Thespian troupe celebrates enormous successes at California State Thespian Festival

    The 14 Palo Alto High School Thespian Troupe members pose together. The thespians attended the annual California State Thespian Festival from March 22 to 24. [Photo courtesy of Rob Wilen]

    The 14 Palo Alto High School Thespian Troupe members pose together. The thespians attended the annual California State Thespian Festival from March 22 to 24. [Photo courtesy of Rob Wilen]

    After being honored at the California State Thespian Festival, the Palo Alto High School Thespian Troupe is celebrating its wins by discussing potential plans to attend the International Thespian Festival in June in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    Fourteen students in Paly’s Thespian Troupe attended the annual state festival, which ran from March 22 to 24 in Upland, and includes Individual Events, workshops, various festival-wide events and competitions. In total, 62 troupes throughout California, which totaled around 1000 thespians, converged at the festival, according to theater teacher Kathleen Woods.

    Woods, who is also a California State Thespians board member, added that 11 of the 14 Paly students received recognition at the festival.

    Juniors Briana Billups and Henry Wilen placed first place for their technical work in Paly’s latest musical production, “Into the Woods,” in Sound Design and Lighting Design respectively.

    In Individual Events, where students can receive tiers of recognition from Superior Ratings, Callbacks and placing, according to Woods, senior Leah Bleich tied for second place in the Monologue Individual Event out of 238 competitors. Senior Bolton Bailey and sophomore Cara Kienitz received callbacks and Superior Ratings for the Musical Theatre Duet Individual Event and juniors Paige Esterly and Sarah Ohlson also won the same recognition for their respective Individual Events, Monologue and Solo Musical Theatre. Senior Hannah Gorelik rounded out the honors in Individual Events by receiving a Superior Rating in Monologue. These students, consequently, all placed within the top 10 percent of thespians and were invited to the International Thespian Festival.

    “To have 11 out of 14 [students receive recognition], that’s pretty amazing actually,” Woods said. “For performers, because there are just so many entries, that was really exciting and amazing.”

    And although Paly has never previously participated in the International Thespian Festival despite qualifying every year, Woods said the students are seriously considering attending this year.

    “The students are actually talking about wanting to do that this year, so I’m going to explore that,” Woods said. “There’s really a lot of interest, but they are qualified.”

    In addition to the Individual Events, the festival closed with a series of performances that made up the All State Show. Billups, Wilen and the other Stage Tech students at the conference, sophomores Katherine Craig and Hannah Nguyen, were selected to participate in the All State and All Festival Event Stage Tech Crew after a competitive application process. Bleich performed “Stay With Me,” a number from “Into the Woods,” after winning a slot.

    “I got to perform in front of all of the thespians there, which is like 1200 people, which is amazing,” Bleich said. “And I was really, really happy with my performance.”

    Additional honors went to Craig, who won Special Recognition for her work on Follow Spot, and to Gorelik, Ohlson and senior Julia Sanchez, who performed in the Main Stage presentation of California Playwrights, which also has a specific audition process.

    Finally, Esterly will serve as a member of the California Thespian Student State Board, the first ever from Paly.

    Woods said that she is very proud of the troupe’s successes.

    “Paly performs consistently well especially proportionally because we don’t have the largest group there,” Woods, who recalled feeling “so happy and proud” seeing the students perform in front of the large festival audience, said.

    “This was a particularly great year,” Woods added.

    Bleich echoed Woods’ sentiments.

    “I think that this was, if not the best, one of the best years that our troop has ever had at a festival,” Bleich said. “It was amazing, and I think everybody in our troupe is just so proud.”

    Overall, Woods feels the festival offers multiple opportunity to attending students, including group bonding and building personal connections with neighboring thespians. Both Bleich and Woods also agree that the festival is a great opportunity to experience the professional world of theater and receive critical feedback.

    “It’s a great bonding experience,” Woods said. “It also gives them an opportunity to see the bigger pond because there is something called Best of Fest where a number of the top people who place in the top one, two or three can perform their material on the main stage in front of a 1000 or 1,200 students.”

    “I had a student go all the way to Salinas to see a show because she had made friends with the thespians down there,” Woods added. “And so it helps give them an opportunity to see the diversity of the work in the state of California and the level of talent in the state which is phenomenal.”

    “It’s an amazing opportunity to see how much talent there is in California,” Bleich said. “It’s very inspiring and being in that atmosphere generally has the effect of restoring one’s faith in theater.”

    The Paly theater department is busy preparing for its multiple upcoming events, including One Acts, the Senior Showcase, its annual trip to Ashland and possible participation in San Jose Stage Talk Honors.