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Students from 11 area school districts will be participating in "High School Musical Jr." on May 8 and 9 as a part of Gettysburg Community Theater's Penguin Project.

The Penguin Project is an initiative to help children with special needs participate and excel in theater with the guidance of a mentor around their age, said Chad-Alan Carr, artistic director for Gettysburg Community Theater.

"The show is coming along great. The kids have worked really hard since they started rehearsing in January," Carr said. "The kids are getting very excited and nervous now that we are getting so close to opening night."

On May 4, the cast moved their rehearsals from the 80-seat venue at the Gettysburg Community Theater to the auditorium of Hanover High School where both shows will take place.

"The kids love being on the big stage," Carr said. "It gets real for them that they are a part of something at that moment."

This is the second show with the Penguin Project initiative to take place in the area. Last year, a similar cast put on "Peter Pan Jr." at Gettysburg Area High School.

"I think it's an incredible opportunity for any child to get involved and do something special for themselves," said Karen Bureau, a member of the Gettysburg Community Theater's board of directors. "This can bring Hanover quite a lot. Not only to bring a great musical, but to bring the awareness of this subject front and center."

One of the participants in this year's show is Rhiannon Calp, a 12-year-old girl with autism, who is playing the role of Taylor McKessie. Rhiannon's older sister, Jasmine, is also a mentor for the Penguin project.

"I've stayed away from going to the rehearsals so everything can be a surprise when they take the stage this weekend," said Shawnya Calp, Rhiannon and Jasmine's mother. "I'm probably going to get a little emotional seeing them together on stage."

Rhiannon played the role of Peter Pan in last year's production and has benefitted from being a part of the Penguin Project.

"Music is one of the things that has always just clicked for her," Shawnya Calp said. "She really loves the experience of being on stage."

Carr says it's a challenge for anyone to put on a show like this, but with the obstacles that this cast has had to face, they have come together to create something very special.

"This experience helps two different people work as a team," Carr said. "It makes them a better person. What's amazing is how it transforms the child without special needs. Even after the show will be over, I expect them to still hang out."

Participating school districts in the Penguin Project from Adams and York counties:

Central York School District

West York Area School District

Hanover Public School District

South Western School District

Conewago Valley School District

Littlestown Area School District

Gettysburg Area School District

Bermudian Springs School District

Spring Grove Area School District

Fairfield Area School District

Upper Adams School District

If you go

"High School Musical Jr."

When: May 8 at 7 p.m., May 9 at 2 p.m.

Where: Hanover High School, 401 Moul Avenue

General admission: $12.

Box office opens two hours before each show

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