show’s high school drama theme, Barry Kur, the faculty adviser for Morooney and the show, underlined that popularity during rehearsal on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Speaking to the full cast, Kur said, "This show takes place now. You're behaving in a contemporary time, because you speak, and sing and dance. Then, you need to combine the reason you are performing: for THON."

With rehearsals four hours a day, six days a week, for four straight weeks, the cast and crew have tackled a full-sized musical's workload in much less time than normally would have been possible, according to Blake Stadnik, who portrays male lead Troy Bolton.

"I feel like we've been able to do this because this is energized by THON and the popularity of the show," said Stadnik, a freshman.

On the Facebook event as of Sunday, Nov. 15, more than 700 people have confirmed their attendance, with nearly 900 submitting a "Maybe Attending" response.

Also citing that popularity of "High School Musical," Matey finds this production to be the perfect blend of feel-good musical, and a quality, legitimate message that is relevant to THON.

"It's the double-whammy," said Matey, who was a dancer for the School of Theatre THON Organization at THON 2009, and is the group’s overall chair this year.

"We're putting together a show that so many people love, and for a cause that is so good and so special to so many people," she said.

Because the performances' proceeds are going to a charitable organization, the production team was able to secure the minimum fee for the licensing, performance rights and required materials. Musical Theatre International, the agency representing the title, was able to provide this arrangement because of the show's not-for-profit nature, according to agency account representative Jesse Johnson.

"Since they are not charging ticket fees, they received the lowest possible rate," said Johnson. "They were granted the minimum royalty required by the authors, and we were happy to grant that because of the nature of this show's performance."

To raise the funds to pay those minimum expenses, all students involved in the production were responsible for raising a part of the money themselves, as well as participating in organized fundraising such as late-night bake sales and singing events. After meeting those costs, additional funds raised went toward materials, costumes, advertising and other line-items that might normally have been done without.

Encouraged by the idea behind the show's final number, "We're All in This Together,” the production team of eight students has worked hard to keep up enthusiasm with the cast and crew throughout the entire process. To turn up the THON excitement even more, bits of THON have even been infused into the finale.

"That song is the connection for this whole project. It says that nothing can be done without every single person being involved," said Matey. "Every one of us involved in this is so crucial, and that parallels THON well, since THON needs everyone to be involved. We're all in this show together, and we're all in THON together for the fight against pediatric cancer."

Performances will take place in 102 Forum Building on the University Park campus. The shows start at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 17 and 18, and at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19. There is no cost to attend, although suggested donations of $5 will be collected at the door.

For photos of the rehearsals, visit http://live.psu.edu/stilllife/2184 online.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010