On March 17 and 18, Burlingame High School’s Advanced Drama class will attend the Ohlone High School Theatre Festival at Ohlone College in Fremont. Hundreds of high school students, mostly from California, participate in the annual festival. This will be the 10th consecutive year for BHS students.
Every year, spring semester is fondly referred to as “festival season” in Cindy Skelton’s Advanced Drama class. For many seniors, this will be their third year attending Ohlone, which the class simply calls “festival.” For many sophomores and some juniors, this year will be their first time attending.
Students can bring scenes, monologues, condensed versions of musicals, one-act plays, videos, and a variety of other things to Festival to compete in categories. After two days of performing, including one round of finals in each category, awards are given.
Though it is a competition, those who have attended in the past see it as more. “Festival is basically an extremely supportive community of different theater people. It’s just such a fun and supportive environment even though it’s a competition,” said senior Sam Hale, who will be attending for her second year.
“It’s not so much about the competition as in sharing the love for theater and meeting all these other high school students with the same passion as you,” drama teacher Cindy Skelton added.
The work that goes into preparing festival entries is time-consuming. BHS competes against art schools who have more time to focus on rehearsing and perfecting their entries in the class. Though they have more time, many BHS students believe that their experience is different because of how much choice they get in what they bring.
“There are many other schools where the teacher chooses the scenes and monologues and does the direction. Here I let students choose what they want to work on. If they have a passion for Shakespeare, then they can choose a Shakespeare scene or monologue… my job is really guiding them, watching their scenes multiple times, and giving them notes so they can adapt it and make it the best that they can do. It’s really student driven,” Skelton said.
At Arts-driven schools, pieces are directed by their advisors and students often do not get a say in what they bring. It is far more centered around winning than having a passionate performance. For BHS Drama students, what they care about directly determines what the class will bring to the competition.
This freedom allows students to get excited about what they are working on. For the first couple of weeks of January, students choose their pieces. They then find groups or partners and are responsible for cutting their scripts to fit time guidelines. While it can be a lot of work, people get to find things they are passionate about and work with people they believe play up their strengths. As a result, drama students will be working on a large variety of pieces this semester.
“I get to do a really funny one-act play with my friends that I’m excited about,” senior Maggie Johnson said.
“I’m making a short film to submit. I’ve never been to Festival, so I didn’t know that was an option. Since I’m doing video class, it was cool to have that opportunity,” junior Jackson Gilmour said.
Hale will be bringing her second music video to Festival this year. Last year, she and senior Sydney Kaufman won second place for their music video to “We’re Going to be Friends” by The White Stripes. This year, they hope to win first place with their video to “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart.
During the next month of rehearsals, students will alternate rehearsing for each of their entries throughout the week. As Festival gets closer, students will preview their work for other students and receive feedback. For some students, rehearsing will start taking up time outside of class and after school. Overall, students agree that, while Festival season can be stressful, it is a valuable experience and one they always look forward to.