This August, members of the theatre department at Gannon University are going to Scotland. A group of about 15 students (including me!), graduates and professors are trekking across the pond to participate in the 2011 Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Every year, thousands of performers and artists flock to this international hot spot to share their talents and enjoy the work of others.

The Rev. Shawn Clerkin has been affiliated with the American High School Theatre Festival for about a decade. He said when he learned that coordinators of the program were starting the International Collegiate Theatre Festival, he was overjoyed to learn that Gannon University was one of only fifteen colleges invited to participate.

Our school is the only school in the region attending the ICTF this year. Sign-ups for the trip started in August, and anyone associated with the university was allowed to join. All of the participants will serve some role in the production of Harry Chapin’s “Cotton Patch Gospel,” the musical that we will be performing for the ICTF.

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity doesn’t come cheap, so we knew we had to start fundraising right away. From our first flower sale in the fall to chocolate sales last week, students have been busy scraping together every last penny they can to make this trip a success. The largest fundraising event that we did was the Mini Fringe Festival – a series of six shows performed in the month of March. It was a dizzying task to undertake, considering that the theatre is used for five main stage productions each year. But we did it, and it was a success. The Schuster is even considering continuing the Mini Fringe next year.

So far, our hard work has paid off. We have raised over $20,000 so far. A large part of the success of our fundraising is because of sophomore theatre and communication arts major Allison Kessler, who is Alpha Psi Omega’s fundraising chair.

Kessler described the fundraising process as stressful time, but she said she is grateful to the many people who have put in a great deal of time to help.

“The festival is a great experience for a theatre student,” Kessler said, “not only to perform on an international stage, but also to meet and work next to other theatre students and professionals.”

Paula Barrett, instructor of theatre, communications and fine arts, will also be joining us on the trip. She said she is impressed by the fact that Gannon theatre students, even the ones who aren’t going on the trip, have been pitching in whole-heartedly to help with fundraising.

This trip is a department-wide event, but, like the theatre itself, even students from other disciplines will be participating. Patrick Chounet is a junior math major who is joining us on the trip because he said he recognized that this was a special opportunity.

Chounet said he is excited about the chance to perform on a stage overseas.

“I believe our department was invited because we have a group of extremely talented actors and actresses here at our theatre,” he said. “Between that, and the unique shows we perform, great things happen.”

Personally, I see this trip as a wonderful way to leave my college experience here at Gannon. I can’t wait to travel with my fellow classmates and soak up as much culture as my brain can handle. Besides participating in the Fringe, we will be touring Edinburgh, visiting Stirling Castle, taking a motor coach through the lower highlands and seeing the renowned Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. I’m so grateful for my chance to be a part of the trip and cannot wait to, as Fr. Shawn put it, “Taste haggis for the first, and probably last, time!”

Interested to learn about other ways to see the world while at Gannon? Read Shernelle Jones’ guest blog about studying in the Virgin Islands this spring.