By Ron Leir
A Kearny bonnie lass is looking forward to a very special working vacation this summer in – you guessed it – Scotland.
Rachel Spillane, 16, is one of 23 students from Hudson County High Tech High School’s Musical Theatre program (and the lone West Hudson representative) who will be troupers in this year’s marathon Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Last year, during a 3-week period in August, the festival held 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues, “making it the largest ever arts festival in the world,” its website proclaims.
The High Tech contingent’s entry to the annual event is being made possible through the American High School Theatre Festival which showcases the top talent in U.S. secondary schools, allowing them to struff their stuff in Edinburgh.
Alex Perez, the group’s director and one of two adult chaperones accompanying the students, (the other is English teacher Kerri Ann Murphy), said that the North Bergenbased high school was one of 20 schools chosen by the AHSTF from among 1,000 or so applicants to go to Scotland.
For Rachel, a 16-year-old High Tech 10th-grader, the trip will mark her first journey outside the U.S., as it will for about a quarter of the group. “I’m super excited,” she said. “It’s such a great opportunity.” She’ll be one of five sophomores from the musical theater program going abroad.
At the festival, which runs Aug. 7 to 31, the High Tech ensemble will be doing a production of the Broadway musical, “A Chorus Line,” which the students may preview for the school in May, Perez said.
But the trip won’t be just about performing, Perez explained.
After an anticipated arrival in the U.K. July 30, “we’ll spend a couple of days in London studying with a master class on Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre, see a couple of West End shows, then head over to Scotland,” he said.
Another plus is that the seniors in the group can apply for college-level academic credit for participating in the enterprise, Perez said.
At the festival, itself, when the teens aren’t on stage, there will be plenty of cultural and fun events to explore. “There are over 3,000 things to see,” Perez noted, ranging from all types of plays to comedy, dance, cabaret, children’s shows, opera and exhibitions.
For Perez, the festival is familiar ground: He accompanied another High Tech student group to Edinburgh in 2006 for a production of the modern version of “Oz.” He took another group to an arts festival in Germany in 2001.
This trip won’t come cheap. “The total bill, including air fare, rooms, meals and everything, will come to $150,000,” Perez said, “or about $6,000 per student. We started fundraising in the summer and we’ve got about 25% raised so far.”
Earlier this month, Broadway performers Kerry Butler, Christine Pedi, James Carpinello, Telly Leung, Anastacia McCleskey, Kate Loprest and Clarke Thorell donated their services, participating in a concert at High Tech’s black box theater, with the proceeds going to the fundraising effort. That event added $5,000 to the pot, Perez said.
Donations to the fund can be made to the school or by visiting www.GoFundMe.com/ elcave.
Meanwhile, preparatory work continues apace for “A Chorus Line.”
Juniors and seniors fill out the cast and sophomores are handling crew and production work, but, as this show was designed, Rachel and her fellow sophomores will get a shot at some on-stage exposure, by acting as some of the auditioners in the musical, Perez said.
Even from her usual perspective from behind the scenes, musical theater for Rachel “is like a magical experience.”
The Franklin School graduate said that as a youngster, she “always loved to sing” and sang in some of the grammar school’s talent shows but never thought of making anything more of it until a friend who happened to be a High Tech alum suggested that she try out for the school’s musical theater program.
So she did and was accepted to the program.
During her freshman year, Rachel was a crew member for the spring show, doing “a lot of microphone work, making sure [sound] levels were even.” She’s learned how to set and operate “lekos” – (that’s ellipsoid reflector spotlights, in case you wondered) – and lighting boards, costumes, props, giving actors “call” times. In other words, the works. She was also part of the ensemble in a one-act excerpt from a school production of “Guys and Dolls.”
In class, she’s also mastering the acting side of theater: “song and monologue development, improvisation, dancing and acting technique and we also learn how to assemble ‘audition books’ to help market ourselves.”
Outside the confines of High Tech, Rachel is building her acting resume, having ventured on stage with the local theater company, W.H.A.T., in “Our Broadway” in winter 2012, a cabaret show and “Young Frankenstein” in summer 2013 and “The Addams Family” in summer 2014.
And in January 2015, she was an ensemble member in a N.J. School of Dramatic Arts production of “Rent,” directed by Perez, which had a sold-out run at the Westminster Arts Center theater in Bloomfield.
Rachel’s role model is Megan Hilty, who starred as Glinda in the Broadway show “Wicked the Musical,” because “I like how she’s a super powerful (soprano) singer.”
She also appreciates how her parents, Dara and Joseph Spillane, “are supportive in whatever I want to pursue. They come to all my shows. It’s awesome to have that support.” Her dad is a mail carrier in Harrison and her mom is a programs revision manager for a Teterboro company.