Concord thespians ready to take the stage at elite festival

Concord thespians ready to take the stage at elite festival
Six local students will participate in the California State Thespian Festival. Back row from left, Derrick Bajada, Argyll Thai Livelo and Cat Drain. Front row from left, Olive Read, Kylee Fernandez and Logan Whitmore. (Photo by Michelle Erickson)

CONCORD, CA (Mar. 17, 2024) — It may not be the Hollywood Oscars or Broadway’s Tony Awards, but it’s close enough for six students from De La Salle and Carondelet high schools.

Following rigorous auditions, the six were chosen to be part of an elite group of 28 participating in the opening and closing musical numbers at the California State Thespian Festival. More than 1,200 are expected to attend the festival, which takes place April 5-7 at Upland High School in Southern California.

“I was a little scared auditioning, since I was up against all these juniors and seniors,” said sophomore Cat Drain. “I was so surprised when I was chosen, and I just feel honored to be onstage with the talented people from our theater company.”

Drain and the other five – sophomore Derrick Bajada, juniors Olive Read and Logan Whitmore and seniors Kylee Fernandez and Argyll Thia Livelo – all belong to the International Thespian Society Troupe 445. In addition to learning choreography and vocals for the opening and closing numbers of the festival, they are currently rehearsing a production of “Anything Goes” to be performed at De La Salle April 18-27.

Last hurrah

“Just having the chance to audition meant so much to me because I love being a performer and, as a senior, this is almost my last hurrah with our company,” said Fernandez.

Livelo says the audition experience was also valuable.

“We had to learn the material they sent and then do a self-tape of our audition. We had to figure out slating and playing to a camera instead of onstage, but that’s what professionals do now since COVID,” Livelo said.

Prior to the audition, Livelo also held a dance bootcamp for her fellow auditioners in the Bay Area, giving everyone a chance to learn from one another.

“Collaborating really helps understand the choreography better,” Livelo said.

Behind the scenes work

As a techie, Read had a very different experience from the other members of Troupe 445.

“I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the media design leads who run the tech team,” Read said. “I really wanted to experience working with a big projector system where you can put things all over the walls. Media is my specialty and it’s such a niche thing that I very excited to meet other kids who have the same interest.”

Meredith Barnidge, director of theater arts and moderator for the International Thespian Society, said Read will be working not only the main theater where the opening and closing numbers take place but also smaller theaters that will host a variety of competitions.

“She’ll have to stream together all the tech and all the cues so that the various shows look good. It’s a lot to pull together,” Barnidge said.

While Read prepares for the technical challenges, the five other students will be learning the choreography and vocal scores they received in early March. When they arrive at the festival, they’ll only have one rehearsal with the other dancers and vocalists before show time.

Whitmore, who is Troupe 442 president, plans to hold several local rehearsals.

“We’ll definitely have a chance to work together before going to Los Angeles to work out any problems or questions we have about the choreography,” Whitmore said.

Advice from professionals

In addition to performing on stage, Bajada has entered the playwrighting contest.

“I had to write a play that was under 30 minutes,” Bajada said. “If it is chosen to be performed at the festival, I’ll help choose the cast at the auditions and then someone else will direct it.”

Along with competing in solo monologues and musical numbers during the three-day festival, the students will have the opportunity to choose from 60 workshops – including stage combat, directing and costume design, taught by Broadway professionals.

“I think it’s going to be a really fun experience to connect with other schools around California, learn how they do things and take inspiration from them,” said Drain.

Sally Hogarty
Sally Hogarty

Sally Hogarty is well known around the Bay Area as a newspaper columnist, theatre critic and working actress. She is the editor of the Orinda News. Send comments to