As the lights began to flicker in Rancho Campana High School’s auditorium, audience members left the brisk outdoors and took their seats, unsure of what to anticipate. As written on the program, an evening hosted “by Students for Students affected by the Thomas Fire” took a simple idea and made it an extravagant reality. As students, faculty and community members of Ventura County sang, danced, played and spoke, everyone knew that the “Solace” Benefit Gala would be an event they would never forget.
Due to the recent devastations of the Thomas Fire, many people wanted to find ways to help and support those who had been affected. Students at Rancho Campana in Camarillo, Calif. wanted to help their Ventura companions, so members of the Music and Production Club came up with the idea of hosting a benefit concert to raise money and show their support. Students and faculty members from both Ventura and Camarillo gathered together to make their idea a reality.
Wendi Butler, former Foothill Technology High School staff member and soon to be Assistant Principal at Rancho Campana, played a vital role in putting “Solace” together. Alongside her was music director Liz Selleck, director Kathryn Lawson, sound technician Kenny Hobbs and creative consultant and writer Laurie McCoy. Along with the performers, volunteers served as the “Solace Crew,” the Tech Crew, the Stage Crew, and the Band, making sure every detail needed to pull off this performance was covered.
The performance began with a group rendition of “A Million Dreams” from the musical film “The Greatest Showman.” Photographs highlighting various parts of Ventura both before and after the fire were projected in the background, as the band played off to the side. Many students put on memorable performances, featuring solo performances, dances, instrumentals and even a spoken word poem.
Many students from Ventura Unified School District participated in the benefit gala. Ashlynn Vaglica ‘20 from Ventura High School opened up the second half of the show with her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Although the concert appeared effortless, she stated a lot of “stressful” work went into the performance.
“We had three weeks to put it together, and normally it would’ve taken at least a month and a half,” she said.
Vaglica’s favorite moment from the show was the last number: a version of “From Now On” from “The Greatest Showman” that featured all of the company, as well as Selleck. “It starts off slow and it starts off so pretty and almost sad, and then it picks up and then the choir starts singing […] it was [a] symbolic hopeful moment that was so great,” Vaglica said.
Other notable performances included a rendition of “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne and “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. “Keep Holding On” was played on the guitar and sung by Zoe Lebrilla ‘19 from Rancho Campana, and with Grayson McCoy ‘18 from Foothill playing by her side on the violin. The violin and guitar paired perfectly with Lebrilla’s soothing voice, making it a touching tune for the audience to witness.
“Man in the Mirror,” performed by Meghan Carter ‘20 from Foothill, Andilyn Ziegler ‘22 from Mesa Union School and Lexie Collins ‘19 from Newbury Park High School gave a more upbeat twist to the concert. Their beautiful harmonies and smiling faces had the audience clapping their hands and tapping their feet to the fun melody.
Spencer Selleck ‘18 from Foothill played a significant part in both recruiting and participating in the production.
“My mother is one of the directors and she asked me to be in the show, but naturally I felt compelled to give back to the community,” he said.
One of his friends and fellow performers Ventura High School alumna Miriam Larson ‘17 was happy to participate in the concert after getting a call from Spencer Selleck. “I had a lot of friends who lost their homes up in the hills […] I wanted to find a way to give back and help out,” Larson said.
Between the talented performers, the hardworking backstage members, the creative students and the faculty that helped them make it a reality, “Solace” was an extraordinary experience for the audience. While the Thomas Fire left an everlasting impression on Ventura County, “Solace” proved that there is always a silver lining in the smoky skies.