15th annual Festival of Talent celebrates Ventura Unified’s arts


Brooklyne Shepherd

The Festival of Talent’s 15th annual showcase commenced as community members of Ventura County filed into Ventura High School’s Auditorium Saturday, Feb 27. Music, dance, song and applause bounced from wall to wall as the curtains rose, spotlighting the best Ventura Unified had to offer. The event truly captured the essence of the importance of arts and music experience in education, from elementary through high school, by featuring a variety of talents of VUSD staff, students, parents and friends.

Foothill's Jerod Frederick, who has been playing piano for approximately 11 years, performed "Prelude in G Minor" by Rachmanioff Saturday night. Credit: Carrie Coonan/The Foothill Dragon Press
Foothill’s Jerod Frederick, who has been playing piano for approximately 11 years, performed “Prelude in G Minor” by Rachmanioff Saturday night. Credit: Carrie Coonan/The Foothill Dragon Press

“This is a special evening because it showcases and celebrates the arts in our city, and the rich musical dancing and theatrical talent we have here in Ventura,” proclaimed Mayor of Ventura, Erik Nasarenko.

The event was kicked off in an enchanting manner, as the VUSD staff joined the Company choir in performing “Brand New Day” from The Wiz. The song choice was fantastic, for it got audience members on their feet and swaying to the beat.

This year’s Festival of Talent was different than previous years, due to the fact that Michael Babb spearheaded the event as the superintendent of VUSD in place of former superintendent, Trudy Arriaga.

“This [the Festival of Talent] was a win, win, win, for all of us,” Babb said. “It’s a win for the talent, because they get to show you their stuff. It’s a win for you, because you’re in store for a great show this evening. And it’s also a great event for the kids and the teachers of our school district who get proceeds in the form of grants that supercharge learning programs for students.”

Both former and recent superintendents were featured in the production, with Arriaga dressed in Dorothy attire, and Babb costumed as the scarecrow, depicting the overall theme of the Wizard of Oz.

Company member Brianna Corbett liked the fact that Arriaga was featured in the opening acts and continued her involvement in the Festival of Talent.

“Trudy was in it this year too…we love Trudy, like she endorses Company so much. She helped Heidi establish the class, which was super cool.”

The event was hosted once again by Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Don Wood, who returned to entertain the audience. From history lessons about Washington’s birthday to Donald Trump impersonations, Wood successfully kept the audience laughing throughout the two hour show.

Over 250 performers of all ages took part in the Festival of Talent, and acts ranged from singing, to different genres of dance, including hip hop, jazz, lyrical and ballet, to pianists and guitarists. The show highlighted the raw talent the Ventura has to offer.

Acts consisted of solo performances, duet acts, as well as entire groups. For example, “Fallin” by Alicia Keys was performed by a young group of aspiring musicians. Serena Ropersmith was the most prominent vocalist who also played the keyboard, Sailor Hawes contributed as a backup vocalist, Atticus Fehr and Theu Wulff added notes of the guitar and Iris Sizemore increased the intensity with beats of the drums.


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10 year old Jack Carrigg of Sunset Elementary School who performed “When I Was Your Man” accompanied by Miriam Arichea on piano, completely awed the audience with his charm.


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Miriam Larson, a VHS student and seven time participant in the Festival of Talent, thought that this years show was more organized and involved a diverse group of students, promoting more younger performers.

“I love to sing…[I like] being like nervous but then getting on stage and being like ‘I’m not nervous anymore’…Just doing whatever you want and being like a rockstar.”

Corbett’s favorite part of performing live is the adrenaline and refreshing feeling you get from being on stage in front of an audience.

“Tonight was really cool too, because the entire theater was sold out, which doesn’t happen for Company shows. It was like the most people we’ve ever performed in front of.”  


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Madison Jaffe, a junior at VHS performed a classic rendition of “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. Her performance was full of spunk and personality.


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Sabrena Rodriguez, President of Ventura Education Partnership, the program that supports all the schools in Ventura Unified, helps in the cumulative process of putting on festival and assisting in raising the money.

This year there were tickets left over that could be purchased at the door, which was surprising due to the fact that typically they are sold out online at the school’s website.


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“This [event] is important for two reasons. One it’s great for the students who are performing, to get a chance to perform on one of the best stages in Ventura County, the acoustics in this building are amazing and they’re getting a production that’s run by real professionals,” Rodriguez said.

“But secondly, what we use this event for is to use money for teacher grants, so every single dollar that we raise here goes back to schools in the form of teacher grants, so it’s really important because it raises awareness that we need that money, we need that money to buy math calculators for trigonometry class, we need that money to send kids on field trips, we need it to buy musical instruments…”

The Festival of Talent was beautifully concluded with “Believe in Yourself” performed by Tina Craig, wrapping up the “Wizard of Oz” inspired event.

Director of the evening Brian McDonald bid the final farewell in the last moments of the production. “This is a highlight for me. Getting to work with these amazingly talented kids, real artists in my opinion,” he stated.




…..Background Photo Credit: Carrie Coonan/The Foothill Dragon Press

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